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Kath Burton, Publishing Professional (Episode 40)

    Kath Burton, Publishing Professional (Episode 40) | Kath is growing connections in humanities publishing

    For this episode of the Research Adjacent podcast Sarah is talking to Kath Burton, a specialist in humanities publishing at Routledge Taylor and Francis.

    A job move triggered by train timetables

    Kath has spent her entire career working with the written word. Starting with a bookshop job whilst studying, then moving on to doing ‘a bit of everything’ for a specialist history publisher. Her move into academic publishing was partly determined by the idiosyncrasies of the UK rail network.

    “I found myself in academic publishing really by chance. My partner was moving from one university to another and really the trains weren’t as good from where we were living. Then this job came up and it made sense to sort of go for it given where we were thinking of going to live.”

    Being part of the research conversation

    She has now worked with Routledge Taylor and Francis for nearly 20 years moving through different roles and different subject specialisms. What has endured is how much she values being part of the research conversation, especially when working with researchers who have an activist edge.

    “It was just a real honour to be able to talk to people about their political projects. Actually doing that from a supporting role at the publisher, and thinking about ways in which we can expand the journals remit, get more articles in, reach out to different audiences, that kind of thing. It was really, it was really a pleasure to be able to do that with a group of people who are so impassioned by their cause and thinking about how knowledge can help change the world.”

    Creating space for new voices

    She also loves the thrill of putting a new book or journal out into the world. She is particularly proud of launching the journal Porn Studies in 2014 which, at the time was both sensitive and controversial.

    “It was hugely important to start that journal, not least because it brings that topic to the fore and gives an opportunity to really interrogate something that is pernicious in our society, something that we don’t really want to talk about because there is a taboo around it. But also to work with a brilliant set of women who were at the time, not only wanting to develop scholarship around pornography, but really campaigning for different aspects of responsibility in terms of the way in which porn is distributed and what can and can’t happen rightly or wrong with that kind of content.”

    It wasn’t done lightly and felt like a risk at the time. It was important to consider, not just whether there was demand for this from the academic community, but also aspects like whether suppliers in other countries were willing to work on producing the journal.

    New ways of publishing

    In her current role Kath is also keen to explore new and improved ways of sharing knowledge, including scoping new journals and experimenting with shortform and audiovisual content. Driven by demand from both academics and readers the publishing world is grappling with how to update their 350 year-old model and help research make a difference in the world.

    “Do you make a difference in the world by getting your message out via that medium? I think those are the big questions that we wrangle with on a fairly regular basis. But it’s not just because the technology is there that we want to do this, there’s a real demand coming from research communities at the moment, especially in humanities.”

    Like anything, publishing is constantly evolving. Open access continues to be a challenge with different models being explored. As does the dynamic of the relationship between publishers and academics but Kath is very open to conversations and connection.

    “It really is about making those connections and trying to talk to people and being open about what might or might not be possible because you never really know where things are going to go. I’m sure people would say that about any industry, but I think ever more so working with researchers you need to have that open-mindedness and curiosity and radical empathy for what might be possible.”

    Growing veg and community connections

    Aside from her work on humanities journals, Kath has a vibrant sideline in community gardening with Incredible Edible Reading. Starting during the COVID pandemic, this has now led to participatory action research projects with the University of Reading and the Open University to evidence the benefits of community gardening.

    Find out more

    • Connect with Kath on LinkedIn
    • Find out about all of her projects including community gardening via her

    Theme music by Vitaliy Levkin from Pixabay

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