The last fifteen years have witnessed the emergence of a new role for academic libraries. Besides fulfilling their fundamental task of providing access to knowledge, besides being called everything from temples of knowledge to disturbing heterotopias, libraries have become one of the crucial stakeholders in the open access book publishing space. They act as funders for OA book fees, they support collaborative funding schemes, and sometimes they assume the role of publishers themselves.
In an attempt to create a sustainable publishing environment, in which OA books could blossom, it is therefore necessary to gain a sound understanding of how academic libraries work, how they deal with open access initiatives, and what challenges they encounter. These questions remain at the very core of this report.
The landscape painted in this report is by no means exhaustive; there are many more countries in the European community, other than the fourteen we have looked at, that need further investigating. The sample that we have taken under closer inspection proved to be a lively and diverse organism that escapes any easy overarching classifications. In order to better understand the role of academic and research libraries in Europe regarding open access books, we have looked at several crucial aspects that would help us both identify common threads and pinpoint regional particularities. We have examined each country according to the following areas of interest: 1. general characteristics of library systems for e-content and OA publications, 2. library community and open access, 3. OA book policies, 4. OA book funding, 5. library/scholar-led OA book publishing initiatives, and 6. integration of OA books in library systems.
A general look at academic libraries’ systems in the chosen fourteen European countries has revealed certain polarities. While in some countries libraries enjoy relative autonomy in their decision-making processes and budget spending (e.g. Germany, Norway), in others they rely heavily on centralised systems, where Ministries of Education play a decisive role in the state budget allocations per institution and collection building on a national, rather than institutional, level (e.g. Croatia, Poland).
It is a common practice across Europe for libraries to come together and form consortia which represent the collective interests of participating libraries, especially when it comes to discussing deals with major publishers and negotiating terms of access to the e-content. Such organisms can develop on a regional (e.g. Spanish regional consortia), national (e.g. Couperin in France) or even transnational level (GASCO for German speaking countries, including Germany, Austria, and Switzerland).
The European library community is characterised by the presence of numerous library associations, which treat open access as one of the critical points of discussion. On the one hand, well-established librarian networks with long history (e.g. the Italian Libraries Association, established in the 1930s, or BAD, the Portuguese Association of Libraries in Archives, established in 1973) have created special interest groups to deal with OA-specific topics. On the other hand, new organisations united around the issues of open science are emerging in the European library community (e.g. ENABLE! in Germany). The abundance of these initiatives across Europe shows the scale and importance of library engagement in open access publishing practices.
OA book policies are slowly being introduced across Europe. Only three out of the fourteen countries we looked at have introduced national OA policies that include books (France, Poland, the Netherlands). Slovenia, in its OA national strategy, encourages - yet does not mandate - OA for books. Institutional OA mandates exist in all investigated countries, with some also having funder-specific OA requirements (e.g. NWO, the Dutch Research Council).
OA book-specific funding remains a rarity in the countries we have looked at. Out of the fourteen cases, only four countries (Germany, the Netherlands, Finland, and Norway) have dedicated OA book funds, some on the national, others on the institutional or funder’s level. The presence of such funds in these four countries does not come as a surprise: they are also among the European pioneers of the open access movement. In the remaining ten countries, OA book publications are most commonly funded through researchers’ grants, with a pool of the grant money allocated towards OA publication fees.
Library- or scholar-led OA book publishing initiatives have not (yet) gained momentum in Europe. While there are several emerging projects involving libraries, in most cases they are not large in scale (e.g. FF Open Press at the University of Zagreb). Among the pioneers of innovative OA book publishing models are Germany, Denmark, Finland, and Sweden. There are also few examples of projects partially subsidised by the national funders (OA books from the Faculty of Arts at the University of Ljubljana, Slovenia, and the Kallipos+ project in Greece). In the majority of the investigated countries, however, such initiatives do not exist.
When it comes to integration of e-content with library catalogues, libraries across Europe rely on the aggregators they choose to partner with; therefore, the presence — or lack thereof — of OA books in local catalogues depends on how well they are covered by these partners. Since the OA book coverage by major aggregators tends to be patchy (a concern expressed by several of the interviewed librarians), in many cases, where resources allow, OA book records are introduced to local catalogues manually. The Directory of Open Access Books (DOAB) is mentioned by librarians as the source of metadata for OA books that they use and often link to on the libraries’ websites.
Findings of this report suggest that there is potential to create an EU-wide consortia funding model for OA books. There is an incontestable interest in OA books in general coming from the European academic library community. Despite this enthusiasm, however, one needs to be mindful that a project of such scale will be faced with numerous challenges.
There are deep discrepancies between the members of the European Community when it comes to dealing with open access issues. In the Nordic countries, Germany, and the Netherlands, it has become one of the pivotal aspects of scholarly communication; institutions are supportive, and there are funding schemes allowing libraries to invest in OA book publishing initiatives. Other regions still struggle with full integration of OA publications in their library ecosystems: there is insufficient funding, not enough human resources, little autonomy of decision-making on an institutional level and hence little room for experimentation.
After having examined the European academic library landscape, it seems clear that it will be difficult, if not simply impossible, to try to find a single model for an EU-wide collaborative funding scheme for OA books. Since, however, there are several regional trends and similarities between the examined countries, it would seem prudent to gather them into clusters based on these similarities and create a variety of models that would work for centralised and decentralised systems, and for both OA veterans and novices.
With the constantly changing landscape of academic libraries in Europe, the information gathered in this report will need to be updated. In order to keep it as accurate as possible, we decided to publish the time-stamped version of the report (Version 1.0), and the present living document. We would like to encourage the community to interact with this living document, and introduce comments and updates.
Photo of the Free University Library by Rino Porrovecchio, CC BY-SA 2.0.