Community-led Open Publication Infrastructures for Monographs
On May 4 2022, Open Book Collective representatives met six librarians from a range of UK university libraries in an online workshop, whose aim was to discuss how the OBC can best serve and communicate with scholarly libraries.
As a collaborative project, we have been engaged in discussions with OA stakeholders from the outset of our development: the Southern European perspective; the Scandinavian perspective; the German perspective; and the Polish perspective, and will continue to be as the OBC launches and develops.
The workshop was extremely valuable for us as a way of understanding more about librarians’ priorities, the pressures they are experiencing, and the expectations they have when it comes to assessing new initiatives such as OBC. We learned that librarians’ interest in the OBC platform and the membership programmes we will offer can be organised around distinct themes. These are:
● Time-saving. The OBC platform’s function as an aggregator and discovery portal for librarians is appealing, as it simplifies the work of choosing offerings from different OA initiatives. Seeking out and comparing OA books and their publishers is time and labour-costly for librarians. The OBC platform allows librarians to understand, compare, and evaluate the different missions, catalogues, production output, pricing, and business models of multiple OA initiatives simultaneously.
● Institutional and local value. Related to the above, librarians told us that another way the OBC has the potential to benefit their work is by acting as a means to support them when needing to explain their investment choices to budget-holders. Specifically, the platform’s ability to provide readily available information on the priorities of different publishers and service providers (like OAPEN and DOAB), including the subjects they focus on and their values, will provide an important resource for those wishing to demonstrate why funds are requested to support different initiatives and how they complement an institution’s specific requirements for teaching and research, as well as any institution-specific OA strategies. Enriched, high quality, and thorough metadata, including indexing, catalogue record formats libraries need to organise books within their own systems, and a searchable catalogue (by press, by author, by title, by subject area, etc.) for all of the books within in the OBC, provided by THOTH was seen as an additional benefit in this respect.
● Trust. Workshop participants told us that a major issue for them is knowing and assessing whether a new initiative or membership offer can be trusted. We discussed the due diligence that OBC will be doing on all initiatives wanting to offer membership packages to libraries via the platform — including assessing peer review practices, organisational structures, governance procedures, pricing protocols and business models. This was seen as a major benefit. The collective view was that if, over time, OBC could demonstrate its ability to be a trusted actor in the OA book publishing landscape, offering membership packages from reliable publishers and publishing service providers, then this would be of significant benefit for librarians. The OBC would then act as a seal of credibility for publishers and service providers, in turn making it easier for libraries to justify financially supporting their membership offerings.
● Workflow and functionality. There was support amongst participants for OBC’s promise to simplify the administrative work of supporting new membership offerings and managing these over time, via a dashboard. This functionality includes facilitating the payment for memberships either directly via the OBC or via existing third party payment arrangements. Librarians did, however, want more details about exactly how this would work.
● Outreach to Prospective Authors. This was a theme that we had not expected to emerge. UK librarians told us that researchers at their institutions are increasingly worried about the high cost of book processing charges for Open Access, especially in the light of new UKRI mandates. A key potential benefit of the OBC platform, they told us, could be its ability to showcase to prospective authors from librarians’ institutions a range of quality, credible OA publishers who do not rely on BPCs. In other words, the OBC would be a trusted resource to which librarians could direct their colleagues needing or wanting to publish OA. The platform’s provision of high-quality OA metadata also has the potential to further increase the credibility of such publishers amongst potential authors, since it increases the discoverability of books for end users.
Our participants also gave us some insight into the potentially changing context of support for OA within the UK libraries landscape. Specifically, some told us that their libraries are taking a progressively more strategic and actively engaged approach to Open Access. Some in the workshop believed that over time, there will be less focus on buying books individually and more on financially supporting sustainable OA content. The aim of such a strategic shift would be to facilitate open educational resources as much as possible in the future, in line with universities’ overall movements towards OA.
Such a development would, of course, be very good news from the perspective of the OBC. As these advancement in OA continue, we hope to play a crucial role in supporting libraries through their changing OA strategies, by allowing librarians to make more informed decisions about how to support open publishing.
We are extremely grateful to the library colleagues who joined us on the workshop for helping us to better understand how to meet the needs of scholarly libraries as we prepare to launch the OBC, and look forward to continuing our communication.