The Open Access movement, born primarily from scholars in the STEM related disciplines, has focused much attention on opening access to articles in scholarly journal publications. Often overlooked by the OA movement is the publication and dissemination of monograph materials, or open access to books. This oversight has serious implications on the larger picture of scholarly communication, as much of the research in social sciences and humanities-related fields rely heavily on monographs as a primary publication format. In this post, I’ll focus on past and current Open Access monograph initiatives and the main issues surrounding them.
Currently, several separate platforms provide access to Open Access monographs. These include individual publisher platforms, such as digitalculturebooks, an imprint of the University of Michigan Press, and Luminos, an endeavor by the University of California Press. They also include some large publisher projects, such as SpringerOpen Books.
There are also a few notable platforms that attempt to centralize discoverability and access to OA monographs, including the Directory of Open Access Books (DOAB), Knowledge Unlatched, Open Book Publishers, and JSTOR. Each of these attempt to work as an index and platform for peer reviewed monographs and edited volumes. Among the leaders of these platforms is the DOAB, a platform that offers publication guidelines and upholds strict standards for inclusion to ensure quality.
A primary issue related to the use and dissemination of OA monographs is discovery. As you’ve seen, there are several places to access OA monographs, but locating them can be difficult. The DOAB attempts to tackle this obstacle by inviting publishers to provide them with metadata to their open access books. This metadata is harvestable to aggregators such as library catalogs.
However, there is not one centralized platform, nor are there proficient practices for adding OA monographs to local discovery platforms such as library catalogs. In a 2017 article, Aaron McCollough highlighted the deficiencies of OA monographs in library discovery. Using a sample title from digitalculturebooks, McCollough tested many academic library catalogs to see if they contained a record and path to the OA holding for each selected title. The study found that out of the 192 library catalogs tested, 127 (66%) of them contained no indication of an open access version, even and especially in cases where the library purchased access to the book. Furthermore, only 40 (21%) of the catalogs tested included a record with a clear path to the online open access version of the book. Indeed, testing the same title in Thomas Cooper Library’s local catalog resulted in the first category, where the record fails to reflect a path to the Open Access version, and even states, “access may be limited to ProQuest affiliated libraries.” This poses an issue to anyone that is not a current USC student, faculty, or staff member, as access to this title would require a current authentication login. Therefore, if a non-affiliate came across this title in TCL’s catalog, there would be no indication that they would have free access to this item.
McCollough admits that the sample he used was too small to form overarching conclusions about OA monograph discoverability, but his findings do make a good case for how items not included in the DOAB, or another similar index with records that can (and often are) incorporated in subscription discovery services. The main deficiency that he points out is the failure of libraries to add OA materials to local catalogs. In other words, if an academic library does not pay for access to a vendor provided discovery service, OA monograph materials are unlikely to be added manually to a library’s local catalog. Alison Mudditt, the Former Director of the University of California Press, expanded on the issue during her presentation at the 2016 SPARC Meeting on Openness in Research & Education. Though there have been a number of initiatives to publish Open Access monographs, libraries have not kept up with efforts to make these items discoverable through local collections.
There have been several initiatives launched within the past year that will help strengthen OA monograph output, potentially forcing the hand of libraries to improve discoverability. These initiatives include TOME and Project Muse’s announced partnership with Knowledge Unlatched. Many of us at the University Libraries look forward to investigating these initiatives over the summer.
These comprehensive initiatives to produce and support the funding of publishing Open Access monographs should help us to integrate OA resources into library collections. If these initiatives continue to grow and thrive, the only difference between OA monographs and traditional monographs will be the cost. It appears to me that as long as funding continues, the only thing standing in the way of these materials being impactful to humanities and social sciences fields is discoverability. Libraries play a key role in contributing to these OA initiatives by developing best practices and standards to ensure that quality open monographs are easily discoverable to researchers from within library collections and beyond.
-Contributed by Brent Appling