Monthly Archives: December 2019

Supporting Open Access for books: lessons learned

Open Access (OA) books have been a fairly hot topic over recent months. My colleagues and I have responded to various surveys and contributed to UKRI’s review workshop and thought that sharing our experience of facilitating OA books might also be a useful addition to the debate.

Over the past 5 years we’ve agreed to arrange OA for 27 books. Mostly, these are monographs (25), but there’s also one edited volume and one trade book in our list. We have arranged OA for books that are already published and books that are still being written. The stage at which we pay normally determines how much we pay per title, but in the case of our highest Book Processing Charge (BPC) – £12,000, it’s the length of the book. The lowest BPC we’ve paid is £2,200, for backlist titles published by Manchester University Press (MUP).

The early requests we received came from authors working on grants from the Arts and Humanities Research Council (AHRC) and the Economic and Social Research Council. Our AHRC-funded author contacted us because her publisher, Oxford University Press (OUP), had asked if she wanted the book to be OA and she wasn’t sure how to respond. Since then a number of authors have been pointed in our direction by their publisher to ask if funding is available for OA.

While we’re pleased with the levels of enthusiasm for OA from scholars in the Humanities and keen to extend our OA support beyond articles and compliance, our funds are limited and we’re unable to support all the enquiries about OA books we receive. To date this hasn’t mattered too much, because we haven’t received requests from authors submitting their book to a fully Gold publisher but we’re mindful that this could change as awareness of newer publishers, like UCL Press and Open Book Publishers, increases.

We’ve very much ‘learned by doing’ for OA books, just as we did for journal articles back in 2013, and these are some of our learning outcomes.

Liaising with publishers about OA books is very different from journal articles.

Conversations tend to happen between the author and their editor, and when we’ve tried to intervene on an author’s behalf it’s been tricky to identify a contact on publisher websites. My enquiry to a general Bloomsbury email address over 12 months ago, remains unanswered to this day (!), and the author and I had to wait patiently for her editor to return from holiday to answer our questions. I resorted to a Twitter Direct Message to the University of Michigan Press after struggling to find a general email address and unsure of which listed staff member/role would know the answer to my question. I’ve even made use of contacts in publisher OA journal teams as an in-road (e.g., “I know this isn’t something you can help with but do you know who can?”). Luckily, the authors we’ve dealt with seem to accept this state of affairs and are generally happy to facilitate introductions. Especially when we’ve asked them to ask their publisher questions about OA licensing options.

A common conversation with publishers about OA books is when we’ll pay the BPC. In cases where we’ve agreed to cover the cost when the book’s still being written we often need to pay well in advance of publication. This is because payments are made either from the OA block grant we receive from UKRI or from our institutional funding. Pressure on the UKRI grant varies year on year, so we want to make payments when we are confident we can afford them. The same is true of our institutional OA fund, but another factor here is that committed expenditure (ie, unspent funds) can’t be carried over into a new budget year.

Some OA books are less discoverable than others.

In our discussions with publishers we’ve not dealt with before (even those via authors!) we ask how the book will be made available as OA. We’re hoping for multiple access points, including the publisher’s website, OAPEN and the Directory of Open Access Books (DOAB). We don’t restrict payment of BPCs on the basis of the answer but we think we should be clearer about our expectations before we agree to cover the cost. When we discussed this with a colleague at MUP, she suggested, “With your institutional fund, you are like a research funder, so you could state your expectations as clearly as, say, the Wellcome Trust does”.

We’ve found variation in how publishers display information about the OA version of a title on their own webpages. Good examples include:

Of the 18 published books we’ve paid BPCs for and that are now OA, 6 aren’t indexed in DOAB and 7 aren’t indexed in OAPEN. One Bloomsbury title on our list is missing a logo on the publisher’s website to identify the book as OA. Potential readers can easily see how to buy the book but don’t get a link to access the version we’ve paid for – see for yourself!

Discoverability in our own search system is also an issue. One of the books we have paid for has a single record in Library Search, which only lists the 3 print copies we hold, all of which are currently out on loan. Other books have multiple records, with the OA and print versions on different records. One of our professors queried how quickly her book would appear in OA format on our catalogue and Copac (recently replaced by Library Hub Discover) after we’d requested OA from her publisher. Because we didn’t know, our metadata experts manually updated records so the OA version was available when the prof wanted to promote it via social media. Making further improvements to our records and increasing the discoverability of our OA content needs a cross-library project, which is on our To Do list for 2020.

We haven’t always got what (we think) we’ve paid for.

Ok, so this bit is where there is definitely overlap between OA books and OA articles…

At the most basic level when we pay a BPC we expect to be able to find an OA copy of the book somewhere, and fairly soon after payment’s been made. But we realised last year that we didn’t know when books we’d paid for would be available as OA: we hadn’t asked in all cases, and publishers hadn’t let us know. We queried what we perceived to be delays following payment for a number of books. We had the response quoted above from the University of Michigan Press which proved very helpful in our understanding, and we followed this up with a really useful discussion with our colleagues at MUP about production processes.

So we know now that there’s no standard process or turnaround time for Gold OA, and it’s helpful to know this so we can better manage expectations of the authors we support.

Whilst preparing this post I’ve noticed that 3 of the books we paid BPCs for in July 2019 – books that are already published – haven’t yet been converted to OA. We’re contacting the publishers (Anthem Press, Bloomsbury, MUP) to check if this is an error or if the conversion process is scheduled and really does take 5 months. We’re also considering asking publishers to provide progress updates to us – the fee payer – on, say, a monthly basis before we commit our funding for a title. And in the meantime? Well, we’re slotting a regular check for monograph updates into our OA workflow, just like we have for journal articles.