- by Frances Pinter
Geoffrey Crossick’s (HEFCE commissioned) report is a wholeheartedly welcomed contribution to the global debate on monographs and Open Access. It is a thoughtful and balanced piece that approaches the issues with much needed common sense. (At this point I should reveal that I had the privilege and pleasure of sitting on the Expert Reference Group that was tasked to advise on the diverse body of evidence needed to understand Open Access publishing for monographs.)
Challenges associated with the publishing of different types of monographs are well documented in the report, as are the difficulties of making them Open Access. This should help take some of the heat out of what has sometimes been a cantankerous debate amongst stakeholders.
For instance, Crossick acknowledges that difficulties, such as third party permissions, pertain more to some types of books than others. In doing so, he moves away from advocating any blanket or instant solution. Yet, he does not see this as sufficient justification for not moving forward. His recommendation is to experiment. Experiments will present new opportunities that we could hardly dream up if we were to take a wait and see position.
Some OA activists will be disappointed that Crossick hasn't recommended immediate mandating OA for books; but he is right. This is too important to rush through and as he says, the ecosystem is delicate and we don’t want to throw the baby out with the bathwater. We've learnt a lot from the migration of journals to OA. The recent study on the costs of moving to OA and the additional burdens on university libraries and administrations reminds us that change is hard. In the UK there was much criticism for moving too quickly. So, moving more slowly with books is sensible.
This month we also saw the introduction of six new Mellon-funded projects (total $6 million) for innovative digital humanities projects – some explicitly for OA, others with OA implicit in the project structure. We also saw the launch of Luminos from the University of California Press. Like KU Luminos is being built as a partnership where costs and benefits are shared throughout the scholarly communications community. We expect other similar university press models will follow. And, for the first time, three out of the ten ‘companies to watch’ in an Outsell report on the future of Humanities and Social Science publishing are OA-only initiatives.
We have seen that usage of monographs goes up when available digitally, but primarily throughout those institutions that are able to afford them. This makes taking the next steps imperative – and fortunately we can get there in cost-effective sustainable ways. As Crossick says, 'the direction of travel' to OA is clear. Just how long that journey might be, how many pathways need to be hacked through the jungle, may not be known today but the prize is within sight. Monographs, the foundational works in so many subject areas, have an exciting future as they become ever more widely available to people all around the world through Open Access.
The report can be downloaded here.