Open Access and Content and Discovery

Oct 26, 2016

The University of Nottingham has a long history of supporting open access publishing to further extend the reach and impact of our academics’ research. It is also a global institution with campuses in the UK, Malaysia and China. Since 2014, we’ve shared the cost to help ‘unlatch’ the first two collections offered by Knowledge Unlatched. A natural extension of this was to become a Library Member of Open Book Publishers.

What motivated us to invest in open access monographs? Largely, we’ve done this because a number of senior librarians believe that it’s ‘a good thing to do’. As a service, Libraries, Research and Learning Resources supports the ambitions of a global institution. As librarians, we champion the common goal of removing barriers to accessing knowledge. We consider that we have a role within the global network of libraries supporting the free distribution of high quality scholarly content. We want to support non-author paid routes to publication, particularly in the Humanities and Social Sciences, and hope our academics will benefit from this in the future.

To date, two of our academics have edited or contributed to OBP titles (Women in Nineteenth-Century Russia: Lives and Culture and Henry James’ Europe: Heritage and Transfer), collectively viewed more than 39,000 times. This looks like a very impressive level of engagement with Nottingham research to us! So while only a handful of our academics have so far published with either KU or OBP, anecdotally we hear that they too are keen to be part of a movement which aims to democratise the system of accessing scholarly monographs.

The Content and Discovery section is responsible for the purchase and discoverability of library materials to support teaching and research. How we’ve paid for our albeit small investment in open access books has challenged us. Following a restructure two years ago, we increasingly base our spending on demand and evidence-based need – more core texts to support taught courses, Patron Driven Acquisition and Evidence Based Acquisition are some ways we’re working to satisfy customer needs.

We received quite a negative reaction from some of our academics after we ’skimmed’ a number of school budgets to purchase an online book package of broad relevance across the Social Sciences. While it made sense to us to adopt a similar approach to support open access monographs, we didn’t want to risk a similar reaction and therefore chose to use library donations funds. This may not be the case with any future commitments that we make; our updated Collection Policy prioritises electronic delivery of content where possible and open access publishing is a high priority for the institution.

Many of the titles offered by open access book publishers seem relevant to the University’s teaching and research but our participation has also been a leap of faith. We’re delighted to read the high global download by title figures quoted by both KU and OBP. However, would Nottingham have purchased the individual titles were they not offered within these OA collections? Possibly not. Equally, we have no way of knowing how well used the titles have been by our own global community. The MARC records supplied by KU and OBP have been good (unlike some we receive for ebooks from well-known publishers) making them easy to retrieve via our discovery system, NUsearch.

Like many university libraries, we’re constrained by the pressure on budgets and space. However, at least in the short term, it’s hard to see how our support of these initiatives will relieve the pressure on our book budget, as some have argued, nor does it offer the prospect of significant space savings. Nevertheless, we want to play our part as catalysts in the shift towards an open access model of publishing, bringing high quality research free of charge to all readers.