A Few Thoughts about Open Access Books

Oct 26, 2016

Electronic books, better known as e-books, first arrived in the early 1970s as digital versions of their print counterparts (Loan, 2015).  Since then, they have become an invaluable component of the publishing market as publishers and similar providers have offered e-books to consumers on a variety of platforms.  For academic libraries, electronic books have been a resource to offer specific materials to patrons at their point of need, but there have also been have been concerns about these formats (Mune, 2016).  For instance, providers have used proprietary software that requires additional effort on the part of the user in order to read them.  Also, software could be required for specific devices that could limit how a patron can access a specific item for reading purposes.

The growth of the open access movement since the Budapest Open Access Initiative in 2002 has signaled a new era for the accessibility of electronic resources.  Described by the Initiative as making literature “freely available” to any user at any time, the open access movement gained attention with journals that could become accessible to readers without barriers such as paywalls or required software.  Now, e-books have joined the open access community with a similar charge to remake the system.

Open access books have begun to turn the key of a new era of possibilities that can only be described as revolutionary.  As stated previously, open access guarantees that an e-book can be read on any device, at any time, and without any limits.  This supports the foundation of open access as a whole, enabling users to freely access the information they require at any moment (Mune, 2016).  Additionally, open access books could stand to revolutionize the textbook market dramatically.  The costs associated with producing textbooks are widely known to academic libraries, and some have implemented programs with course reserves to offset the need for students to purchase such materials themselves (Johnston, 2015).  With open access books becoming widely available, textbooks could be presented as a cost-effective alternative for faculty to assign and reach a greater number of students as a result.

Perhaps the next areas for open access books to inhabit are those that have yet to be fully understood.  These are areas that can be driven by faculty researchers who choose to cross new boundaries with their own areas of expertise while driving the overall body of research forward at the same time.  At my own institution, for instance, a researcher found the means to serve her own research needs in a way that would not have been realized until the last ten years.  As a researcher in Venetian history, she has published several books related to notable figures, cultural movements, and even the status of the city-state as a maritime power.  However, she was not able to share the data sets, images, manuscripts, and related ephemera that could not be included in the final volume.  Instead, she published these materials herself in an open access book, which acted as a companion volume to the physical book that was on the library’s shelves.  This opportunity gave her the means to advance the collective body of scholarship, this time into the digital realm.

As open access books continue to evolve, they will expand our knowledge.  As open access has encouraged knowledge to become both free of cost and freely shared, books will expand their reach as both entities and individuals take advantage of this emerging medium (Little, 2013).  The promise of research possibilities can only grow from here.



Johnston, D. J., Berg, S. A., Pillon, K., & Williams, M. (2015). Ease of use and usefulness as measures of student experience in a multi-platform e-textbook pilot. Library Hi Tech, 33(1), 65-82. Retrieved from http://go.libproxy.wakehealth.edu/login?url=http://search.proquest.com/docview/1661305406?accountid=14868

Little, G. (2013). Applying open access to library technologies. The Journal of Academic Librarianship, 39(1), 99-101. doi:http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.acalib.2012.11.012

Mune, C., & Agee, A. (2016). Are e-books for everyone? an evaluation of academic e-book platforms’ accessibility features. Journal of Electronic Resources Librarianship, 28(3), 172-182. doi:http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/1941126X.2016.1200927

Open access E-books in science and technology: A case study of directory of open access books. (2015). DESIDOC Journal of Library & Information Technology, 35(4) Retrieved from http://go.libproxy.wakehealth.edu/login?url=http://search.proquest.com/docview/1721905000?accountid=14868