Open Access Books and the Need to Catch Up

Libraries and Open Access Dec 5, 2016

I want to like e-books, I really do. I like the idea that I can access my book anywhere I am, from any device I happen to be using at the time. I own a Kindle and for books that are available on the Kindle, this is the case: I can use my phone, my tablet or my Kindle and the reading experience is pretty much the same. The problem is that academic books haven’t really caught up. There are too many different platforms and too many different access models. As a former e-resources librarian I had to grapple with this on many occasions. For our students this is a barrier, they don’t understand why they can’t download the e-book to their device and access it when they want or why if someone else is in a particular e-book they have to wait and I can kind of see where they are coming from.

In terms of the way we access e-books, this needs to be developed for the academic market. Even if I only want to read a chapter from a textbook, I don’t really want to read it on my computer. I want it to feel like I’m reading a “real” book, I want to read it on a handheld device, with sensible navigation. I want there to be some standardisation over platform too, I don’t want to have to learn how to navigate my books on several different interfaces. I want it to be seamless.

I now work in open access, specifically supporting our institutional repository and while there are issues with providing open access to journal articles this is less problematic than books and book chapters. With the advent of the HEFCE policy on open access for the next REF, publishers have had to get to grips with green open access and provide reasonable embargoes for institutions that just can’t afford to pay for Gold OA. However when it comes to open access to books, there are few publishers that will allow you to make chapters available via an institutional repository. Some just say no, some put so many restrictions on what you are allowed and not allowed to do that in effect it’s a no as it’s just not manageable for us.

I think publishers need to catch up with regards to Green open access to book chapters. The driver isn’t there like it is for journal articles but there is a willingness from some authors to make their chapters (if not whole books) openly available to a wider audience. At the moment, without paying to make the books open access we can’t help them. In reality authors don’t want to pay to publish and institutions often can’t afford to pay fees on the author’s behalf. New models are needed where we don’t pay on a book-by-book basis and the cost isn’t passed onto authors. Institutions are generally in favour of supporting open access publishing so membership models, like Open Book Publishers’ model, tend to be well supported by institutions. With declining budgets and the need to get value for money paying vast sums for individual e-books just isn’t economical. So come on publishers catch up!

Cath Dishman

Cath Dishman is the Open Access and Digital Scholarship Librarian at Liverpool John Moores University