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The Public Knowledge Project’s Open Monograph Press

by | May 9, 2022 | 0 comments


By John Willinsky  (Khosla Family Professor and Associate Dean for Student Affairs, Stanford University) 

Against the Grain V34#2

While much progress has been made by academic libraries, societies, and groups of scholars in supporting the publication of independent journals, giving rise to the Open Access Diamond Journal phenomenon (no charge for authors or readers), the same is not true of books.1  Scholarly books would appear to require a publishing house to produce such works.  Well, in that regard, Open Monograph Press (OMP) offers a publishing house in a box.  Only there is no box.  And the house is virtual, but within it one can see the scholarly book through to publication. 

OMP is actually an open source software file — called a tarball — made freely available by the Public Knowledge Project (PKP) at Simon Fraser University.  First released in 2013, OMP brings to scholarly book publishing the design principles and technologies of PKP’s Open Journal Systems (OJS), which was released a decade earlier and the Diamond Open Access journal set’s preferred platform, according to one study.  

OMP can be downloaded from PKP to any web server with a few basic requirements in place, such as a recent version of PHP, the open source — noticing a pattern here? — scripting language.  It comes with an installation script that enables the server admin to set it up, assign it a URL, and designate a “press manager” who will go on to create the online publishing house.  The press manager fills in the name of the press, the scope and purpose of its publishing program, its affiliations, and other details.  She registers the editorial team with OMP and selects one or more of the 28 languages for which the community of OMP users have provided for others to employ with this software.  She can turn to OMP’s internal help system, or seek extended advice on starting and operating a press to be found at the PKP Documentation Hub.

Once the basics are in place, the press can open its doors online.  We’re talking about more than just another pretty website (although it is open to customization and artful design).  The entire editorial, production and publication process takes place through the OMP platform.  In one secure place, OMP manages people, roles, and access rights, publishing processes and dashboards, while keeping a running record of what needs to be done and an active catalog of published works.  It is like a nonproprietary version of Atlassian Jira, the work management software, for scholarly books. 

With the press online, authors can begin to submit manuscripts and edited collections in response to calls for submissions and as a result of editors soliciting manuscripts.  Submissions are assigned to editors, who then consider whether they are suitable for the press and thus merit review.  If the manuscript is passed on to the review stage, the editor, author and reviewers are guided through the peer review process.  That is, editors call on prepared emails for soliciting reviewers, whether new reviewers or already registered and rated.  The email invitation takes reviewers right to the manuscripts and provides a spot for the review (and possibly review forms). 

The editor can selectively or entirely share the reviews with the author, along with advice and counsel on how best to utilize the reviewers’ comments, while keeping the process anonymous on both sides, if desired.  The author can upload a revised version of the manuscript, vastly improved as a result of the reviews (at least in my experience as an author), for the editor to initiate another round of reviews or to accept the manuscript or, alas, to reject the manuscript at that stage, which will then be archived, if there is no book to be found within its pages.  

If following review and revisions, the manuscript is accepted for publication, OMP offers a meeting place for those assigned to marketing and sales, for artworks and permissions, tables and figures.  OMP has a separate stage for managing the back and forth of copyediting with the author, as well as one for the production and design of the book, whether for print or in an eBook format.  It offers a book catalog system for marketing the books, along with options for offering open access, and arranging print-on-demand, as well as doing Amazon placement.  

Up to this point, the principal users of OMP have been academic libraries.  Within the Library Publishing Coalition, which provides a great deal of support for both journal and book publishing from among its community members, of which 16 university libraries offer an OMP installation to their community.  Among those using OMP, Windsor & Downs Press, which is part of the Illinois Open Publishing Network, offers its books free to read online, with print-on-demand options.  In Denmark, Aarhus University Library Publishing Services provides readers with open access not only to monographs and anthologies, but also to conference proceedings, dissertations, and working papers.  Scholarly communication librarians have taken to hosting monograph presses for the use of their faculty at a variety of institutions.  These library-hosted presses have enabled a flourishing of open access monographs that would not have otherwise been published, whether in Canadian archeology or Mexican geography. 

Among Spanish-language presses, the Universidad Cooperativa de Colombia’s Ediciones has over 130 titles made freely available in its catalog.  And while the most popular book at the Portal de Libros Electrónicos de la Universidad de Chile is the 2015 atlas entitled Insectos de Chile, this OMP installation also shares treasures from the university’s rare book collection, such as the Historiae mundi published in 1582 by Cayo Plinio Segundo.  All told, just over 60 OMP presses published more than five books or other items in 2020.  Beyond the library-hosted OMP is Mandela University Press, in Port Elizabeth, South Africa, offers its books for sale on Amazon paperback and Kindle, Google Books, and JSTOR.  As well, the scholar-operated Language Science Press offers its books both as free PDFs and hardbacks at Amazon, while also hosting a collaborative-reading PaperHive. 

If that sums up the what of this book publishing platform known as Open Monograph Press, what then of the why? That is, why has PKP created an open source online platform for managing book publication? One important factor for us was an interest in balancing the support we offered for moving journals to online open access with what we might do for books.2  This seemed especially urgent, to me at least, because of the declining place of monographs in library collection budgets, dating back to the 1970s.3  This gradual depression of the market for scholarly books had profound implications in fields such as history and economics for what topics and areas of study were pursued at book-length.4 

What we imagined OMP bringing to this disturbing decline in the place of learned books was a means for scholars to take matters into their own hands.  They need not depend on a journal-centric publishing marketplace.  We had seen OJS used to assert this sort of scholarly independence earlier with, for example, the International Journal of Žižek Studies or the S: Journal of the Circle for Lacanian Ideology Critique.  The commitment and dedicated efforts of these scholar-editors, following what we now call the OA Diamond model, seemed no less applicable to the publishing of monographs.5 

When it comes to the fate of the monograph, what is at issue, for me at least, is the unit of thought.  In that regard, I find monograph a misnomer.  Scholarly books certainly bring a singular focus and constancy of theme to their topic.  Yet as their expansiveness ranges over facets and through histories, it seems a multivariate monotheism at best.  That such works remain integral to the intellectual enterprise of academic life is reason enough for tool builders and platform developers to serve such ambition.  It has become our work to advance an openly knowing future through such infrastructure.  


1. Arianna Becerril, Lars Bjørnshauge, Jeroen Bosman, Jan Erik Frantsvåg, Bianca Kramer, Pierre-Carl Langlais, Pierre Mounier, Vanessa Proudman, Claire Redhead, and Didier Torny, The OA Diamond Journals Study, Science Europe, 2021, https://scienceeurope.org/our-resources/oa-diamond-journals-study/.

2. John Willinsky, “Toward the Design of an Open Monograph Press,” Journal of Electronic Publishing 12, no. 1, 2009, https://doi.org/10.3998/3336451.0012.103.

3. Bernard M. Fry and Herbert S. White, “Impact of Economic Pressures on American Libraries and Their Decisions Concerning Scholarly and Research Journal Acquisition and Retention,” Library Acquisitions: Practice & Theory 3, no. 3-4 (1979): 153-237.

4. Darnton, Robert, “A Program for Reviving the Monograph.” Perspectives 37, no. 3 (March), 1999 http://www.historians.org/perspectives/issues/1999/9903/9903PRE.CFM.

5. John Willinsky and Ranjini Mendis, “Open Access on a Zero Budget: A Case Study of Postcolonial Text,Information Research 12, no. 3, 2007: 12-3.  http://informationr.net/ir/12-3/paper308.html.


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