Home 9 Uncategorized 9 Looking Over the Edge — Ten Years of Knowledge Unlatched:  Paving the Way for Diamond Open Access Monographs

Looking Over the Edge — Ten Years of Knowledge Unlatched:  Paving the Way for Diamond Open Access Monographs

by | May 8, 2023 | 0 comments

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By Mirela Roncevic, Ph.D.  (Director of Library Relations, Europe) 

With contributions from Neil Christensen, Olaf Ernst, Ph.D., Elaine Lambert, Alexandra Brown, Pablo Markin, Ph.D., Wilson de Souza, and Max Mosterd

Column Editor:  Dr. Sven Fund  (Managing Director, Fullstopp GmbH, Berlin, Germany;  Phone: +49 (0) 172 511 4899)   www.fullstopp.com

Against the Grain V35#2

The year was 2013.  Frances Pinter, the former CEO of Manchester Press, and Lucy Montgomery, a professor at Curtin University, collaborated with 13 academic publishers to launch a global library crowdfunding campaign aimed at making a collection of scholarly monographs Open Access (OA) upon publication.  The campaign sought to cover the cost of publishing 28 monographs in the Humanities and Social Sciences (HSS) without financial burdens to authors or readers.  Initially, the pilot required 200 libraries to participate in crowdfunding, but nearly 300 libraries from various parts of the world supported the initiative, making it a success.

Thus began the story of Knowledge Unlatched (KU), a proof-of-concept experiment aimed at addressing a well-known challenge in OA publishing — finding equitable, sustainable ways to publish OA scholarly publications without requiring fees from authors or readers.  Fast forward to 2023, and KU’s efforts now include hundreds of publishers and institutions from around the globe, who join forces to “unlatch” hundreds of books each year.  These efforts have enabled us to make scholarly titles open and available beyond the confines of institution walls, ensuring that the benefits of OA are widespread and universal.

From a small-scale pilot project, KU has evolved into a global initiative transforming the landscape of OA publishing.  In many ways, the endurance of our OA efforts underscores the power of experimentation and collaboration to drive positive change in scholarly communications.  As we head into our tenth pledging cycle this spring and celebrate a decade of library crowdfunding campaigns, it’s the right time to reflect on the impact of our efforts to date.  And with Diamond Open Access (DOA) recently drawing increasing attention in academic circles, KU’s contributions to the sustainability of DOA are particularly worth noting. 

Over the years, our willingness to test different approaches and business models to eliminate Book Processing Charges (BPCs) for authors — the key distinction of DOA — has resulted in the unlatching of over 4,000 peer-reviewed books across a wide range of HSS disciplines.  Moreover, our community-driven efforts have created a network that serves diverse academic needs and reinforces OA as a global phenomenon that benefits many stakeholders, including authors, researchers, institutions, libraries, and publishers.

Insisting On Equity

Widely considered a more equitable form of Gold OA, DOA relies on funding from institutions to cover the entire publishing process, ensuring that researchers can share their work without paying fees to publishers.  Although DOA encompasses a range of OA publications and infrastructures, it has gained the most attention and traction on the journal side of publishing, where it is positioned as a viable alternative to the Gold OA model reliant on Article Processing Charges (APCs).  Current estimates1 suggest that up to 29,000 academic journals use DOA as a publishing model, a third of which are registered in the Directory of Open Access Journals (DOAJ).  Studies also point to the diversity of the DOA landscape, which spans countries, continents, disciplines, and languages.  Given their increasing popularity in Latin America, Asia, and Eastern Europe — considered emerging OA publishing markets where researchers do not have the same access to closed scholarly content as those in more affluent countries and where authors cannot afford the steep cost of APCs — DOA journals are much more multilingual than APC-based journals (38% compared to 14%).2

In response to last year’s Office of Science and Technology Policy memo3 urging US institutions to make federally funded research publications publicly accessible without embargo, 13 Ivy Plus libraries wrote a letter4 emphasizing the global equity issue with the APC model for journals.  The letter cited “convoluted and demeaning APC waiver procedures” that may result in unaffordable fees for authors and researchers in lower-income countries.  According to the letter, equitable opportunity for global scholars to contribute to academic literature is “as important for the integrity and usefulness of scholarship globally as is the open accessibility to read.”  Across the Atlantic, in their open letter5 to UK library directors, a group of UK researchers also advocated for equitable OA publishing, highlighting DOA and Subscribe-to-Open (S20) as new approaches that do not exclude authors in the Global South.  These recent efforts point to the recognition of DOA in the scholarly community as a sustainable solution to the lingering issue of inequity.

Although much of the current discourse surrounding OA and DOA centers on journals and articles, the need for equity has extended to monographs — the long-form scholarship that remains the primary vehicle for HSS publishing.  It came as no surprise when the global scholarly community recently began to apply OA agendas and policies that used to only apply to journals to monographs.  In late 2021, for example, UK Research and Innovation (UKRI) announced that new monographs that acknowledge UKRI funding should be OA from January 2024, preferring immediate OA but allowing an embargo period of up to 12 months.6  This announcement marked a significant step in cementing the OA monograph’s reputation as a vital form of academic expression and an integral part of OA publishing.  However, authors of monographs continue to face steep processing fees when publishing their books Gold OA, with some fees running as high as 20,000 USD (with an average median BPC of around 12,000 USD).7  As a result, ensuring equity and access to funding has been as relevant for monographs as for journals.

Embracing Globality

KU’s commitment to providing equitable opportunities for authors to contribute to scholarly literature is central to its evolution.  Through our innovative “pledging” model for monographs, we have paved the way for authors to publish their research without incurring BPCs.  Collaborative institutional crowdfunding involving hundreds of libraries worldwide supports this model well and allows us to achieve our equity goals and remain at the forefront of DOA. 

We take pride in the globality of our approaches, from the content we’ve published in partnership with 150-plus publishers, including small university presses, independent publishers, and large corporations, to the collections built in collaboration with librarians from every corner of the globe.  Our in-house book packages are curated by 286 librarians that make up the KU Selection Committee, 154 of whom are located in the Global North and 132 in the Global South, together representing 42 countries and six continents.  The democratic voting process that takes place each year on our website is open to all members of the KU Selection Committee and ensures that KU’s collections echo the voices of librarians worldwide who select content based on the quality and relevance of the proposed topics rather than merely the affiliations of the authors. 

KU’s legacy of publishing content with a global reach is evident in the success of books like Social Theory after the Internet: Media, Technology and Globalization (UCL Press), one of KU’s most-used titles.  Authored by Ralph Schroeder, a professor at the Oxford Internet Institute (University of Oxford), the book was published as part of the KU Select collection in 2018 and has had more than 200,000 downloads worldwide.  DOA has made it accessible to researchers and students in countries like India and China, who may otherwise have limited access to books.  “I have received many emails from those and other countries, thanking me that the book is freely available,” revealed the author in an email recently, adding that 200,000 is many more downloads than all of his other books combined.

Our collections feature diverse content that speaks to the multi-ethnicity and internationality of our authors, whose affiliations range from the prestigious institutions in the US and the UK to the lesser-known universities in Eastern Europe, Africa, Asia, and Latin America.  And our staff is also highly diverse, with KU team members hailing from the US, the UK, Germany, the Netherlands, Portugal, Spain, Croatia, Israel, and Brazil, among other countries.

While we believe that DOA is essential in helping scholars achieve global impact, we also strive not to exclude from the narrative the scholars who have traditionally had insufficient access to institutional funding, such as contingent, independent, unaffiliated, and early career researchers.  To this end, we are experimenting with ways to reserve a certain percentage of unlatched titles for researchers who would otherwise have no opportunity to take advantage of the no-fee approach to OA.

Navigating the Future

As DOA continues to gain momentum, we hope our commitment to collaboration and experimentation serves as a model for the wider academic community.  By promoting equitable access to knowledge and breaking down the barriers that prevent scholars and researchers from accessing the information they need, KU has helped to foster a more open and inclusive academic landscape.  And although our OA offerings have increased significantly over the years, and the number of supporting institutions has more than doubled since the 2013 pilot (now approaching 680), our mission to try to make what is complex with OA simpler and more equitable for those we work with and serve remains unchanged.  We will continue to experiment with different models that support DOA and evolve in the areas that deal with access to equitable opportunities and brokering the funds needed to support OA publishing efforts worldwide. 

In recent years, we have extended our efforts beyond monographs to support the publishing of journals through several Subscribe-to-Open initiatives, resulting in the flipping of 50 closed journals in the fields of anthropology, politics, math, and water management to OA.  Along the way, we have recognized the importance of supporting the publishing of other emerging types of peer-reviewed content, including academic blogs and videos.  We have also been investing in OA infrastructures to contribute to the discoverability of OA content (Open Research Library) and the workflow management of various OA processes in institutions (Oable).

And what better time than the present to rethink the structure and purpose of our multidisciplinary collection of monographs well-known to librarians, KU Select, and align it with the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs)?  Aiming to eradicate poverty, protect the planet, and ensure that people everywhere live safely and prosperously, SDGs may only be realized through improved access to information and knowledge sharing.  We first embraced this clear link between SDGs and OA two years ago when we launched our focus collection on Climate Change.  This year, we take our commitment to publishing SDG-relevant content to a new level by dividing KU Select into seven packages matching the breakdown of SDGs:  SDG 1 (No Poverty), 3 (Good Health and Well-being), 5 (Gender Equality), 8 (Decent Work and Economic Growth), 10 (Reduced Inequalities), 13 (Climate Action), and 16 (Peace, Justice and Strong Institutions).  The collection remains subject to evaluation by the KU Selection Committee, but unlike in previous years, it will no longer be divided into larger academic disciplines.

These are just some ways we have expanded our horizons over the years without straying from our core belief: that OA must remain an equitable and global process embracing diversity, experimentation, and pressing social issues.  And in this ever-evolving process, change remains the only constant.  The writing is on the wall: just as the world needs to support the idea that those who have must help support those who do not have, academic publishing needs models that serve as the great equalizers in the story of knowledge dissemination.  We see KU as a unique facilitator of OA equity and simplicity, aiming to make the OA process as simple as possible so that researchers can focus on knowledge production rather than administration.

In the words of Elaine Lambert, KU’s Account Manager for North America, who has been with KU from the beginning and has seen it grow since the earliest days, “knowing that we have a lot to do with enabling thousands of researchers to publish their books OA free of charge while allowing other researchers to access those books freely never ceases to inspire.” 

References

Bosman, J., Frantsvåg, J.E., Kramer, B. Langlais, P. Proudman, V.  OA Diamond Journals Study, Part 1: Exploring collaborative community-driven publishing models for Open Access.  Science Europe and cOAlition S Report 2021.  https://zenodo.org/record/4558704#.ZDZgfHZBxPY

Executive Office of the President.  Office of Science and Technology Policy.  Memorandum for the Heads of Executive Departments and Agencies, August 25, 2022.  https://www.whitehouse.gov/wp-content/uploads/2022/08/08-2022-OSTP-Public-Access-Memo.pdf

Harvard Library Communications Office.  IPLC Letter to the Office of Science & Technology, March 3, 2023.  https://library.harvard.edu/about/news/2023-03-03/iplc-letter-office-science-technology-policy

An open letter from UK Researchers to UK library directors regarding the UK’s reliance on read-and-publish deals with publishers, March 10, 2023.  https://docs.google.com/document/d/1ZAlPDvECb5Zm1pqAf0I1f0sjcBqPbkPGMvGIhaCz6lM/edit

Shaw, P., Phillips, A. & Gutiérrez, M.B.  The Death of the Monograph?. Pub Res Q 38, 2022.  382–395.  https://doi.org/10.1007/s12109-022-09885-2

OA Monograph Charges (BPCs).  Open APC website.  Accessed March 29, 2022.  https://treemaps.openapc.net/apcdata/bpc/  

Endnotes

1. Bosman, J., Frantsvåg, J.E., Kramer, B. Langlais, P. Proudman, V.  OA Diamond Journals Study, Part 1: Exploring collaborative community-driven publishing models for Open Access.  Science Europe and cOAlition S Report 2021.  https://zenodo.org/record/4558704#.ZDZgfHZBxPY

2. Bosman, J., Frantsvåg, J.E., Kramer, B. Langlais, P. Proudman, V.  OA Diamond Journals Study, Part 1: Exploring collaborative community-driven publishing models for Open Access.  Science Europe and cOAlition S Report 2021.  https://zenodo.org/record/4558704#.ZDZgfHZBxPY

3. Executive Office of the President.  Office of Science and Technology Policy.  Memorandum for the Heads of Executive Departments and Agencies, August 25, 2022.  https://www.whitehouse.gov/wp-content/uploads/2022/08/08-2022-OSTP-Public-Access-Memo.pdf

4. Harvard Library Communications Office.  IPLC Letter to the Office of Science & Technology, March 3, 2023.  https://library.harvard.edu/about/news/2023-03-03/iplc-letter-office-science-technology-policy

5. An open letter from UK Researchers to UK library directors regarding the UK’s reliance on read-and-publish deals with publishers, March 10, 2023.  https://docs.google.com/document/d/1ZAlPDvECb5Zm1pqAf0I1f0sjcBqPbkPGMvGIhaCz6lM/edit

6. Shaw, P., Phillips, A. & Gutiérrez, M.B.  The Death of the Monograph?.  Pub Res Q 38, 2022.  382–395.  https://doi.org/10.1007/s12109-022-09885-2

7. OA Monograph Charges (BPCs).  Open APC website.  Accessed March 29, 2022.  https://treemaps.openapc.net/apcdata/bpc/

Sven Fund

This is the first submission in a brand new column for Against the Grain titled “Looking Over the Edge” that will be guest edited by Sven Fund.  Sven has more than 20 years experience in scholarly and trade publishing.  He worked for Bertelsmann, SpringerNature, and De Gruyter.  In 2015, Sven became the Managing Director of Knowledge Unlatched, the innovator in Open Access that was acquired by Wiley at the end of 2021.  At Wiley, Sven is responsible for the integration of KU and its products, like oable, into the Wiley portfolio.  On the side, Sven is a novice in beekeeping, runs ReviewerCredits and teaches at Humboldt University in Berlin (librarianship) and Hochschule der Medien in Stuttgart (innovation in publishing).  

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