A significant trend in libraries during the twenty-first century is the development of platforms for the open access dissemination of scholarly communication, more specifically open access books and journals. Some long-standing publishers have developed their own open access digital collections, while some new open access digital book collections have been developed by libraries and academic authors. While publishers have numerous marketing channels for their books and are able to integrate their open access content into their current sales flyers and catalogs, open access book platforms and publishers face a range of challenges. Google Books, the most popular online portal for book readers, makes it difficult for small open access publishers to have their books accessed via its database. Distributing open access books via Amazon is also challenging, given that it is a site developed for selling books rather than making them freely available. Open access publishers may also not have access to the search engine optimization (SEO) expertise for their books. Finally, few of the open access book publishers have the resources to nurture close relationships with large academic book stores in the same way that large print publishers do. Some open access collections have been responsive to these issues by being able to have their books featured on Google Books (Open Book Publishers) or have met the selection criteria to have their titles listed in the Directory of Open Access Books (DOAB). However, open access publishers continue to have difficulty accessing the channels that library acquisition departments use to buy print and e-book content.
The differences between articles and monographs are obvious to many scholars and students, but do significantly impact the open access landscape. An average open access digital article is most likely around fifteen pages, and gives a brief overview of the topic or specific research that is not the length of a book, while an open access monograph will average more than three hundred pages and is clearly more suited for a thorough discussion of a subject. This is best illustrated in the number of open access book titles versus open access articles that are currently available. In January 2020, the Directory of Open Access Journals (DOAJ) contained over four million articles. In contrast, the Directory of Open Access Books (DOAB) contained 26,301 academic peer-reviewed books, a scant collection for even a special library.
In order for libraries to promote change in scholarly communication, we have to be able to collaborate with platforms and publishers to make open access books available and discoverable through our current integrated systems and increase visibility and usage. An important lesson that libraries have learned through the implementation of discovery systems is that the “silo” approach of one access point for an article or book is not how information-seeking works today. Open access books require standardized metadata, such as MARC, MARC21, MARCXML, and KBART records that can be imported into the systems of libraries and aggregators.
SCELC established a Scholarly Communication Task Force in September 2016. Originally consisting of a dozen librarians from a range of SCELC member institutions, the task force was charged, “to explore, identify and recommend collaborative opportunities to advance scholarly communication in member libraries.” In the spring of 2017, the task force was transformed into a permanent, standing committee that would investigate and update member libraries about recent scholarly communication news, as well as advocate for and plan action that SCELC could take to further the interests of open access or other scholarly communication developments in the best interests of its member institutions.
As part of its mission to plan actions that SCELC could take to further scholarly communication developments, the Scholarly Communication Committee established an Open Access Consortial Projects Subcommittee in November 2017. This sub-committee was tasked with serving “as an incubator for identifying and recommending projects that allow consortia-level effort to amplify usage of open access resources at SCELC institutions.” At SCELC Colloquium in March 2018, it was announced that the Open Access Consortial Projects Subcommittee would launch an open access eBook discovery project as one of its first projects, and a working group was created to determine the nature and scope of such a project, and its participants, starting with the minisurvey mentioned in Section 2 and resulting in the formation of this pilot project proposal.
This proposed pilot project would support several objectives within the SCELC strategic plan and promote inter-library collaboration and cooperation. In particular, this project would support Goal 2: “Promote broad availability and long-term sustainability of library collections.” Although open access eBooks are, as the name indicates, openly available, they are often not easily retrievable or accessible within library catalogs and other systems. Providing MARC, MARC21, MARCXML, and KBART records through this project would enable member institutions to make these valuable resources discoverable within their platforms and lend to increased visibility and usage. This would also lend itself to fulfilling Objective 2.1, “[e]encourage[ing] resource sharing within and beyond the consortium in all formats.” It also provides the opportunity to fulfill Objective 1.3 of the strategic plan, "Educate members about trends and threats in the marketplace", as it creates many possibilities to talk to member institutions about the rise of, shift toward, and opportunities and challenges of monographic open access publishing, which often gets less attention than OA publishing of journal articles.
This project by its very nature would also support Goal 5: “Strengthen collaborative structures and processes”. As detailed in sections 5 and 6, a major component of the project would involve participating institutions to communicate with each other about their experiences and questions, in order to offer each other support and solutions during implementation and to collectively gauge the usefulness of this resource to a broad range of institution types. This ties in specifically with Objective 5.1, “Initiate programming for members to communicate about resources and services while encouraging networking between member librarians and SCELC staff.” In addition, this project itself is a direct fulfillment of the second half of Objective 5.2, “Assess member library satisfaction with current SCELC services and solicit ideas for new programming.”
OAPEN, a not-for-profit organisation based in the Netherlands, is dedicated to open access, peer-reviewed books. Although OAPEN is European in name, its focus is global, and it works with publishers from around the world to host over 15,000 books and chapters in 55 languages. The organization offers two main platforms, OAPEN Library, a central repository for hosting and disseminating OA books, and the Directory of Open Access Books (DOAB), a discovery service for OA books.
OAPEN “works with publishers to build a quality controlled collection of open access books, predominantly in the areas of humanities and social sciences, and provides services for publishers, libraries, and research funders in the areas of dissemination, quality assurance, and digital preservation” with the goal of building a branded collection of OA titles, increase visibility and retrievability of these publications, and to promote open access book publishing.
Most important to the SCELC project, OAPEN offers to “promote and support the transition to open access (OA) for academic books, by providing OA infrastructure and services to stakeholders in scholarly communication.” OAPEN recognizes that while open access materials are free to find and use, they are rarely discoverable from traditional library platforms (i.e. catalogs and discovery systems). OAPEN aims to change this by working with reputable academic publishers and libraries to make these materials available under open licenses and discoverable to library patrons.
The benefits of the Library membership program include:
A deposit service consisting of an institutional uploading service for OA books by researchers from the institution, thereby making OA books from the institution available through the OAPEN Library. OAPEN members can make use of this service at no extra charge
Customized feeds, integrating OAPEN’s collections and metadata in MARC 21, MARC XML, KBART or other formats, enhanced with ISBN numbers of other (non-OA) editions
General reports (OA book publishers and models, licensing, policies, projects, and the growth of publications and usage)
Exposure from being listed on OAPEN’s website and in newsletters