institutional representatives

OAPEN-UK Institutional Representatives Focus Group: 21 November 2011

The OAPEN-UK focus group for institutional representatives identified several key issues for university librarians, repository staff and research managers; specifically, the long-term availability of content, metadata and discovery, functionality of content and financial issues. Underlying each of these issues was a question about where responsibilities and ownership should lie.

Availability of content
Participants recognised that, if publishers no longer made money from electronic versions of content, they would be unlikely to invest in availability of that content.

The university library or repository was one possible alternative site for content. Many already have some experience of making monograph-type content (such as e-theses) available. Technical infrastructure could be tied into these existing systems, and perhaps also linked to research management systems, as is already happening in some institutions. Participants acknowledged, though, that not all institutions are ready to take on this responsibility. They were also concerned that, as academics move from institution to institution, responsibility for maintaining availability of their published work might become confusing, and content might fall between the gaps.

Several participants came up with the idea of a new type of university press, publishing electronic versions of content produced by university staff and holding them centrally. This would have the benefit of ensuring IP remained with the university helping it build up its brand identity which in the current competitive environment may become more important. Some participants talked about the possibility of making a profit by selling certain content, such as textbooks, to other institutions. Participants noted that if the ‘new university press’ were to be established, it would require new technical infrastructure and financial investment as well as support from senior staff. Participants suggested that it may be possible to link such services into success in research assessments, including the REF and league tables, especially if there is a way to link OA and impact assessment. This may also be a positive outcome for funders, if they can obtain data about impact and usage of published outputs from their projects. Finally, authors would be able to see the impact of moving to an OA model, which could potentially help change perceptions of OA as a less prestigious model.

Some concern was expressed as to whether academics would engage with institutional presses or repositories. Issues included the reputation and prestige of existing presses, and the fact that academics feel more affiliated with their discipline than with their institution. Subject-based repositories might be more effective at securing engagement from academics, and would provide a long-term solution which is unaffected by staff moving between institutions. It was suggested that institutional repositories are still new and that their role may be part of a transition phase while new modes of access and publishing models for scholarly content are formed.

The long-term availability and preservation of open access monographs was a particular concern. Participants recognised that these problems exist for paid for e-books but become even more critical for OA monographs as there is no direct contract between the library and the publisher and it would not be clear who is responsible for maintaining access and preserving OA monographs.

Participants discussed whether institutional and subject repositories could play a role in this area, providing archival access to titles by authors in their institutions. But they noted that the preservation policies of repositories (or indeed publishers) are not always clear, and that perhaps the responsibility of archival access and long term preservation of OA monographs would be better managed at a national level rather than by publishers or institutions.

Participants talked about the JARVIG (e-journal archiving implementation working group) initiative which is working to deliver a national infrastructure for e-journal archiving by joining up existing practices and components such as LOCKSS, CLOCKSS and Portico to ensure long term availability of content. Participants noted that Portico has just launched a service for ebooks.

Format obsolescence was a particular concern for OA content, as publishers were unlikely to take responsibility for maintaining a version that could work with new formats. Responsibility for legal deposit of OA content (participants felt that there is a need for this) was also a concern, as was version control. One solution might be a national shared service, along the lines of UKRR (UK Research Reserve), to support long-term availability of OA monographs. Participants noted that the role of national initiatives is to create standards to maintain and preserve OA and that there are several national and technical bodies looking at this. OAPEN-UK may want to try to get OA monographs on their agendas.

Metadata and discovery
Participants identified metadata as a major issue for OA monographs. Existing publisher and supply chain processes for ebooks do not guarantee good quality metadata: there are issues around unique identifiers and quality varies dramatically. A participant noted that one press has recently decided to outsource its MARC record creation after consultation with librarians, realising that perhaps it was outside its skill set. Metadata is sometimes supplied in a format that is not suitable for individual library systems.

In existing ebook models, publishers do at least supply some form of metadata. In an OA system, it is not clear who would be responsible for creating metadata – publisher, author, institution? In the repository or new university press model, this could mean that library staff have to spend more time creating metadata, in one of two ways. If the content creator is responsible for metadata, this would mean that any repository or university press making available OA books would have to create metadata for anything that they publish, in formats which meet the needs of all potential users. If the content user is responsible for metadata, this would mean that all libraries would have to create metadata for any OA content that they wish to add to their collections and catalogues. In either situation, the cost of staff time would be high. In the publisher model, librarians or other institutional staff may continue to have a role in assisting authors and publishers. Participants raised the idea of a national service for OA metadata that sets best practice and works to create or clean up metadata. They also suggested that there could be commercial solutions such as buying in MARC records created by an external company. The RLUK group on cataloguing is considering some of these issues at present.

Discovery is a closely-related issue – without metadata it will be impossible to discover whether OA monographs exist, where they can be found, under what licence arrangement and so on, which would make it hard for users to discover the work they need. Again, participants highlighted that the situation is by no means perfect within the existing e-book market. Participants were not sure how librarians would discover that new content exists, particularly if there is a proliferation of small university-based providers, platforms or subject repositories – metadata is the only way to ensure discoverability. A similar problem applies to aggregators, and it was not clear how OA content would be assimilated into aggregator platforms.

Even once content is discovered, participants were unsure as to how much of it would or should be channelled into catalogues and the library knowledge base. In some institutions, OA content is kept separate from the library catalogue. Participants also discussed the likely changes in the role of content acquisition and subject specialist librarians, if monographs were to become predominantly OA. Advocacy on best practice might help establish standards in the field. It will also be important to understand what users want.

The functionality question applies to all e-books, whether they are OA or not. But in an OA model, participants suggested that there is no incentive for the publisher to invest in sophisticated functionality, as they generate no income from the content. One model might be for institutions – probably libraries – to hold PDF versions of content, with paid-for overlay services provided by aggregators. Initiatives such as Project Muse mean that library infrastructure exists to deal with locally-held PDF copies.

Participants also questioned whether the ‘book’ is the most useful unit for research outputs, or whether it might be more helpful to think of ‘chapters’. Researchers could then create custom books, containing the content that is most useful to them. This also related to a question about the need for print on demand, and whether researchers will continue to need access to print copies of content.

Financial issues

The biggest question for many participants was how OA monograph publication will be funded – who will pay, and via what mechanisms? Participants were not sure how much it would cost to produce and administer an OA book, and felt that without this information it was difficult to estimate how funding streams would work.

They felt that funders would be very important in driving a move to OA, but acknowledged that in HSS many research outputs emerge from research funded by the university, rather than by funding councils or other funders (as is the case in some other disciplines). So although it is important for funding councils to take a lead in this area, there will also need to be action on the part of universities. They suggested that funders should invite, and researchers should make, bids for publication fees within grant applications, but recognised that it would take time for this to filter through the system as projects can take years to run, and monographs can take years after the project has finished to complete. They suggested that for institutions, an investment in OA monograph publication could be seen as ‘pump priming’ by research offices; publishing via OA in order to increase the impact of monographs and reaping the rewards through the increase in prestige and visibility and success in future funding bids. They also discussed advertising as a possible way of raising revenue for publishing OA monographs.

Participants also mentioned several other issues, broadly related to finance, which could prompt or hinder a move to OA. Royalties were one such issue, as it is unlikely that these would be paid in an OA model. The group debated the importance of royalties to authors, but agreed that they are probably less important than other considerations such as prestige and impact of publications. Participants suggested that it would be necessary in an OA environment to move reward away from sales / royalties and to demonstrate value through usage – getting content widely disseminated and used. Another issue which might hinder a move to OA is publishers’ reliance on direct sales to students, especially of textbooks. This would be compromised by widespread and ready access to content. But other financial issues might increase support for a move to OA. One of these was the general move, on the part of publishers, to stop selling single books to libraries, and instead to demand that they subscribe to collections or series. This was described as being similar to big deal bundling of journals. The participants felt that a move to OA would be welcomed by librarians as helping to disrupt this trend.

View a blog post by one of the participants