Journals, News

Open Access: Libraries’ Questions Answered

In a recent article for The Open Access Books Network, Sharla Lair (Senior Strategist of Open Access and Scholarly Communication Initiatives, LYRASIS) answers some of the key questions posed by libraries and institutional representatives wanting to know more about Open Access publishing and what the model offers in the long-term. Increasingly, the library community is looking for new ways to use the funds they steward to open more scholarly content. There are fairly established strategies for funding Open Access (OA) journals, but many librarians have been asking:

What are the opportunities to direct funds to make scholarly books OA? And how do libraries evaluate these programs to determine whether library funds should be used to support them? 

In the following article, Lair seeks to provide information to direct libraries and institutions (as well as individuals) to the relevant OA initiatives, enabling organisations to make informed decisions on funding, and to spread awareness of the numerous benefits offered by OA in education more widely.


OA Book Programs: What are they and where to find them

The following is a fairly comprehensive list of OA book programs that are actively seeking funding from the library community:

Various organisations are aggregating lists of these programs so that they are easier for libraries to find in a collective group:

Evaluating Open Access Books Programs

Once you know where you can find these programs, you then need to evaluate them to determine whether your library wants to dedicate part of its budget to support any of them. It can be overwhelming to evaluate these programs, especially with decreasing staff and resources. So where is the best place to start? Libraries that do participate in OA book programs usually start by asking a few questions.

OA Book Business Models

Question 1: What kind of business model is implemented to make the program sustainable? 

Below are several excellent resources available that describe the predominant business models implemented to sustain open access publishing of books:

But don’t let all of this information about the various business models scare you away! If we distil this information to ask how libraries might participate in any of these models, two predominant models emerge: a one-time spend or an ongoing spend.

One-Time Spend

  • Libraries pay the full cost of publishing an OA book out of library funds. On the ground, this looks like a one-time spend from the library, and unless a library commits to making this commitment on an annual basis, it can be treated as such.
  • Example business models: Publication Fees, also referred to as Book Processing Charges (BPCs) or Subvention Grants
  • Example program: TOME.

Ongoing Spend

  • Because books are much more costly to publish, most emerging OA books programs presented to libraries fit under this category. Libraries pay an ongoing fee, usually tiered based on the type, size, and geographic location of an institution. Libraries can participate annually or with multi-year commitments.
  • Example business models: Membership, Subscribe to Open, Collective Funding, Diamond OA
  • Example OA program: Opening the Future.
The ‘OA Acquisitions’ Process

Question 2: What is the acquisition or procurement process for participating in OA book programs?

Most of the OA book programs listed at the beginning of this post are sensitive to the fact that libraries have certain restrictions in acquisitions and procurement processes at their institution that can prevent libraries from participating. These OA book programs are building workarounds to make it easier – to “normalize” OA acquisitions.

For instance, they are still providing a “transactional experience” that library procurement is built upon, by giving libraries a “thing” in exchange for the funds. In actuality, the funds are often partially or fully diverted to making content OA. On paper, the library receives something in exchange, such as access to the backlist or a portion of it, or they are given governance roles within the program.

These OA book programs are also flexible in the wording they use to meet the local procurement needs of institutions, using words like membership, contribution, support, ongoing spend, one-time spend, etc. to describe the “transaction.”

Despite these programs having an open access focus, licensing agreements may still be a part of the acquisitions process. For example, as an incentive for participation, some of these programs provide closed-access backlists, which require a license to describe the terms of use of those titles. If there is a license requirement, fortunately, many of these programs provide very library-friendly terms for the paywalled content, i.e., ILL, DRM-free, scholarly sharing, etc.

Emerging Strategies for Evaluating Open Access Programs

Question 3: Given this is open access, what other criteria, beyond what we use to evaluate paywalled content, should we consider using to evaluate OA book programs? 

Libraries want to make smart decisions to ensure improved access to research, data, and multimedia content. As library budgets are shrinking, the desire for library dollars to have a greater impact is increasing. Therefore, new strategies for evaluating open access investment are emerging.

A growing cohort of libraries is attempting to expand evaluation activities so that their spending activity strategically aligns with the principles and values they adopt. They are establishing principles and values underpinned by checklists that help them operationalize those principles and values.

book lot on shelf
Seattle Library, Unsplash

For example, the University of California Scholarly Transformation Advice and Review (STAR) Team is experimenting with operationalizing their values through a criteria form and evaluation system they developed to help them make informed investment decisions in OA. The criteria they developed inspired the criteria form completed by OA programs that participate in the LYRASIS Open Access Community Investment Program (OACIP). To facilitate criteria-driven decision-making, OACIP seeks to ask the right questions of publishers and to have publishers provide those answers to potential investors. Libraries and other investors can evaluate the propriety of investment relative to how and whether the publishers’ responses satisfy their local investment values and principles.

The OACIP Criteria Form asks publishers to provide the following kinds of information:

  • A summary of how much money they are seeking, for what duration, the levels/tiers of a potential investment, and why they are recommending that stakeholders invest in their journal, resource, or project.
  • Description of their mission, publishing history, impact, the peer review process
  • Overview of their current business model, including distribution/sales volume
  • Explanation of their governance, and any commitment to advancing social justice and diversity
  • Demonstration of operational and financial stability, or a plan for such
  • Their approach to copyright in terms of author rights retention and licensing
  • Compliance with relevant technical standards

Based on the answers the publishers give to those questions, the STAR Team and other libraries can make more informed decisions based on how those answers align with whatever values they hold locally.

If your institution has not gone through the exercise of developing values and principles upon which to make acquisitions decisions, you might want to look at the following resources for inspiration:

Principles & Values Statements
Tools for Operationalizing Your Institution’s Values

If you do not have the time or resources to implement these strategies right now, do not let that stop you from participating in these programs. If all else fails, continue to use the criteria you established for acquiring any scholarly content for local use. Remember that open access content published by reputable scholarly publishers is scholarly content that serves research as well as teaching and learning needs at your institution.

The transformation of scholarly publishing happens one investment at a time. You can’t do everything, but you can do something. And if each of us in the library community did something, then we can collectively move the needle so that a more diverse and sustainable, peer-reviewed collection of open access scholarly books emerges as part of our shared vision for a globally shared collection.


The full article by Sharla Lair, published by Lucy Barnes for the Open Access Books Network can be found on the website here.

This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License


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