This NW Corner entry was penned by Reed College Collection Services Librarian Erin Gallagher. We at NMM enjoyed reading Erin's writeup of her library's bold move in supporting an open-access journal publisher, especially one that's crowd-funded. Her supporting arguments include the idea that support of open-access is a moral imperative - one that, while largely unmeasurable as a benefit, may be worth the consideration of other institutions. (JPT)
It is no secret that many academic libraries operate on flat or reduced materials budgets and struggle to keep up with annual price increases for electronic content. We are often faced with tough decisions on which resources to purchase or renew from year to year. Call it the “crisis in scholarly publishing” or just call it business as usual, but either way, librarians have been exploring creative and strategic ways to make do with what we have for a long time.
In such times of financial uncertainty, it is difficult to imagine funneling scarce funds to new and emerging initiatives, but a significant number of libraries are doing so. Here at Reed College, we made the collective decision to financially support Knowledge Unlatched (KU). KU states on their “About Us” page that their “...vision is a sustainable market where scholarly books and journals are freely accessible for each and every reader around the world”. KU works toward this goal by partnering with scholarly press publishers to “unlatch” ebooks and journals in the Humanities and Social Sciences, making them freely available to anyone with Internet access. The project is crowd funded by libraries and organizations who pledge various amounts of money toward the amount needed to unlatch these titles; if the goal amount is reached, the titles are released for public benefit. We made the decision to use a small portion of our ebook funds to help support this new initiative based on a variety of factors:
- Proof of sustainability. At the time we pledged, KU was in their fourth round of unlatching open access ebooks; considering that we’ve seen promising open access initiatives fizzle out quickly, KU has an impressive track record.
- Breadth of content. The fourth round of unlatching included 343 titles published from 2005-2015 from 54 trusted university press and scholarly publishers. Full title list here.
- Accessibility. All titles are available to download in full text via the OAPEN (Open Access Publishing in European Networks) platform. We can easily make these titles discoverable in our library catalog by downloading free MARC records and/or activating them in our e-resources management system.
- Local and global benefit. KU provides libraries with institutional usage reports. This means we will be able to determine some level of local benefit and usage beyond the obvious global benefit to supporting this initiative.
- Faculty outreach and education. Reed’s support of KU provides a positive talking point for faculty, particularly as we initiate conversations on open access, open educational resources, and open data. It shows that the library is “putting its money where its mouth is” in regard to open access publishing, and if faculty are given the opportunity to view local usage, they could develop increased awareness of how they are already using open access content in their teaching and research.
- Moral imperative. This one is more difficult to define and impossible to measure, but, at its core, librarianship is all about service. We are in the business of providing our users with access to the materials they want, when they want them. Sometimes, particularly in the case of expensive journal packages with ever-increasing subscription rates, we compromise our core values in order to provide the best service. Initiatives like KU allow us to repurpose funding from traditional subscription models toward projects and initiatives that seek to transform scholarly publishing.
Traditional subscription and purchase models for journals, books, and other library materials are not going away anytime soon. Though promising and inspiring, initiatives like KU are not seen as a means to an end. In combination with other initiatives and services such as institutional repositories, KU is a step in the right direction toward a more open and sustainable scholarly publishing landscape. We at Reed are proud to be supporters.