Working in the arena of open access monographs is not for the faint of heart. Joe Esposito has written recently about the internal contradictions associated with inclusion of open access titles in commercial services, focusing on issues of licensed re-use of open access monographs. On NISO IO, the National Information Standards Organization’s new portal, I too recently spent time assessing the landscape of in-progress infrastructure, specifically created to host open access monographs. We’re in a construction zone and there is a fair amount of noise!

construction site

Digital Science has offered its own useful assessment of what is happening in this realm via a new Digital Science Report, entitled The State of Open Access Monographs. The report establishes a benchmark for the information community in what is and is not going well. As Michael A. Elliott, Dean of Emory College of Arts and Sciences, Emory University notes in his Foreword, this is really something of an “opportunity report”. Specifically, he comments, “Each area of challenge — whether the supply chain or the funding model — offers a chance to rethink practices and relationships that we have taken for granted for some time.” The report is quite as up-to-the-minute as one might hope for and thoroughly well-documented. Without stealing the authors’ thunder, they identify three important areas where stakeholders need to make improvements.

The first has to do with incorporating basic and well-established practices of production — building in XML as part of the workflow, assigning of DOIs to each piece of content (including at the chapter level), and ensuring the assignment of accurate and complete metadata.

Their second point is that everyone in the supply chain should be collaboratively engaged in developing new practices in support of the monograph; specifically, “standards organizations have an important linking role to play…and need to engage with the particular challenges of the OA monograph”.

Finally, the report notes that building a more rational system for funding the ongoing publication of monographs is necessary. Most importantly, they recognize that the authors of these monographs should not be the ones to bear that responsibility. Scholars in the humanities and social sciences should be free to focus on their scholarship.

However the element of the report that most caught my attention had to do with the issue of discovery. How are readers and others who need to make use of monographs supposed to identify and engage with the open access content they need? Current gaps in support for those activities impact on the future of digital monographs. As the Digital Science report notes, citation activity of scholarship appearing in monograph form may take two to four years to be noticed in blogs, news outlets, or even in Wikipedia citations. There is a time lag for such titles to be captured in subsequent scholarly works. Those citations — in an environment where every data point may be examined — are critical to proper valuation of a particular monograph. Today’s monographs need hosting environments that properly enable discovery and evidence of use, particularly with regard to open access titles.

This is where the Open Research Library (ORL) from Knowledge Unlatched makes sense. From the perspective of the researcher in our present environment, there is no mechanism for identifying open access monographs that may be relevant to their studies. One can, as I did, run a Google query searching for open access literary criticism on Jane Austen. It’s very easy to uncover journal articles in that situation as the Jane Austen Society of North America has long made articles from its journal, Persuasions, freely accessible. It is not as easy to uncover open access monographs about the works of Jane Austen. (JSTOR gets a thumbs up here for enabling me to find one such book title in the first 10 results on Google and multiple gold stars for making it immediately obvious that the title was open access.)

But let’s be honest and admit that few if any scholars actually begin research by specifying in a query that the relevant source must be open access. The irritation that ORL has been designed to assuage is a bit different. It is confusing and sometimes infuriating to users when they run up against access barriers while using a single resource. They don’t have time or interest to understand why they may access this book in full text, but not that one. There is even less interest in the wrangling between providers and open access advocates about how best to access relevant content; a researcher’s primary concern is their own workflow.  

As I have noted previously here on the Scholarly Kitchen, making clear to users the degree of access offered is an important consideration. Why? Because the reader’s understanding of what is meant by the phrase “open access” is what informs his or her subsequent understanding of acceptable content usage. Affordances for subsequent use are framed differently across digital information environments, and it’s not always easy for the reader to grasp the provider’s intent.

By bringing together as many open access monographs as possible in a single critical mass, Knowledge Unlatched may be supporting exactly that avenue of discovery most needed by some subsection of users. The interface in the beta version of ORL is easily navigated and supports the standard activities associated with studious reading — bookmarking, annotation, etc. As the number of open access titles expands, the access provided by a platform like the ORL may prove to be favored by a particular subset of the user population. Time and again, we’ve seen research indicating that serious engagement with monographs differs from scholarly engagement with journal literature. In accommodating user preferences, it’s important that we leave the door open to experimentation by different vendors and platform providers. (Note: the beta version of this platform went live on May 13, 2019, with the full launch scheduled for October of this year.)

Technology has the promise of improving the user’s reading experience in the digital age and we are currently wrestling with a variety of practical considerations in bringing that about. For more than a decade, the National Information Standards Organization and the Book Industry Study Group have sponsored an annual forum at the annual meeting of the American Library Association to examine common issues pertaining to digital technology and systems found across a spectrum of libraries. This year, the event examines issues of building and delivering ebooks to users, discussing interfaces, ensuring ebook accessibility, system interoperability, and (should you have missed the announcement) BISG’s recently released white paper on open access ebook usage. Just as the Digital Science Report concluded, the information community as a whole should be collaborating to bring a better user experience to practical fruition. 

Jill O'Neill

Jill O'Neill

Jill O'Neill is the Educational Programs Manager for NISO, the National Information Standards Organization. Over the past twenty-five years, she has held positions with commercial publishing firms Elsevier, ThomsonReuters and John Wiley & Sons followed by more than a decade of serving as Director of Planning & Communication for the National Federation of Advanced Information Services (NFAIS). Outside of working hours, she manages one spouse and two book discussions groups for her local library.


8 Thoughts on "Open Access Monographs: Building Better Infrastructure"

Your suggestion that individual chapters have their own DOIs got me thinking. It was only recently I discovered that current DOI rules for journal articles allow, nay require, that there be a different DOI for the same article in two different platforms. For example, every article in JSTOR has a JSTOR-pointing DOI which is different from the DOI for that same article on its publisher’s own website. Searching for such a specific article will reveal both of them but crossref does not at all privilege the publisher one over the aggregate one. So ORL should also get different DOIs for the OA monograph chapters. If many other companies start to compete with them, they’ll get their own DOIs too (or they should according to the DOI rules). Then what will it mean to have a DOI in a reference citation? I’m just really grateful that much more massive aggregators than JSTOR like EBSCO and Proquest aren’t registering DOIs for all the full text books and articles in their databases. If that happened, DOI would be truly dead and we might as well go back to citing the database name in our references. I know this is a bit tangential to the point of your post, but I think it’s something we need to be talking about as we head down this road of proliferating “official” (as defined by DOI) copies.

Proliferation of multiple DOIs for identical content is already a problem certainly and, where possible, establishing just one official version of record seems like the right course. Crossref does have a mechanism for associating a single DOI with an article that exists on more than one platform. For example, The Optical Society uses Crossref multiple resolution for conference proceedings articles that are hosted both on the OSA Publishing platform and on IEEE Xplore.

Thanks to Melissa and Scott for this discussion. With respect to journals, Crossref’s system assigns journals to a publisher and you CANNOT deposit any article metadata including registering DOIs unless you are the publisher or their designee. JSTOR works with hundreds of small society and independent publishers and, in many cases, they have designated JSTOR as the organization responsible for DOI deposit for their content. It is a service we provide to ensure this material is part of the CrossRef network and that there is a URL to the archival version of articles being preserved by JSTOR (our relationship with publishers is fundamentally different from aggregators). We also associate URLs for articles on JSTOR where DOIs have been registered by the publisher (e.g. multiple resolution). As the JSTOR rep to CrossRef and a CrossRef Ambassador, I am actually not aware of cases where there is more than one DOI for the same article, but would be happy to investigate examples. You can send them to

So once again, we are pretending OAPEN Library and DOAB (Directory of Open Access Books) don’t already exist? Even though both of these are referenced in the Digital Science report that serves as the launching point for this post? As I have stated previously, here and elsewhere, the ORL does not address nor usefully serve a supposed gap in the open monographs landscape vis-a-bus discovery of OA books. It can only play catch-up with OAPEN and DOAB who collectively already aggregate over 17,000 OA books from over 110 publishers (and just today, in fact, OAPEN announced a new agreement with DeGruyter). This entire post feels like an endorsement for the ORL that can only make sense if one continues to ignore the fact — and it is a fact — that really useful and well supported discovery services for OA books already exist. To be honest, I am personally waiting for either Knowledge Unlatched or anyone, really, O’Neill included, to explain to me what is wrong with these other discovery, hosting, dissemination, and archiving services? If we say the ORL is much needed: why, more specifically? What is wrong with OAPEN and DOAB? To also be 100% honest, I am personally for the maximization and diversity of such services, as long as they are 100% open and don’t attempt proprietary forms of enclosure. The more discovery services, the better! In that sense, I don’t oppose a multiplicity of discovery services (punctum’s catalog at this point is aggregated in about 5 such platforms and ScholarLed is also building such a service for the holdings of its collective catalog, and will also be adding other presses: more is always better). But I am truly mystified at the claims, by KU, and by others, that there are (supposedly) no currently available places to go where OA books are aggregated en masse. What is at stake in making this claim, which is clearly false? This feels almost absurd. Instead, again, can someone please tell me what is supposedly bad, wrong, not well designed (whatever) about OAPEN, DOAB, MuseOPEN (etc.)? Can we have an honest conversation about this or are we going to keep posturing as if KU’s claim that nothing like the ORL exists is true? That feels weird in the extreme.

This is irrelevant. If ORL finds a market, it will succeed. If it does not, it will go away. No point in speculating beforehand. This is an experiment that can be conducted in the marketplace. In due course we will know the answer. Only investors have to place bets on the future.

My comments are irrelevant? Also: I’m speculating? I’m not speculating anything. I’m disturbed by the false claims re: the ORL’s “uniqueness” and “necessity” which are part and parcel of KU’s marketing strategy. Or are we now endorsing lies-in-advertising as long as it succeeds? No thank you. And no, in the landscape of scholarly communication tied to publicly-funded research, it is not only investors that have to place their bets on the future. Also, as this is a discussion forum, some of us like to think about and reflect upon and adjudicate these experiments as they are unfolding. It’s called market analysis in your world and critique in mine.

Most importantly, they recognize that the authors of these monographs should not be the ones to bear that responsibility.

So just who is supposed to pay the cost of producing a book? Surely, not me perhaps the authors of the report will!

A & I databases are also good resources for finding OA materials in one’s field; we index large numbers of OA journals and books in the MLA International Bibliography. If publishers would take the step of consistently including OA tags in their metadata, it would be an easy matter to display this information in citations.

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