A Transition From Purchasing to Collaborating: The Relationships Behind Open Access 

This week in North Philly Notes, we celebrate Open Access week with a post by Ryan Mulligan, acquisitions editor at the Press, about our open access initiatives.

This week is Open Access Week, which celebrates the producers and distributors of information who remove the barriers to entry, namely cost but also legal apparatus, facing the potential readers who are trying to access scholarly work. There are plenty of open access models that attempt to resolve the impasse of cost-bearing, turning from readers as bearers of those costs to libraries, grant institutions, and universities themselves, the institutions that ultimately hold the standard for scholarly productivity. Temple University Press is acutely aware that the benefits of book publishing as a means of public scholarship—editing, design, and marketing, that work to lift the most urgent and rigorous signals above the noise in the sea of information available to seekers— come at a cost. In traditional publishing, costs lie with the reader, often represented by a library, seeking the information. As library budgets have either shrunk or been allocated to high-priced journal subscriptions, individual readers—be they scholars or students—have had to cover more of the cost. Unsurprisingly, many readers find themselves unable to bear that cost and the gap between those who can and cannot furthers inequality in academia.

To that end and with an eye towards the future of scholarly publishing, Temple University Press engages with a number of open access publishing initiatives in an attempt to lift those costs from the shoulders of readers. The Press submits books each year to the Knowledge Unlatched program, in which participating libraries select the books to be added to the collection. Publishers are then paid a set amount to help subsidize production costs in order to release the book in an open access ebook edition. Temple University Press also embraces TOME’s Open Monograph program, in which academic authors are subsidized by their participating universities to publish with a participating university press like Temple. I personally love the concept of this program, because in many disciplines, it is the university itself that holds book publication as a standard for tenure and promotion. TOME reconciles the cost of that standard. Temple also has been able to publish books open access through funds from the National Endowment for the Humanities through their open books program, in particular books in the Press’s excellent labor history backlist. All of the Press’s open access books are available on our Manifold platform

University presses are non-profit, mission-based publishers who want to see the good scholarship they publish in as many hands as possible, just as readers and the librarians who serve them want to access that scholarship, and just as authors want to be widely read and cited. Scholarly authors may not typically derive much income from their royalties, but their institutions reward them for having vetted and published their work. Institutions want to have the best published, most knowledgeable faculties to offer their students, and the healthiest knowledge environments in which their students and scholars can share and communicate. Similarly, institutions have a role to play in preserving the scholarly publishing apparatus necessary to vetting and broadcasting the work of their scholars. The scholarly ecosystem continues to need the backing that once came through university library purchases to fund the production and circulation of knowledge. Open access publishing acknowledges that the onus on facilitating the continuation of good scholarship is not on the individual buyer of a book but on the full scholarly community. 

As our authors compose their books, they depend on a lack of barriers to engage with and build on the knowledge base of their discipline. No one produces knowledge out of whole cloth and no scholar is taken seriously who does not draw on the work of others with the expectation that others will draw on their work. They quote short text excerpts and create tables of data collected by their fellow researchers. They cite established theory or build on promising new hypotheses. They illustrate their books with maps and illustrations released into the public domain or Creative Commons by creators who don’t depend on individual sales to continue their work—they have an institution backing them up. Scholarly book publishing already depends on open access scholarship on some level. If the scholarly ecosystem that institutions depend upon is going to continue to be healthy, that level is going to rise and institutions are going to have to meet that cost, if not through individual purchases, then through open access funding. 

There is risk in shifting power and responsibility from a market to a collaboration. Readers’ needs and interests must continue to be protected even if their power in bearing costs shifts. The potential in that shift is in rethinking the responsibilities of the many organizations and institutional parties who have a stake in the knowledge ecosystem.

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