Open access for scholarly publications, part 8 – Books

The National Library of Sweden has held the appropriation directive from the Swedish Government to produce recommendations for the change to an open access scholarly publication system. These recommendations are presented by Henrik Schmidt, librarian here at KIB, in a series of blog posts.

In 2017, the Swedish government assigned the National Library of Sweden (KB) the task of coordinating the transition to an open access publishing system. The government’s goal is that all scientific publications ought to be ”openly available as soon as they are published” (only in Swedish). As part of its assignment, KB has conducted five investigations. The five different themes were taken from the national guidelines for open access, by the Swedish Research Council (Vetenskapsrådet, VR) which was published in 2015. If we go back a few years to 2012, we encounter the EU Commission’s recommendation to all member states that they should develop clear policies and plans regarding dissemination and access to all scholarly publications that result from publicly funded research. Today, in this blogpost, we will not go as far back as to the Berlin Declaration for Open Access (2003).

In March 2019, KB presented the five themed investigations separately. In addition to this, KB summarised the conclusions and recommendations in a report entitled: The transition to an open access scholarly publication system (only in Swedish). The participants in the different investigative groups came from research funding agencies, the research community, various educational institutions, and KB. The investigations resulted in 16 recommendations. We have in a series of blog posts written about the first seven recommendations. The eighth recommendation concerns books.

The question of books as part of the publishing system is not that crucial here at Karolinska Institutet (KI), or for that matter at other technical, scientific or medical educational institutions, at least not when it comes to publishing research results. It is mainly within the humanities and the social sciences that the monograph remains a key publishing channel. The transition to open access book publication has also been slower compared to that of journals, and has for that reason become somewhat hidden from plain view. Nonetheless, the basis for converting books to open access is the same as for converting journal articles. VR writes: “Books that are published by Swedish publishers and is a result of publicly-funded research shall be freely accessible on the Internet”. The business model is also the same. An open access book is financed by a publishing cost, a so-called BPC (Book Processing Charge), but for the reader the book is available for free. There are also hybrid publishing and self-archiving alternatives for books.

Even if books are not the main publication channel for KI researchers, educational programs at KI rely heavily on course literature. Students buy, borrow, sell, copy, share or refrain from using (for cost reasons) important course literature. Books listed in the course literature are mainly authored by researchers affiliated to other universities, but many of KI’s educational programs also mandate (or recommend) books written by researchers at KI. Other KI researchers contribute to the course literature by editing anthologies or by contributing with individual book chapters. If you see it in this way, the book has great significance even at KI.

The publisher Springer Nature has shown in a report that the numbers for their downloaded open access books are seven times higher than for their licensed book titles. They have also shown that open access books have 50 percent more citations and more than 10 times as many mentions online. It is mainly those within the academy who are downloading open access books, but Springer Nature’s report also shows that the books are being used by those outside of the research community.

It has been argued that open access course literature and open educational resources can increase access to education and thereby reduce inequity. The issue is perhaps not that significant here in Sweden, but in many other parts of the world, the cost of course literature is a genuine obstacle to participating in education. Research has also suggests that learning outcomes can be improved when an open access book is used in a course as compared to one only available commercially.

Let us therefore suggest a few places where you can browse among the titles for open access books. PubMed’s bookshelf contains just about 7000 titles. The Directory of Open Access Books (DOAB) lists more than 1100 books in health sciences. In Europe, there is OAPEN; in Sweden, Kriterium, both platforms that provide scientific books available to readers according to open access principles. In our own open archive, we have all of KI’s dissertations since 2005 available in full text. All dissertations written in Sweden are available in SWEPUB, while DART Europe contains dissertations from more than 600 European universities.

KI’s current open access policy talks about ”publications,” and these are in the first place peer-reviewed journal articles. However, other forms of publication, such as the book, can be incorporated into KI’s policies and practices. This, at least, is what KB recommends in the report.

Recommendation 8 reads as follows: That all higher education institutions and research funding agencies include scientific books in their open access policies and guidelines.

Find out more about the description of and argument in favour of this recommendation in the report: Öppen tillgång till böcker (only in Swedish).

All blog posts in this series

Henrik Schmidt (on leave)

Librarian engaged in research support in various forms. Teaches doctoral students and researchers in areas related to literature search, publishing strategies and publication analysis.