Australasian Libraries Needed to Help Scale Knowledge Unlatched

Lucy Montgomery writes about the need for new models in humanities publishing and the second round of Knowledge Unlatched. Other models include Open Library of the Humanities.

Contact: @KUnlatched

Specialist scholarly books, or monographs, are a vital form of publication for Humanities and Social Sciences (HSS) scholars globally. Monographs allow HSS researchers to develop and share complex ideas at length, and to engage with international communities of peers in processes of knowledge creation. However, library spending on books hasn’t kept pace with growth in the number of researchers required to publish a book in order to secure tenure and promotion. Dramatic increases in the costs of maintaining journal subscriptions have left libraries with little to spend on other areas. As a result monograph sales have declined by as much as 90% over 20 years.

Although a growing number of librarians, authors, research funders and publishers would like to see books transition to OA, book-length scholarly works pose unique challenges. This is because the fixed costs of publishing a 70,000 — 100,000-word book are much higher than they are for a 5,000 – 10,000 word journal article. High costs mean that ‘gold’ routes to OA are not a practical option for most authors. Monograph publishers, many of whom are not-for-profit University Presses and already dependant on subsidies, are struggling to find funding to support OA experimentation. Creative approaches to enabling positive change across the system are needed.

ku_mark_facebookAustralasian Libraries are playing a key role the development of one such model. In 2014 Australasian libraries took part in the global pilot of a revolutionary OA book experiment: Knowledge Unlatched (KU). Libraries from around the world were invited to share the costs of making a 28 book Pilot Collection OA.  The collection, which included globally relevant topics such as Constructing Muslims in France and Understanding the Global Energy Crisis, has now been downloaded more than 40,000 times by readers in 170 countries. In addition to demonstrating the viability of KU’s global library consortium approach to supporting OA for books, the award-winning Pilot also allowed KU to demonstrate the power of OA to increase the visibility of specialist scholarly books in digital landscapes. In 2015 KU helped to secure the indexing of monographs in Google Scholar.

The 2014 KU Pilot confirmed that Australasian libraries are important change-makers in the global scholarly communications landscape.  KU is widely regarded as a strongly Australasian project, thanks in no small part to the three Founding Libraries that provided additional cash support for the development of the KU model: UWA, University of Melbourne and QUT. Australasia also punched well above its weight in sign-up rates for the Pilot Collection. 28 libraries from Australia and New Zealand took part, joining a global community of close to 300 libraries that contributed to making the 28 book Pilot Collection OA.

Libraries are now invited to support the next phase of the project by signing up for Round 2. Round 2 is a key step in scaling the KU model and ensuring that the project delivers on its promise to create a sustainable route to OA for large numbers of scholarly books.

As the end of the year fast approaches, we encourage you to consider signing up. Libraries have until 31 January 2016 to pledge, but we’d be happy to assist with earlier invoicing for those that would prefer to support the project from a 2015 budget. KU Round 2 is an opportunity for libraries from around the world to share the costs of making 78 new books from 26 recognised publishers OA.  The 78 new books are being offered in 8 individual packages. Libraries must sign up for at least six in order to participate.

As with the Pilot Collection, books in Round 2 will also be hosted on OAPEN and HathiTrust with  Creative Commons licences, preserved by CLOCKSS and Portico, and MARC records will be provided to libraries.

If models like KU are to succeed it will be because libraries have made a conscious effort to move beyond established work-flows to support new innovative approaches to OA and publishing generally.  At this stage in its development the support of Australian libraries remains key to the capacity of KU to scale and operate sustainably.

Competing interests: Lucy Montgomery is Deputy Director (an unpaid voluntary position) of Knowledge Unlatched.

About the author: Associate Professor Lucy Montgomery is Deputy Director of Knowledge Unlatched and Director of the Centre for Culture and Technology at Curtin University.