A Restart on the eBook License Agreement

Last month, I attended the Charlotte Initiative Open Conference. This Mellon-funded project brought together publishers, librarians, and technology providers to explore a reconsideration of the transactional models between publishers and libraries for eBooks. To quote the initiative, “Our starting premise is that permanent acquisitions of eBooks requires these licensing terms:

  • Provision of irrevocable perpetual access and archival rights.
  • Allowance for unlimited simultaneous users.
  • Freedom from any Digital Rights Management (DRM), including (but not limited to) use of proprietary formats, restricted access to content, or time-limited access terms.”

I was invited to be on the project’s advisory board two years ago and I’ll admit the premise seemed like quite a stretch at that time. In a climate where the rhetoric of accountability is paired with market-optimizing tools like DDA and EBA, the idea that libraries will only buy our most successful books and then insist on broad usage terms like the Charlotte Principles just felt like a non-starter. As John Unsworth mentioned in his conference keynote, publishers operate in the world of risk and libraries have historically helped academic publishers mitigate risk by building deep monograph collections. Predatory publishers figured out how to game this system, forcing libraries to use “accountability” as a reason to reduce monograph purchases despite the arrival of digital platforms making them less expensive and more accessible than ever. As a director at a public university press, I can attest to the acute pain that strategy has had on mission-driven non-profit publishers and on the humanities and social science disciplines we support. More on that in a moment.

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Toward a Digital First OA Monograph

Project MUSE announced over the summer a $938,000 grant from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation to integrate OA university press (UP) monographs into their platform. *

Digital aggregations of UP books are becoming a key discoverability mechanism. The possibility of using linked data tools to discover content within a much larger body of humanities and social science scholarship is one of the few very clear and bright developments for UPs. After years of our printed books being relegated to the ever-dustier library stacks, our digital content is now feeding a significant corpus of highly usable humanities research and being made available in a growing number of library collections. With this grant, MUSE wants to ensure that OA content is seamlessly discoverable within these collections, rather than isolated in some segregated position.

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Building Open: SocArXiv

Note to readers: This is the first post in our new series “Building Open” where we interview those who are building tools and services to support scholarship in the open. For our first installment, we talk to Philip Cohen of SocArXiv.

Ultimately, I do think we need to leave the old system behind, but it can work incrementally. For example, we need people to donate fewer free hours of labor (reviewing, editing, moderation, publishing) to for-profit, paywall publishers and more to open access institutions. But they can do that without completely boycotting all for-profit journals, if we build our institutions in an open and inclusive way.

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Momentum

Last month university presses came together for their annual convention in Philadelphia. This was only my fifth meeting so I lack the deep perspective that many of my colleagues in the UP world have, but I perceived signs of a shift in the center of gravity around conversations of open access. It’s a somewhat wobbly, but directionally clear migration toward engaging deeply with how OA might apply toward monographs.

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The People’s Content: Diversifying What is Open and How We are Open

Pointing an OA lens on cultural heritage objects

Last fall at the Penn State University Libraries, one of the ways that we observed Open Access (OA) Week was to dedicate half a day to a series of presentations and discussions about the topic. Organized by the Libraries Open Educational Resources (OER) Task Force, the event was conducted also for internal outreach purposes, particularly since the previous semester the Library Faculty Organization, our governance body, passed an OA Policy. The talks included a “Scholarly Communications 101” presentation; a progress report by the chair of our Open Access Monographs Team; tips on how to be an OA ambassador; priorities for implementing the OA Policy; and a “technical update/year in review” that addressed federal funding agency requirements since the responses to the OSTP mandate began pouring in. It was a compilation of informative talks, put together by colleagues who have become, over the years, increasingly adept at addressing OA and schol comm issues.

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Clarity for our users

One of my favorite articles in the library literature is Melanie Schlosser’s “Unless Otherwise Indicated: A Survey of Copyright Statements on Digital Library Collections” in the July 2009 College & Research Libraries. Schlosser looked at the copyright statements for digital collections of members of the Digital Library Federation and did an analysis of their content. She identified several trends in these such as “The Vague Ownership Statement” and “Protecting Ourselves and You”, and, in general, found that these statements provided mixed messages about terms of use and copyright, and incomplete information about the actual copyright status of the items themselves. The examples she provides throughout the text give one a great sense of those mixed messages, incomplete information, and general CYA language that many libraries have used.

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