OA 'threatens to leave monographs behind'

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The Digital Science report was released on 11 June

Open access is still a relatively small part of the monograph landscape, according to a report released today.

Digital Science’s report addresses the question of how the industry integrates and values monographs in the increasingly open digital scholarly network.

The State of Open Monographs looks at the open monograph landscape in 2019. Analysis from industry experts includes how we value and understand the monograph, their impact and role in the scholarly record, the move towards open access and the nuances in funding.

The set of contributions, which includes a foreword from Michael Elliott, dean of Emory College of Arts and Sciences, Emory University, carefully outline the critical challenges that must be met if the open monograph is going to thrive and expand in the scholarly landscape.

Key findings include:

  • Open access is still a relatively small part of the monograph landscape. As of mid-2019, the Directory of Open Access Books lists fewer than 20,000 OA books of all dates (https://www.doabooks.org/). This is compared to an estimated 86,000 monographs published internationally every year;
  • Initiatives such as Knowledge Unlatched and TOME are experimenting with business models that presume a world where open access becomes the norm for monographs;
  • While monographs continue to be central to the intellectual and professional identity of HSS fields, the technology for publishing them continues to be driven largely by the needs of a print and journal-based market. As a result, monographs remain largely outside the growing digital scholarly information infrastructure;
  • The challenges scholarly publishers face in adding open access monographs to their publishing programmes include issues with general discoverability and inclusion in library catalogues. They also face the challenge of how to measure the value and distribution of open access materials, in the absence of sales data and difficulties gaining usage data;
  • Monographs famously collect citations at a slower rate than journal-based research articles. Data in this report from Altmetric shows that monographs also accrue impact over a longer life cycle in a broader context, and show higher rates of impact in policy documents and Wikipedia, than equivalent journal-based articles; and
  • OA sheds a harsh light into how academic book publishing is faring in its transition to a networked digital world.

Key recommendations for fully integrating monographs into the digital scholarly information infrastructure include:

  • Urging publishers to adopt DOIs at both a volume and, preferably, chapter-level that will support the discovery, monitoring and impact of monographs across the increasingly open scholarly infrastructure;
  • Recommending that distributors and aggregators make their usage data available in interoperable and standard forms, and support data aggregation and interoperability by consistent use of DOIs;
  • Those funders recognise the value that monographs contribute to scholarship, and that they fund the move towards open access at an appropriately sustainable rate.

Mike Taylor, head of metrics development at Digital Science, said: ‘As a career-long advocate of scholarly books, and the arts and humanities, it’s been a delight to work on this white paper. Monographs have a unique role to play in scholarship, offering academics the opportunity to make more considered contributions that have a more prolonged impact than journal-based articles. The move towards open access publishing threatens to leave monographs behind, but having reflected on the infrastructure and evaluation issues, I’m confident that the monograph has a very healthy future - as long as aggregators, publishers, and funders embrace the changes needed.’