Books in a bubble

Nowadays, we refer to “bubbles” as online places where no information from outside is allowed in. But in this instance, the opposite is true: the bubbles are a tool to help visualise how well one set of books is performing, compared to other sets of books. The OAPEN Library is an open online platform, and recently we have audited ourselves, based on the POSI principles. However, apart from an infrastructure, it is also a library.

When our collection passed the 20,000 titles milestone, we felt it was time to assess our collection: how well does it perform? That is not a simple question to answer: assessments of libraries and their collections are taking place within a certain context. OAPEN is not a ‘traditional’ library with a mixed collection of physical and digital publications, and our collection criteria are perhaps a bit different: books should be peer reviewed and have an open license, but we welcome all languages and subjects. We are not linked to one ‘parent organisation’, but try to serve everybody.

Three types of stakeholders support the OAPEN Library: publishers, funders and libraries. Both publishers and funders contribute to the collection by making publications available. They will be interested in the dissemination of the books and chapters. For libraries, the composition of the collection will be paramount. How do the titles on offer fit within the information needs of their patrons?

The evaluation of the OAPEN collection should consider these two aspects. The dissemination of books and chapters is measured through the number of downloads – based on COUNTER R5 conformant data. The composition of the collection is measured among two axes: subject and language. Both dissemination and the content-related aspects are paired to the number of publications. So, we have to take into account three dimensions: number of titles, number of downloads and average downloads per title. On top of that, we need to look at the differences between languages and subjects. All in all, a complex mix.

Our solution was to use three-dimensional pictures: the bubbles.

Usage of social sciences books depicted as three-dimensional bubbles
Social sciences in the OAPEN Library collection

The bubbles display the composition of the collection and how its readers make use of it. Visualisations like this help to tell a complicated story in a simple way; a powerful instrument to guide the further development of the OAPEN Library.

More details can be found in this open access article:

Snijder, Ronald. ‘Books in a Bubble.: Assessing the OAPEN Library Collection’. JLIS.It 14, no. 2 (15 May 2023): 75–92. https://doi.org/10.36253/jlis.it-498.

Open Access Books – Helping small libraries think big

Over the last couple of years, the OAPEN Library and Directory of Open Access Books (DOAB) collections have grown significantly. We have seen more open access (OA) books being added, and welcomed new publishers from around the world. Much of the continued momentum for OA books has been made possible thanks to the support of a growing library community: investing in OA book programmes, infrastructures and services that enable not only the availability of these books in an OA format, but also their discoverability, preservation and integration into everyday workflows. 

Today, we are speaking with David Dusto, Electronic Resources Librarian at the Elizabeth City State University to learn more about their engagement with OA books.

David, thank you for agreeing to share your story with us. Libraries worldwide increasingly include our collections in their library catalog. These range from large academic libraries to specialized libraries attached to research institutes as well as smaller colleges. For those unfamiliar with Elizabeth City State University, could you share a bit more about the University and its library?

Elizabeth City State University (ECSU) is a public university that is part of the University of North Carolina system. With just over 2,000 students, ECSU is one of the smallest universities in the system, and it is also a Historically Black College or University (HBCU) and approximately ⅔ of the enrolled students are minorities. Historically, ECSU started in 1891 as a teaching college, and still has a large education school. Today, ECSU is also known for its innovative aviation program. The largest U.S. Coast Guard base in the United States is also located in Elizabeth City, so we have many military students as well. The G.R. Little Library is the campus library. We have a small staff of 5 full-time librarians and two other permanent staff, and we work to meet the research and information needs of all the student body.

Could you share more about your role in the library and how you first became familiar with open access books?

I am the Electronic Resources Librarian, but my predecessor held the title “Serials Librarian”, which shows how rapidly academic libraries are changing. I first became familiar with open-access books while I was a graduate student at the University of North Carolina School of Library and Information Science over a decade ago, and have been avidly interested in the subject of both open access books and journals since then. I am also involved with the university’s institutional repository (NCDOCKS), which serves as an open-access collection for material published by students and employees at the university.

To what extent are OA books a part of your library’s strategy today?

ECSU is a small university and our budget for collection development is limited, but I have found that I can supplement our existing eBook collections by locating high-quality open-access collections and adding them to the library website and discovery system. This has been enormously helpful – usage statistics indicate that a considerable percentage of eBook views through the library website are from open-access items. Therefore, despite the small size of the library and its resources, I have been able to build a large and useful online collection for our students and faculty.

How can OA books further support your library and the institution’s mission?

It’s important for institutions such as DOAB to exercise quality control in what they add to their collection, in order for it to be as useful and relevant as possible. Ensuring that links are working correctly in OA directories will save librarians like me a lot of time and aggravation in the long run, as we won’t have to deal with authentication issues and access limits that we are often confronted with when working with subscription-based collections.

In recent years open access for books has gained momentum, yet starting from a small base with a long road ahead still. Do you have any particular expectations or wishes for the open access book community and how this may evolve in the coming years?

I hope to see more institutional support for open-access book publishing. The focus for OA materials that I have seen from universities is primarily focused on journals rather than books, and I would be pleased to see increased support from both university presses/publishing houses and also from smaller institutions that may not have their own press. This would give authors from smaller universities the opportunity to publish and raise the prestige of their own institution, rather than going through a central system press. Similarly, I would like to see increased support for open course materials, such as open-access textbooks. As textbook costs continue to rise, having open course materials not only available but also adopted by instructors would go a long way towards easing the financial burden for students while simultaneously increasing access to materials.

 

OAPEN & DOAB POSI self-audit

It is with great pleasure and sense of achievement that we share with you today our POSI self-audit for OAPEN & DOAB (download OAPEN & DOAB POSI self-audit PDF).

As you may know, OAPEN and DOAB are separate but interconnected infrastructures for open access books, governed by the OAPEN Foundation and DOAB Foundation respectively. In practice, our small team of nine people works with both systems on a daily basis. But since the two organisations have different governance, we’ve carried out a self-audit for each. We hope you agree that seeing the two self-audits side-by-side helps to compare and contrast the ways they operate.

Update: learn more about OAPEN’s governance structure and why we can’t be sold or acquired.

Our POSI self-audit process

Like the world of research in which our work is immersed, we started this project by reading everything we could about POSI and the self-audits already undertaken by other organisations (the POSI Posse).

We did the first draft which was then shared internally for comments and discussion with colleagues, and then we took the document to our official governing bodies (OAPEN Board of Directors and DOAB Supervisory Board) for their views and feedback.

What did we learn?

POSI obliged us to take a good look at our practices, and address areas where we had fallen short. In some cases, we had good intentions, but as these weren’t documented anywhere, we couldn’t cite them. In others, we needed to tidy up our procedures. Some of these changes could be made immediately, while others will take a while longer. We documented these aspects in the “Next steps” column of our self-audit.

Some of the matters which gave us pause included:

Governance > Non-discriminatory membership

Is OAPEN a membership organisation? This became the subject of some debate, as we speak of publishers “joining” OAPEN. However, a publisher entering into a service agreement with OAPEN does not “buy” them a special voice or role in our governance. Our terminology for libraries is clearer, as we call them “supporters”. This has sparked efforts to improve our language to make it clear that there is no relationship between payments of any sort and governance roles.

Governance > Transparent operations

This part of the self-audit made us realise that we could improve by making more prominent on our website the OAPEN Bylaws and Articles of Association, and DOAB Articles of Association and Terms of Reference for the DOAB Scientific Committee. It was nice to be able to have this as a quick win!

Governance > Cannot lobby

At the heart of the matter is the difference between lobbying and advocacy, and whether an infrastructure should engage in such matters. We believe that any mission-driven organisation is going to have reasons to promote particular issues or approaches. For example, part of the mission of both OAPEN and DOAB is to promote open access to books. Could the Oxford English Dictionary help us?

  • Lobby, v. To influence (members of a house of legislature) in the exercise of their legislative functions by frequenting the lobby. Also, to procure the passing of (a measure) through Congress by means of such influence.
  • Advocate, v. To act as an advocate for; to support, recommend, or speak in favour of (a person or thing).

We debated the reasoning behind this element of POSI, and we also asked one of the three POSI authors, Cameron Neylon, about it. He replied: 

“The point is not to advocate or seek regulatory enclosure. For instance, advocating that OAPEN membership be required for a funder to provide BPC funding would fall within the intended scope here. Generally we felt that communities should advocate, infrastructures should support implementation. Obviously missions do involve goals and speaking to them but the argument was that lobbying in the sense of seeking regulations that benefit the infrastructure would be a red flag.”

Cameron Neylon, via email

Having also discussed this with members of the POSI Posse, we learned many of them have interpreted this Principle in the political and financial sense; that infrastructure organisations should not seek to influence legislation or regulation.

It is perhaps useful to remember that we advocate in support of our mission, a mission that is shared by many in the scholarly communications community. This is therefore a goal which is of benefit to the community in general, as compared with lobbying in the narrow interest of shareholders. This ties in well with the Principle of “formal incentives to fulfil mission & wind down” – if we no longer have the support of the community, we will take steps for an orderly wind-down, rather than continuing to exist for our own sake as a company might do.

Governance > Living will

We suddenly became aware of what it really means to have a handover plan. In our publisher agreement, it is noted that if the OAPEN Library ceases to exist, the rights granted to the OAPEN Foundation under this agreement may be transferred to the KoninklijkeBibliotheek Nederland [KB, National Library of the Netherlands, where the OAPEN office is based] exclusively for purposes of depositing the Publications in the KoninklijkeBibliotheek. Although there has long been this arrangement, we’ve never actually developed a documented process that would help the KB to put this into practice. This has spurred us to investigate how to develop such a plan.

Sustainability > Goal to generate surplus

As a not-for-profit organisation, we still have a goal to generate financial surplus. However, the surplus never leaves the organisation, it is always re-invested. The surplus is used for different things, such as building our contingency fund, new technical developments, and upgrading our existing technical infrastructures; as well as employing new colleagues to support our expanding operations and increased engagement with the community. OAPEN and DOAB have been considerably under-staffed for years, and it has long been an explicit goal to create surplus to enable us to hire more people, thus ensuring a resilient and dynamic organisation.

Sustainability > Goal to create a contingency fund to support operations for 12 months

OAPEN follows this principle by setting aside surplus revenue each year to build its contingency fund. The exact size of the contingency fund should be established by the OAPEN Board on a yearly basis. The contingency fund should cover at least 12 months of operational costs for OAPEN. At the time of doing the self-audit, OAPEN is still building its contingency fund.

Insurance > Open data

But of course our websites are openly licenced! Oh, wait… we need to state this clearly. We took action and updated both the OAPEN website and DOAB website, and OAPEN Library and DOAB Directory with CC BY 4.0 licence details. Et n’oublions pas que le site de DOAB est également disponible en français, donc il faudrait aussi le mettre à jour.

How we will follow up

Our aim for the POSI self-audit is that it will be a living document that will accompany our existing strategic plans and updates for both organisations. We plan to review our self-audit every few years to ensure it stays accurate. Meanwhile, it performs the essential everyday task of providing you, the scholarly community, with our public commitment to POSI and allowing you to question, challenge, or even encourage us on any of its aspects. We look forward to hearing from you at info@oapen.org!

Niels Stern & Laura J. Wilkinson

Laura J. Wilkinson

ORCID iD: https://orcid.org/0000-0002-8922-7839

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