ABCs of Access: A Panel Discussion with Publisher, Aggregator, & University Press

At the 2019 ALA Annual Conference, two librarians from Southern New Hampshire University (SNHU), Trisha Prevett and Tim Kerber, hosted a panel discussion entitled “ABCs of Access: A Panel Discussion with Publisher, Aggregator, and University Press.” The panelists were Kim Mitchell (director of open access journals at SAGE Publishing), Frank Smith (director of Books at JSTOR), and Emma Waecker (senior product manager at EBSCO eBooks).

Three sets of documents with an unlocked padlock are arrayed around a search bar. A magnifying glass is overlaid on top of the search bar.
Illustration courtesy of EBSCO.

Following introductions, the discussion was intended to have three parts: first talking about open access (OA) publishing, then open educational resources (OER), and finally accessibility. However, the OA discussion so dominated that the panel never reached the other two subjects, though Emma Waecker, the EBSCO representative, touched on OER. Each panelist’s presentation of their organization’s foray into OA was followed by a question-and-answer session.

First, Kim Mitchell discussed how SAGE Publishing has expanded into the world of OA. SAGE Publishing has largely grown its OA program through “flipping” subscription-based journals to an OA model. All of SAGE’s OA content is under a Creative Commons Attribution license (CC BY). They also have a green OA archiving project, where articles published in subscription journals can be reused in some way through OA, as well as a pre-published platform, where authors can post articles before peer review in order to get feedback. Mitchell also discussed the new Plan S, which came out in 2018 and would require state-funded authors to publish in open repositories or OA journals by 2021. In February of this past year, SAGE released a statement arguing for a longer transition period during which journals would be allowed to use a hybrid subscription-OA model. However, Mitchell said that once Plan S goes into effect it’ll open 20–30% of publisher content to the public.

Most of the questions that were asked about SAGE’s OA content were about flipping journals to OA. One attendee asked how a user can determine which content is available open access. Only post-flip content is actually OA — specifically published under a CC BY license — and everything published prior to 1999 is fully closed. The criteria for flipping a title are that the title must have low subscription revenue but on a topic well-funded enough to support OA. In much of OA publishing, authors must pay to publish their work in open access journals, but SAGE tries to offer waivers to countries or authors with need. Finally, there were questions about the content of open access publications, namely addressing a lack of content about Deaf services or representation of Deaf culture. Mitchell acknowledged the lack, but didn’t have specifics about the content of SAGE’s OA journals.

Next, Frank Smith discussed OA in the context of JSTOR books and with an eye toward usage. Since JSTOR launched its OA books in October 2016, there has been high usage of OA titles across the globe. According to Smith, 41% of OA e-book use is in countries where English is not the primary language; more than 70% of users were in small colleges, community colleges, or secondary schools; and use is flat for individual books around the world. JSTOR can provide MARC records for OCLC and provides OA usage reports to libraries upon request.

Smith also discussed the likelihood of books flipping to OA in the way that so many journals have. Currently 5–6% of books are published open access. Smith is not optimistic about an increase in OA book publishing for a number of reasons, but primarily that the case for OA has not been made sufficiently to the academic community:

  • many academics associate open access with junk science;
  • while research is a part of university activities, dissemination of scholarship is not often part of a university’s mission;
  • definitions of open access are inconsistent across publishers; and
  • OA costs a lot of money.

During the question-and-answer portion of Smith’s presentation, an attendee asked what we, as librarians, can do to educate authors and faculty on OA. Smith said that we must start at the top with university leadership, because if they’re not engaged, it will not happen. According to Smith, universities in Latin America consider publication to be part of the university’s mission, an attitude uncommon in U.S. universities. In an open access world, universities must provide publishing funds to faculty, which requires convincing leadership to make OA a priority.

Finally, Emma Waecker spoke about EBSCO ebooks in the context of OA and OER. First, she called attention to the intersecting priorities of different stakeholders:

  • students want to save money, succeed academically, and find resources easily;
  • librarians are concerned with their budget and want to prove their value to their institution;
  • faculty want quality materials and for their students to succeed academically; and
  • publishers want books to reach readers and to make money on a long-term basis.

The big question that OA and OER are answering is “How do we make course materials affordable for students?” She cited a textbook affordability case study at Georgia Highlands College which showed that student failure rate was 66% with a traditionally published (and therefore expensive) textbook, while using an OER textbook lowered the failure rate to 31%.

The EBSCO Faculty Select service aggregates DRM-free content and open access materials. Faculty can also limit their searches to OER, if they wish. The service does carry an additional cost for libraries. In answer to a question about MARC records, Waecker said that a library would get free MARC records for the DRM-free content in Faculty Select, but maybe not for OER. Another attendee pointed out that teachers often buy textbooks because they come with course notes and other teacher-specific materials and asked if Faculty Select would come with those materials as well. Waecker replied that EBSCO is looking into it, but did not have a conclusive answer at that time. She also said, in response to another question, that EBSCO is looking into implementing crowdsourcing of materials for faculty.

Presentation slides, audio, and video are available to registered ALA Annual 2019 attendees.

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