Open Access books: Jisc work in the area

Most of the posts on this blog concern open access to journal articles. In this post, jointly authored by Neil Jacobs, Caren Milloy, Neil Grindley, Chris Keene and Liam Earney, we take a look at Jisc’s current work in the area of OA books.

Books are integral to teaching and research.

Academics feel strongly about the value of the monograph, though this is not universal. Because of the REF and the Research Councils’ OA policies, and because of strong support for STEM subjects from the highest level in the UK, there is a great deal of attention on journal articles, conference papers and research data. In that context, it is important that the voice of the book is not lost, and that its place at the heart of many disciplines is recognised, even as monographs evolve.

Textbooks also remain central to many disciplines and providing seamless online access to core texts remains a focus for all libraries – especially in relation to the NUS no hidden costs campaign.

In addition to our negotiating and licensing work with major ebook publishers, Jisc’s work in the area of OA books comprises the following on textbooks:

It also includes the following on OA research monographs:

Taking these in turn:


The Jisc “institution as e-textbook publisher” programme has been going for around 18 months, and is looking at the feasibility and economic benefits of institutions becoming e-textbook publishers, noting the effect on student satisfaction, retention and completion, etc. Four universities are involved, using a variety of platforms and business models. All those involved quickly appreciated the challenges in producing and delivering an e-textbook, especially considering interactive content. Two books have been published so far. There is considerable passion and enthusiasm among those involved, and it will be interesting to see how the outputs from the projects fare in comparison with more commercial offerings over the remaining two and a half years of the programme.

What is interesting is that the institution as e-textbook publisher project was envisioned as a way to give universities more control. The recent last minute changes by a major commercial publisher to both their pricing model and their access arrangements for e-textbooks have demonstrated why universities seek more control and a stronger voice in the textbook publishing market. In collaboration with SCONUL and RLUK, Jisc is seeking the agreement from institutions for a coordinated approach to e-textbook licensing through a possible e-textbook framework to ensure future business, licensing and access models meet the needs of students, researchers and teachers.


The UK agenda with respect to open access research monographs was set by Geoffrey Crossick’s landmark 2015 report, which drew in part from evidence from Jisc’s five year OAPEN-UK research project. The final reports from OAPEN-UK will be published later this month, but it will not be a surprise to learn that the key themes are that books matter, that the integrity of the book needs to be maintained, and that there is a strong relationship between books and esteem (for academics, publishers, and societies). There are also many misconceptions between stakeholders, so a need for greater mutual understanding through continual collaboration. While there is general support for OA, there are concerns about its practical implementation, including cultural, technical and business aspects, and it is these that the report focuses on. Some of the more practical and technical issues have started to been addressed through the Jisc-OAPEN project investigating OA services for monographs, for example:

  • the metadata elements necessary for OA monographs, to be implemented in the supply chain;
  • the information about a monograph that the publisher needs to include on their website with the monograph;
  • other issues around aggregation, impact, metrics, and Green OA.

Other projects are focused elsewhere in the monograph supply chain. The National Monograph Strategy proposed a national shared publishing platform for monographs, books, journals, etc. However, it is clear that platforms already exist, eg Ubiquity Press, so Jisc is considering whether a more component-based approach might be more agile, support best practice and technical standards to enable interoperability with services such as KB+ and JUSP. This approach would cover both OA and traditional models, and more innovative research outputs.

There is also work planned to benchmark the new university presses. This will identify the new university presses, their focus and level of activity and their sustainability model. Other proposals from the National Monograph Strategy report will also be pursued, perhaps most notably a “national bibliographic knowledgebase”. A specification for this is being developed collaboratively, with a focus on supporting collection management.

Jisc also supports a range of other innovative initiatives including Knowledge Unlatched, Open Library of the Humanities and, soon we hope, Open Editions.

Jisc is working closely with Professor Crossick, with the Funding Councils and learned societies, to align our work and maintain the momentum in this area. As the UK higher education landscape changes, and talk re-surfaces of research assessment via metrics, it will be important to keep in mind the special role and features of monographs, and their distinct ecology, even as those evolve with new technologies and business models.

By Neil Jacobs

JISC Programme Director, Digital Infrastructure (Information Environment)

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