Copim and SCONUL webinar, 25 January 2024

Exploring practical problems and potential strategies to fund equitable OA book publishing

by Kira Hopkins (Birkbeck, University of London/Opening the Future)

This SCONUL and Copim-hosted webinar, held 25th January 2024, brought together UK library leaders to share their perspectives on their library’s role in OA book funding and publishing.  

The discussion, chaired by Andrew Barker (Lancaster University) began with Phil Brabban (Coventry University) who described the drivers, plans and challenges underpinning their current initiative of setting up an OA university press. He outlined the university library’s wish to provide financially sustainable, non-BPC publication routes, and to support their own researchers, including often-neglected PGRs and ECRs. He also described the challenges they were facing, or had overcome, such as gaining institutional buy-in to fund the press and creating credibility for academic authors who were choosing publication venues. Finally, he explained the nascent press’ hope to invest in open textbooks, as a better long-term investment of library funds than paying textbook subscriptions.  

Elaine Sykes (Lancaster University) then outlined Lancaster’s own approach to OA book funding. She explained that careful evaluation had decided the library against setting up its own press. Instead, they had secured institutional funding for a Research Culture and Open Monograph post to increase the library’s OA monograph expertise, advocate for open access to academics, and to create online resources to aid them. She emphasised that new policies and landscape changes, such as OA monographs, are a large administrative and knowledge burden to libraries and that each library’s capability cannot outstrip its available resources.  

Peter Barr (University of Sheffield) then spoke about his well-funded research library’s aim to invest in open access not only to benefit their own collections, but to effect wider change. He explained their two-pronged approach: transactional, i.e. directly into institutional outputs, and transformational, in which they also funded the publishing ecosystem beyond their local collection. He also noted the university’s current, direct involvement with OA monograph publishing through White Rose University Press, which they share with the Universities of Leeds and York. Finally, he referenced the new UKRI OA monograph policy, voicing concerns that it may push publishing towards BPC models, and that it may undermine values-based investment in open publishing and infrastructure of the kind the library undertakes.  

Finally, Dominic Broadhurst (University of Salford) offered a non-Russell Group, new university perspective to OA monograph culture and funding. He explained that their activities, such as setting up an OA monograph working group, were grounded in an ambition to be active rather than reactive in the fast-changing OA landscape and therefore to provide the best support to their researchers. He also emphasised that the aim of his library was to ‘enable not just acquire’ OA content, for which reason they were focussed on enabling universal access to knowledge, via sustainable and equitable funding models rather than BPCs. As at Sheffield, he emphasised a strong desire in the library to use their budget not just to enrich their own collections, but to work with the wider community and to invest in it via funding OA schemes.  

The Q&A and Mentimeter poll, open to attendees, posed the question “What are the OA book challenges (and any opportunities) for your library?” Responses from the audience made it clear that a lack of funding for OA library led publishing was the greatest barrier, followed by a lack of prestige compared to large commercial publishers, and a lack of knowledge of the options available to both libraries and authors. Some typical responses were: 

  • Acknowledging challenges such as securing buy-in from senior leaders. 
  • Overcoming institutional apathy and being overwhelmed by the range of OA programmes for books asking for support.
  • Clarifying that funding OA would involve reformulating their acquisitions workflow, finding the necessary money within their often-limited budgets. 
  • Explaining the difficulty in supporting diamond OA without evidence of direct benefit to their own institution. 
  • Noting the difficulty in navigating complex financial processes with some funders or publishers
  • Someone also suggested that some problems to do with scheme overload and knowledge gaps could be filled by Jisc co-ordinating pledging schemes across UK libraries. 

There were audience questions about whether the library should seek an active or passive role in directing academic research output, about how libraries could collectivise to leverage their funding and knowledge into more equitable funding models and open infrastructure, and about the librarians’ perspectives on a possible OA mandate for REF 2029.  

It came across very strongly in most talks that APCs and transitional agreements have not resulted in an equitable journal publishing landscape. It was also clear there is an appetite to proactively avoid OA monograph funding following a similar pattern, and that BPCs were considered unsustainable, opaque and unequitable. One question framed this provocatively: what if the past decade of library funds spent on APCs and transitional agreements had instead been invested elsewhere – and how might asking that question pre-emptively for OA books guide librarians as they decide where to spend their budgets? 

We thank the speakers for their thought-provoking questions, as well as for their generous sharing of insights into how their own libraries are approaching OA monographs and their funding.  


- Chat transcript: attendee comments and questions