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Breaking the Paywall: UC Davis Library Supports Open Access Monographs

On average, it costs academic presses $30,000 to publish a single scholarly monograph. And when it costs that much to make a book, presses are more likely to select books that will sell widely. They’ll need to charge more for a single book to recoup their profits, and this means that those institutions (or people) with means can afford the book, which results in tiny print runs priced for institutional buyers. All this makes scholarship dependent on market forces, and it limits the reach and impact that research can have on a broader public.

To help address these problems and increase the accessibility of researchers’ work, UC Davis Library has established the TOME Open Access Monograph Fund. In keeping with the goals of its title, Towards an Open Monograph Ecosystem, the project will create a viable open-access book culture by funding the costs of open-access publication for scholarly books over the next five years.

UC Davis and 11 other institutions are piloting the TOME initiative, which began as a collaboration between the Association of Research Libraries, the Association of University Presses, and the American Association of Universities to make high-quality, high-impact monographs digitally available to the public and to researchers.

The new fund is seeking submissions from UC Davis faculty whose book is already under contract with any one of more than 60 presses participating in the TOME initiative. Each partner press has agreed to make open-access versions of books for about $15,000, and TOME participants have committed to funding at least three books a year over five years. With additional support from the Office of the Provost, the Office of Research, and the College of Letters and Science, UC Davis will be able to support substantially more than 15 open-access monographs.

As an increasing amount of humanities and social science scholars work in digital spaces, for precarious pay, and without access to the resources of large research libraries, this project enables scholarly books to reach scholars who need them. Open-access opportunities also enable universities to advocate for the work of the humanities to the public. TOME can support the distribution of books that have a reach outside of the academy altogether by creating freely available, easily discoverable digital versions.

“For authors who want their books to be read, or fear that they are not being read because of limited distribution or price, this should be a welcome and wonderful solution,” says Michael Wolfe, the scholarly communications officer at Shields Library leading the TOME advisory group.

The Davis fund is looking to support a diversity of voices in the works they publish, and want to publish open-access books that “might not get the reach they need to be successful under the traditional model,” says Wolfe. They’re also interested in submissions of books that will have a large reach or are under contract with large publishers, to demonstrate the effectiveness of the model–and to remind any skeptics that an open-access work is no less prestigious than one published under traditional models.

After all, who are academics doing their research for? Making scholarly books open-access and easily available to readers is also an ethical act that can decrease some of the barriers to higher education and academia.

“We talk a lot about the crisis of journal publications, in which universities have to pay huge amounts in order for their professors to access the research they need to read,” notes Wolfe. In open-access journal discussions, we can easily articulate the high stakes of making research open-access. In STEM and social science disciplines, a lack of access to current research can have vast impacts on quality of life and health. In the humanities, paywalling articles means that their vital work of critiques of power, cultural analysis, and knowledge-creation remain unable to transform societies.

“But in some ways the monographs crisis is more insidious, because the dollar figure is not as large, but the implications for the reach of the literature are even more substantial,” Wolfe says. We have demonstrated the ability to make journal literature open-access, but “we don’t yet have the infrastructure” for monograph publication, Wolfe argues. Open-access scholarly imprints like the University of California Press’s “Luminos” are few and far between, and the costs of scholarly publication remain high.

So without viable infrastructure in scholarly book publication, many faculty aren’t able to act on their values of doing public-facing research. With the TOME open access fund at Davis, however, Wolfe wants faculty to know “we’re changing that.”

More information and application information available on Shields’ TOME page.

–Samantha Snively, DHI Humanities Correspondent and PhD candidate in English literature


This page was last updated: July 26, 2018



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