Can we make more book chapters open access?

Image of a yellow book tied up with a string bow

Yesterday was a snowy World Book Day which coincided with some work we are doing to look at Swansea University’s book outputs within the context of open access.

Books and book chapters are not currently covered by the HEFCE REF Open Access policy but the university open access policy states “Wherever possible researchers will be expected to make all published research outputs available as Green Open Access”. There has also been mention of (as yet undefined) credit for going beyond the scope of the REF open access policy – book chapters would be an obvious area to demonstrate this. HEFCE have indicated that books will be subject to open access requirements for REF2027 (so likely to cover any books published after 2020) and Steven Hill recently blogged about the challenges with this for monographs.

The REF policy has implications for how we (the Library Research Support Team) work: with the staff we have, we check and chase up outputs that are covered by the REF Open Access policy (journal articles and some conference proceedings) but we do not as a rule follow up open access options for book chapters, nor have we been asked to do so. However, we are exploring what we can reasonably do to encourage wider uptake of open access for book chapters. The reasons for this go beyond compliance – evidence suggests that the open access advantage for books is clear as well as the implications of rising costs of academic books vs limited library funds. There are also discovery implications: not all book chapters have DOIs and not all are well indexed or available electronically. Inclusion in our repository (which gets indexed by CORE and Google Scholar) helps to promote all our book chapters to a wider audience.

It’s useful to contextualize this work at our university with data from our repository Cronfa: since 2014, we have published 620 book chapters, compared with 8113 journal articles. Book chapters by College are shown below:

Book Chapters

Total book chapters published per College at Swansea University

(For non-SU readers, COAH is Arts & Humanities; CHHS is Human & Health) More meaningful perhaps is to view book chapters as a percentage of total College outputs since 2014:

BooKChapPercent

Book Chapters as a percentage of total outputs per College at Swansea University

Unsurprisingly, Arts & Humanities and Law are the Colleges where book chapters have greater significance and where work in this area could potentially have the greatest impact. An analysis of book data from REF2014 also draws out the significance of books to these subject areas (focusing on humanities in particular). It’s also worth noting that in our repository, certain STEM publications which have an ISSN and an ISBN get automatically labelled as “Book Chapters” which may more appropriately be seen as conference proceedings or journals (e.g. Lecture Notes in Computer Science). We do include these in our work checking REF open access so that may explain their stats here.

Many publishers do have a self-archiving policy that covers book chapters; how many book chapters have been made open access on our repository? Looking again at chapters published since 2014, 10% of them are available open access on Cronfa but more of these are STEM publications:

BookChapPercentOA

Percentage of book chapters open access on Swansea University’s repository, by College

It would be useful to know how many of these book chapters are Gold open access but we do not record this information unless the author enters it on their record. We do not have an institutional fund for open access.

The question – can we make more book chapters open access? – is not easy to answer for the following reasons:

  1. Who is the publisher? Our repository is unmediated and many records have incomplete or dirty publisher data. To address this issue systematically would involve substantial work to tidy our book data. We do not have the resource for this at present (a source of great frustration to librarians who like tidy data!)
  2. How do we find out the publisher’s policy? Book chapter green open access policies not only vary per publisher but often by series within publisher (e.g. Springer). Many publishers also allow a single chapter of a monograph to be made open access on a repository – permissions for this differ again and also often differ by type of book (e.g. reference, textbook). Publishers get taken over by other publishers, further complicating the situation. The clearest answer is probably in the agreement signed by the author – we do not have access to this.
  3. Do authors have this information more readily to hand? And do they have the accepted version? Do they have the time to devote to this in the face of competing priorities? The library has a clear role in advocacy here, but the answer may still be ‘no’ if authors don’t HAVE to take this step.

This post is an initial outline of the challenges we face in trying to make more book chapters open access: discussions and comments very welcome…

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