A Monograph for Tomorrow

Research Information article 21 July 2017

Open access looks set to shake up the humanities and social sciences book landscape for the better, reports Rebecca Pool

This article published in Research Information in July 2017 contains an interesting history of Knowledge Unlatched. We reproduce that section here with the full article available at Research Information.

Open AccessOpen access with a difference
In 2012, entrepreneur and publisher Frances Pinter set up Knowledge Unlatched, an initiative that aimed to create an international library consortium via a crowd-funding platform, that would support open access publications. Like many in the industry, Pinter had watched print monograph sales plummet, prices soar and university libraries struggle to assemble adequate collections. As a result, she felt open access was going to be crucial to ensure future access to knowledge, and devised a new way to fund the necessary upfront publishing costs of HSS monographs (see ‘A novel model’, below.)

Five years later, the initiative has ‘unlatched’ nearly 500 humanities and social sciences titles via the OAPEN and HathiTrust platforms. These titles can be accessed by anyone, anywhere, free of charge. What’s more, the initiative is currently releasing its fourth batch of publications with nearly 450 books and journals on offer, will launch STEM titles from 2018 and in line with industry predictions, will also provide titles in EPUB, XML as well as pdf formats.

As Knowledge Unlatched managing director, Sven Fund, says: ‘We first focused on books as for HSS this is the most critical format but in our latest round of pledging we’ve included HSS journals. We’re a few weeks into our next pledging round and we’ve already seen significant uptake for journals.’

Given Knowledge Unlatched’s blisteringly fast rate of progress to date, Fund is convinced that HSS open access has now entered what he describes as a ‘completely different phase’. He believes librarians and publishers are now ‘very professional’ about open access, pointing out: ‘The budget for open access spending no longer comes from a pot put aside by the library director for ‘nice little’ projects, but instead is being taken from the acquisition budget.’

Fund says he and colleagues have not encountered any author resistance, but rather, have had authors approaching them directly wanting to publish with Knowledge Unlatched. And he is confident that the initiative can replicate its HSS success within the fields of science, technology, engineering and mathematics.

‘We’ve seen strong support from libraries and publishers in HSS, and this is the ideal time to expand into STEM as publishers are also seeking solutions for books in areas other than HSS,’ he says. But the progress doesn’t stop here. The initiative has already joined forces with open access linguistics book provider, Language Science Press, and is in discussions with the Open Library of Humanities, the University of California Press’s open access monograph publishing program, Luminos, and many more to create a larger publishing marketplace.

For his part, Fund is convinced that Knowledge Unlatched has taken a very pragmatic approach to HSS open access and has served as an inspiration for others working in this field. As he puts it: ‘We’ve helped to move publishers and libraries from a traditional world of publishing where you buy content “just in case”, into a world where you support open access at large, with your funding.’

And he has high hopes for the future of HSS open access publishing. ‘My dream is that an organisation such as the Zuckerberg Chan Initiative or the Gates Foundation would say to us, “listen, we want to unlatch 10,000 titles”,’ he says. ‘That would be a real breakthrough, and would push publishers more towards open access and show that there is a future here.’

A novel model
So how does Knowledge Unlatched (KU) work? Publishers first submit titles that they would like to include in a KU Collection. The initiative’s group of acquisition librarians then reviews the submission, recommending which titles are relevant, of interest and meet quality standards.

Curated packages are then assembled via themes and, critically, libraries are then invited to select packages and titles, and pledge support. If enough pledges are received, the titles will be ‘unlatched’ and made open access, becoming downloadable via OAPEN and HathiTrust.

More than 450 libraries worldwide are currently onboard with 70 publishers submitting titles. In the latest round, Knowledge Unlatched introduced differential pricing, so smaller libraries pay less than larger libraries, to broaden participation, and the initiative recently joined forces with BiblioLabs to improve mobile and browser-based access.

Source: Research Information