Yi Taek-gyun. Books and Scholars’ Accouterments / 책가도 (冊架圖). late 1800s. The Cleveland Museum of Art.

Presses, libraries, and authors understand the significance of open access. However, they face challenges in developing a sustainable publishing model. This model should enable widespread publication and ensure fair compensation for contributors.

Despite some efforts, these initiatives usually only involve certain publishers or are on a smaller scale. This makes it difficult for small and medium-sized university presses to sustain them.

The ongoing demand for and keen interest in open access content highlights the need to develop practical solutions. JSTOR, a nonprofit owned by ITHAKA, experienced a significant 5,500% surge in usage after transitioning from licensed ebooks to open access. 

This sparked conversations about how JSTOR could offer a solution aligned with the shared goals of the scholarly community. These objectives include enhancing equity and knowledge access, delivering value for libraries, mitigating financial risks for scholarly publishers, and amplifying the impact of authors.

JSTOR is supporting open access scholarship by partnering with ACLS, University of Michigan Press, and University of North Carolina Press. To improve access and impact, the team identified and discussed common challenges faced by the scholarly community. This teamwork helped us understand the market challenges and lay the foundation for shaping the Path to Open program.

Libraries and publishers nationwide assisted with the development of this program. This includes the Big Ten Academic Alliance and the University of Tennessee Libraries. Our engagement centered on soliciting and incorporating valuable feedback on Path to Open, addressing common hurdles in the process.

Our team actively sought and welcomed ideas from these institutions, and before long a network of shared knowledge was created. We’re grateful for the collaboration, which helped develop the Path to Open program. 

Path to Open aims to establish a financially stable model benefiting both publishers and authors through library support. Collaboration with JSTOR has been key, playing a crucial role in providing the necessary financial stability for the program.

This funding assists universities in publishing ebooks that may not be easily accessible because of limited funds. It guarantees that all can access new publications. The initiative helps authors reach a global audience and gives readers worldwide access to scholarly books through open access.

The open access challenge

Libraries operating with limited resources face challenges when it comes to supporting diverse open access programs. There are concerns about the scalability of models designed specifically for individual publishers or commercial organizations, especially for smaller publishers who may lack the resources for independent initiatives.

University presses face declining sales and must prioritize disciplines for financial reasons, potentially limiting available publications. Authors, with dwindling sales and distribution opportunities, are prompting universities to question the impact of scholarly work. The Path to Open program addresses challenges from limited library funds, ensuring wider reader access through its new pilot program.

Experts discussed the need for sustainable open access solutions for university press books in a Library Journal webinar. They emphasized the importance of community support and the Path to Open approach. The webinar featured members of the prestigious Big Ten Academic Alliance, the esteemed university press community, and JSTOR. 

How Path to Open works

Libraries sustain the Path to Open program through an annual subscription fee. This fee grants access to an expanding collection of titles available exclusively in electronic form on JSTOR. Currently, 42 global university presses are signed up to participate in the program. Titles selected demonstrate a commitment to bibliodiversity through a robust methodology that considers subject areas, user search terms, and global demand. 

JSTOR released the first 100 titles in the fall of 2023, spanning 36 disciplines. Every year, we will add 300 new titles, resulting in a total of 1,000 frontlist titles published from fall 2023 to 2026. Only libraries in the Path to Open program can have special access to these titles for the first three years. At the commencement of the third year of publication, all books from three years prior will be permanently available in open access.

Releasing in both print and e-consumer versions, the books will not be accessible through any other aggregation,a decision made to streamline acquisition workflows and minimize publication costs for the presses. Throughout the program, we will engage with the community, fostering transparency about our ongoing studies and seeking feedback to refine and optimize the model.

The need for bibliodiversity

Bibliodiversity stands as a crucial pillar in the world of publishing, representing the diverse range of voices, perspectives, and ideas that contribute to the rich tapestry of human knowledge. By fostering bibliodiversity, we create an environment where a multitude of voices from various  disciplines and regions can be heard, enriching our collective knowledge and understanding.

This diversity not only enriches scholarly discourse but also reflects the depth and breadth of human experiences. Preserving bibliodiversity goes beyond supporting numerous publishers; it represents a dedication to upholding the value of intellectual pluralism and the significance of diverse narratives. By embracing bibliodiversity, we affirm our belief that a thriving society celebrates the multitude of voices shaping our collective understanding of the world.

Panelist, Charles Watkinson, Associate University Librarian and Director at the University of Michigan Press, expressed his excitement about the Path to Open model, saying, “Preserving this kind of bibliodiversity is a core concern for all of us, I think, who believe in the value of the book and in the value of preserving the diversity of thought and approach.”

He continues, “The program provides the opportunity for all of these smaller presses who haven’t developed their own programs to get on the conveyor belt to reach a sustainable open access program.”

With approximately 100 university presses in the US and Canada bearing the names of their parent institutions, a majority of which are relatively small publishers, the landscape is noteworthy. Over half of the members of the Association of University Presses operate on budgets under $1.5 million annually, and many are even smaller, with sales under $750,000 a year. These modest enterprises play a pivotal role by focusing on specific disciplines while infusing academic publishing with unique regional perspectives. 

Intersectionality of disciplinary and regional identity underscores the importance of preserving bibliodiversity—a shared concern among those of us who deeply value books and advocate for the diversity of thought and approach they embody. The excitement surrounding the prospect of contributing to bibliodiversity through the Path to Open program is especially palpable for libraries, as it promises to enhance the range of resources available to their scholars.

Addressing common concerns with embargoes

The Path to Open program was envisioned as a means of redistributing current library investments in monographs to enhance affordability for a broader range of libraries. However, there are transparent concerns within the library community regarding the program, prompting the need for open conversations. The focal point is the three-year embargo on open access—why is it necessary, and what value does it bring? 

Another recurring concern revolves around the perceived quality of books included in the open access initiative. Authors often worry that immediate open access might signal lower quality, a sentiment echoed by libraries seeking assurance about the program’s book selection. 

Questions also arise about the funding model, specifically whether it favors well-funded institutions. The ongoing dialogue aims to address these concerns and shape the program into a viable and inclusive open access model.

The University of Michigan Press, uniquely managing its open access program, successfully publishes approximately 75% of frontlist monographs as open access. The remaining 25% annually, which aren’t open access, sparked interest in understanding authors’ hesitations. 

Watkins explains, “Authors generally desire open access but face concerns within their academic environments. Path to Open is intriguing, addressing challenges faced by junior scholars, potentially up for tenure, who express apprehension about reactions from older tenure committees.”

The generational difference manifests as senior scholars advise against open access, citing trustworthiness or career harm concerns. Junior scholars, desiring open access, struggle to balance values with career considerations. The three-year delay in Path to Open offers a strategic solution, allowing them to achieve open access goals while securing necessary promotion and recognition. 

Most university presses lack their own open access programs, making bibliodiversity exciting. Path to Open provides an opportunity for smaller presses without established programs to embark on the journey toward a sustainable open access future, with challenges and solutions intertwined.

Helping libraries make a full transition

The road to open access is a long one, starting with the digitization of a collection. Established in 1940, the University of Tennessee Press has played a pivotal role as the premier book publisher for the state but had yet to digitize its collection.

Holly Mercer, Senior Executive Dean of the University of Tennessee Libraries, explained during the webinar, “Because it’s a smaller press, one of the challenges we faced was not just developing a strategy for open access, but really a strategy for ebooks and how to get University of Tennessee Press ebooks to academic libraries.”

In 2020, The University of Tennessee Press joined the University of Tennessee Libraries as a division, and that move provided additional infrastructure and support to help them digitize their collection but also explore more alternatives for open access.

The Path to Open solution benefits libraries

Path to Open addresses multiple challenges through its community-oriented model, empowering university presses to leverage their strengths and bring deserving titles to a broader audience. This collaborative approach benefits libraries by expanding their access to a more extensive collection of titles.

Aligned with the land grant mission, the commitment to open access on the library side emphasizes the free dissemination of scholarship and the enhancement of educational opportunities. Contributing to the public good, Path to Open ensures a sustainable financial model for the press, enabling active participation in the land grant mission by providing unrestricted access to scholarly content of the highest quality.

The feedback from librarians highlights the program’s immense value. Setting it apart from other initiatives, this program stands out by including a wide array of small and medium-sized university presses. With a remarkable collection of 1,000 titles, it emphasizes the importance of bibliodiversity and the need to sustain such publishing efforts. However, it also acknowledges the considerable costs associated with producing a monograph.

The Path to Open program, endorsed by the Big Ten Academic Alliance, adheres to its commitment to providing robust support for humanities and social science publishing. Kate McCready, Visiting Officer for Academic-owned Scholarly Publishing at the Big Ten Alliance, emphasizes: 

“The Path to Open program presents numerous advantages for libraries, and that’s why the Big Ten Academic Alliance chose to invest in the program. It enables us to offer robust, ongoing support for humanities and social science publishing. With information sourced from university presses and JSTOR, we can be confident that the content is trustworthy and of high quality.”

Collaborating with presses and libraries, the goal is to foster an open-knowledge ecosystem. Path to Open, as a valuable partner, streamlines library engagement with a single entity, providing comprehensive collection access efficiently. The program’s reasonable fee structure contributes to the creation of highly valued open access content. McCready elaborates:

“At the Big Ten Academic Alliance, we place a strong emphasis on open access content creation. We’ve shifted from merely functioning as a buying club, where we collectively use our consortia license content, to utilizing our resources not only for providing access to content but also ensuring that we’re contributing to open content creation in every deal we undertake. Our commitment is that every deal we’re involved in must have an open access component. Our goal is to collaborate with presses and other libraries to foster the development of an open knowledge ecosystem. In this endeavor, Path to Open stands out as one of our most valuable partners. From a practical standpoint, it offers a streamlined mechanism for libraries to engage with a single entity for extensive collection access across numerous topics. It’s efficient, comes with a reasonable fee for prompt access, and concurrently contributes to the open access enhancements that hold significant value for libraries.”

In conclusion, Path to Open stands as a groundbreaking initiative, spearheading the movement for open access in humanities and social science publishing. With the esteemed support of the Big Ten Academic Alliance, it is paving the way towards a future of inclusive and accessible knowledge dissemination. As we witness the positive impact of our collaborative efforts, we eagerly anticipate forging new partnerships with additional universities.

Together, our aim is to pioneer a future where scholarly content is freely accessible to all, transcending the limits of knowledge. We are excited for the journey ahead as we collectively strive towards our shared goal of advancing open access in academia.

JSTOR, part of nonprofit ITHAKA, shares a mission with libraries to improve access to knowledge. With your help, we can fulfill this mission together. Contact us to learn how your institution can join us on the Path to Open.