Interview with Sarah Faye Cohen of the Open Textbook Network

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This week at Temple Libraries, we are hosting Sarah Faye Cohen, the Managing Director of the Open Textbook Network. Based at the University of Minnesota, the Open Textbook Network was founded in 2014 to help promote the use of open textbooks. One way the organizations does this is through their Open Textbook Library, a searchable database of open textbooks from across the disciplines. As of today, the Library contains over 200 textbooks. To be included in the Library, textbooks must be complete works, have an open license, be available as a portable file, and be currently in use at a college, university, scholarly society, or other professional organization. In advance of her talk, Sarah was kind enough to answer a few questions for us about the Open Textbook Network and open textbooks more generally.

How did you get interested in open textbooks?

When I was Associate University Librarian at Cal Poly, we were dealing with incredibly long lines at course reserves. As we were trying to address that challenge and learn more about students’ need for access to textbooks, we were also starting an open education program. When I learned about open textbooks, I saw a real opportunity for the library to support our students and engage our faculty.

What’s one thing every faculty member should know about using an open textbook?

That an open textbook offers them the opportunity to meet their course objectives and engage all the students in their classroom (as opposed to the ones that could afford the book) through the 5Rs: retain, reuse, revise, remix, and redistribute. Every student can access and keep the book, and if you have ideas for how a book can be improved, you can make the change! Creative Commons licenses really are incredible!

How should faculty members evaluate the open textbooks they find on the web?

We hope that they will start by looking at the Open Textbook Library. We encourage faculty to use the reviews in the catalog from faculty at other OTN schools to help them evaluate each book.

Why should a faculty member consider creating his or her own open textbook?

I’m not sure that they should. I hope that a faculty member will consider using an open textbook and then perhaps adapt that book – one of the most powerful, valuable, and important qualities of open – to better fit their course, by incorporating their own research or updating the content.  If there is not a book yet available in their discipline, creating an open book ensures that students have access to their content because it is free, and that fellow faculty can use the book as a basis for their courses.

While open textbooks are free to read, they still cost money to produce. What model do you think best supports the long-term financial stability of open textbook projects? (i.e. foundation money, charging for printed copies, providing career incentives for faculty, etc.)

You’re right, textbooks are expensive to produce and there are a number of different models out there to support the creation of books. I think that the more higher education institutions pool their resources (including financial resources) and expertise to support open, the better.

Finally, what do you think about the recent announcement that Amazon is developing a new platform for open educational resources (OER)?

It’s great that big players like Amazon (and Microsoft and Edmodo) are working to support OER. This is a sign that OER is becoming mainstream. We support any effort that advances open education and improves education.

Paying for Peer Review?

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“Peer Review” by AJCann is licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0.

A recent article in Times Higher Education reports that a new British publisher, Veruscript, plans to pay authors for their peer review work. Although paying for peer review is not a new idea, it is only recently that scholarly journals have begun to experiment with the practice.

Perhaps the most prominent mega-journal that pays for peer review is Collabra, which is published open access by the University of California Press. Launched in 2015, Collabra publishes scholarship on life and biomedical sciences, ecology and environmental sciences, and social and behavioral sciences. To cover the costs of making articles freely available, Collabra charges authors an article processing charge (or APC) of $875. Collabra then takes a portion of that money ($250) and places it in a fund to pay editors and reviewers. Reviewers are offered money no matter whether they accept or reject a manuscript. Reviewers can choose to take the money outright, donate it to the Collabra APC waiver fund, or donate it to their own intitution’s open access publishing fund. The amount is low enough that scholars are not motivated to review just because of the money, yet it’s a small way to reward the academic labor that goes into reviewing articles.

Still, the practice of paying for peer review remains controversial within the academy. Many academics feel that peer review is a community service that should not be monetized. Serving as a peer reviewer, they argue, is simply part of one’s job as a scholar. Others point out that there are ways to reward peer reviewers without actually paying them. The Molecular Ecologist, for example, publishes a yearly list of its best reviewers. The open access mega-journal PeerJ offers another kind of incentive for peer reviewers. Under their economic model, individuals pay a flat fee for membership. Membership allows authors to submit papers and preprints. However, in order for authors to keep their membership from lapsing, they must submit one “review” a year. This can be an informal review, such as a comment on an article, or a formally requested peer review (which is by invitation only). Finally, the for-profit company Publons showcases the work of peer reviewers by making it possible for scholars to create Publons-verified profiles in which they list all the journals they have reviewed for. Publons claims that their model will help scholars get credit for what is usually invisible work, as well as give them another way to demonstrate their subject expertise.

What do you think? Should reviewers be compensated for their work?

How Much Does it Cost to Produce a Scholarly Monograph?

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“Cambridge University Press” by Lezan is licensed under CC BY 2.0.

University presses have long played a crucial role in disseminating scholarship. Over time, however, sales of scholarly monographs have declined, while the cost of producing them has not. This has led to what many people refer to as a “crisis” in scholarly publishing.

While this “crisis” has been around for decades, only now, thanks in large part to the digital revolution, are we seeing university presses start to experiment with new business models. The University of California Press, for example, recently launched an imprint called Luminos where authors, rather than readers, help the press cover their costs. For authors who publish with Luminos, the UC Press charges a baseline fee of $15,000. UC Press and its library partners absorb some of that cost, but the author is expected to pay between $5,000 and $7,500. The thought is that the author will not necessarily pay this money out of pocket, but that they will be able to find financial support from their department, provost, or library. Indeed, over 50 university libraries in the United States now have some kind of Open Access Publishing Fund, which is designed to support authors publishing open access articles or books. A Luminos book goes through the same editorial process (including peer review), that all other UC Press books go through. Unlike a traditional monograph, however, once published, the Luminos book is made available open access, so that anyone can read or download a copy for free. A print version is also available for sale (which helps UC Press recoup more of its costs).

It is important to point out that although UC Press has set $15,000 as their fee, this does not mean that $15,000 is the full cost of publishing a book. The actual cost could be higher or lower. One difficulty presses are facing when it comes to changing their business models is that it’s hard to say just how much it costs to produce a scholarly monograph.

Recently, the research group Ithaka S+R tried to find out. They interviewed 20 university presses from across the United States. These presses ranged in size from small (annual revenue under $1.5 million, with only about 10 employees) to large (annual revenue over $6 million, with almost 80 employees). All together, they analyzed 382 titles (all published in 2014). Ithaka S+R estimated costs at every stage of a book’s production, from acquisition to editorial to copyediting to design to marketing. What they found was that the cost of publishing scholarly monographs ranged widely, from $15,140 to $129,909. The overall average full cost of a book was $39,892. Staff time was, unsurprisingly, the biggest cost associated with producing a book. In addition, acquisitions work was the most expensive activity. Ithaka S+R also sought to understand what makes certain books more expensive to produce. They found that longer books, as well as books with illustrations do cost more. An author’s first book, however, was not more expensive than later books.

Despite Ithaka S+R’s well-researched report, more work still needs to be done on this important issue, particularly into why the costs vary so widely. In addition, presses are just beginning to publish digital projects, and the costs of producing this type of scholarship are largely unknown.

Understanding Open Educational Resources

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“Open Education” by opensource.com is licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0.

This week we’re celebrating Open Education Week at Temple University Libraries. The purpose of Open Education Week is to raise awareness about resources, tools, and practices that help increase access to education.

One way faculty can help make education more accessible is by using open educational resources (OER). What are OER? According to UNESCO, OER are “are any type of educational materials that are in the public domain or introduced with an open license. The nature of these open materials means that anyone can legally and freely copy, use, adapt and re-share them.” In a recent study, only 15 percent of faculty respondents said they had used OER in their classes. 39 percent of respondents said that they had never even heard of OER!

This lack of faculty awareness is a real problem, because as students know all too well, class materials such as print textbooks can be very expensive. Some students might go further into debt to buy their textbooks, while others just won’t buy them at all. But it doesn’t have to be this way. There are a growing number of high-quality open textbooks available in many different disciplines. One example is the American Yawp, a collaboratively-edited American history textbook created by leading academics from around the United States. You can find more open textbooks by searching the Open Textbook Library, OpenStax, and Open SUNY Textbooks.

If you can’t find the right open textbook for your class, consider creating an alternative textbook instead. Alternative textbooks are “textbooks” assembled from both library and open access resources. Unlike traditional textbooks, however, they are completely free for students. In 2011, Temple University Libraries started its Alternate Textbook Project. Each year, faculty can submit proposals for an alternative textbook. Faculty whose proposals are accepted will receive support from the Libraries and an award of $1,000. So far, 46 faculty members from across the University have participated in the project, saving Temple students over $300,000.

Interested in learning more about open and alternative textbooks? Come to our event, “Ditch the Textbook: Exploring Options for Textbook Affordability,” on Wednesday, March 9th @ 12:00 pm in the Paley Library Lecture Hall. Panelists include Temple University student Eitan Laurence, Associate Professor of Art Gerard Brown, Professor of Tourism and Hospitality Management Wesley Roehl, and Assistant Professor of Media Studies and Production Kristine Weatherston. The panel will be moderated by Annie Johnson, Library Publishing and Scholarly Communications Specialist.

Can’t make it to the event? Follow the conversation on Twitter: #openeducationwk.

Towards an Open Future for Books

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“Unlocked” by samstockton is licensed under CC BY-NC 2.0.

Knowledge Unlatched is a not-for-profit organization that makes scholarly books in the social sciences and the humanities free for anyone to read. By doing so, it helps excellent peer-reviewed scholarship reach new audiences. It works like this: publishers submit several titles to Knowledge Unlatched. Then, the organization’s Library Selection Task Force chooses the best books submitted. Once the titles are chosen, Knowledge Unlatched coordinates with publishers to come up with the basic cost of publishing the book. Libraries around the world pledge a certain amount of money to help reach that amount. The more libraries that contribute, the lower the cost for each library. When the total amount is reached, a Creative Commons licensed PDF of the book is made available open access through OAPEN and HathiTrust. This version does not carry any DRM restrictions, like many ebooks. Although the digital version is free, a print version can still be sold by the publisher.

Knowledge Unlatched launched in 2014 with twenty-eight books. Temple University Press was one of thirteen publishers who participated in the first round of the project, with the book, Constructing Muslims in France by Jennifer Fredett (2014). You can read the book here. This week, Knowledge Unlatched announced that they had received enough pledges from libraries to make seventy-eight new scholarly monographs open access. The list includes three titles from Temple University Press:

Peter O’Brian, The Muslim Question in Europe (2016)

Jennifer Riggan, The Struggling State: Nationalism, Militarism, and the Education of Eritrea (2016)

David Spener, We Shall Not Be Moved/No nos moverán (2016)

Although the benefits of Knowledge Unlatched to readers are clear, you may wonder why publishers are willing to participate in such a project. According to the Director of Temple University Press, Mary Rose Muccie, “The program is a win for us and for our authors.” She continues, “The Knowledge Unlatched model takes into account the current realities of our business and allows us to recoup many costs as well as to continue to sell print and electronic editions. Being chosen for inclusion in the program reflects the quality of the title, and because of broad access and use, we have the opportunity to get our name in front of a large group of people interested in what we publish. It’s been a great experience for the Press and we’re looking forward to continuing to partner with Knowledge Unlatched and to expanding our participation as the program grows.”