A while back I wrote a long feature on digitization of monographs for a magazine. Life intervened and this long version (with ample quotes from publishing insiders and librarians) never got published as intended. I’m giving it a home on this site.–MR
The need to update scholarly publishing has given rise to four distinct digitization initiatives supporting the academic and library market: Oxford University Press’ (OUP) University Press Scholarship Online (UPSO); Cambridge University Press’ (CUP) University Publishing Online (UPO); University Press Content Consortium (UPCC) Book Collections on Project MUSE; and Books at JSTOR.
University presses as leaders
Oxford’s UPSO and Cambridge’s UPO launched in Fall 2011, representing the efforts of two leading university presses taking on the leadership role and using their existing platforms as the foundation for further digitization efforts. UPSO is a partnership between OUP and several university presses (including Fordham and University of Florida) to aggregate monograph content into a single, cross-searchable platform featuring XML format, setting it apart from the competing platforms still featuring PDF. “By tapping into the advantages of XML, UPSO provides superior search results and is able to create a content journey,” said Rebecca Seger, OUP’s Director of Institutional Sales for the Americas.
OUP set the stage for digitization of scholarly content in 2003 with the launch of Oxford Scholarship Online (OSO), now integrated with the book content of the partner presses on the new UPSO platform. UPSO is also the only platform not integrating journals with books. “Our platform is geared toward long-form scholarship,” added Seger. “The full book is an argument, and we want to preserve that.”
UPO also is hosted by a university press with a long history of scholarly publishing, but it casts the net wider. The result of a joint venture between CUP and partner publishers (including Liverpool University and Mathematical Association of America), UPO integrates scholarly books (including textbooks and professional books) with journal articles on a single platform. “Our goal is to remain as flexible as possible in terms of the type of content we provide,” said Hannah Perrett, CUP’s Strategic Development Director for Digital Publishing.
Project MUSE and JSTOR models represent the initiatives of well-known aggregators in the library community who saw an opportunity to build a bridge between librarians and university partners at a time when their means to digitize their own content were limited at best. While hoping to emulate the successes they’ve had with the journals, both Project MUSE and JSTOR see an opportunity to breathe new life into the existing models by going beyond marrying scholarly books to the journal side and incorporating other types of content in the near future.
The Project MUSE initiative is the result of a partnership with the University Press Ebook Consortium, which includes Johns Hopkins University Press (the host institution), New York University, and over 60 others. The new business model allows participating publishers to select the titles they want to offer annually on the MUSE platform. “We developed the name University Press Content Consortium [for the partnership] to signal to the market that book and journal content coming together was only the beginning,” said Dean Smith, Director of Project MUSE. “In the future, we will transform the platform yet again to include reference works, datasets, multimedia, annotation, collaboration, and commenting features.”
The last in line for release (set for release in summer 2012), Books at JSTOR is an initiative by several university presses (including Yale and Princeton) to make their ebooks available as part of JSTOR, a widely-used digital platform of scholarly content founded in 1995 by The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation. Once incorporated, the book content is cross-searchable with millions of journal articles and primary sources already on JSTOR. “Librarians have been telling us for some time now to add scholarly books,” said Frank Smith, Director of Books at JSTOR.
Power of scale
As these partnerships continue to solidify, the future of small university presses is called into question: are these new agreements giving them the power of scale or are they giving the leaders more control? “A bit of both,” said Perrett (CUP), adding that Cambridge’s history of book publishing, as opposed to the history of content aggregation on the distributor side, makes them more attuned to the needs of their partners. Seger (OUP) agrees, stressing the importance of the spirit of collaboration between content producers: “We understand where they are coming from.”
For others, it’s not a question of power but of survival and an opportunity to re-energize business models. From a small university press standpoint, these partnerships are about increasing the frequency and breadth of the content usage. According to Peter Dougherty, Director of Princeton University Press, “This will lead to more scholars reading our books. As we get experience in the integrated scholarly aggregations, we will be able to work with publishers, aggregators, authors, and readers to develop new applications flowing from the basic innovation.”
Merging book content with the journal side is largely perceived as a natural progression, with many citing librarians as the driving force behind the trend. Whether via advisory boards or through feedback provided to their vendor representatives, librarians had a lot to do with how these platforms turned out. This explains, at least in part, why merging books and journals is seen as the next most significant movement in collection development.
Alice Crosetto, Coordinator of Collection Development for University Libraries at the University of Toledo (OH) recognizes that “giving the faculty and students everything they could use in one location reduces the frustration levels and time spent in conducting research.”
Other librarians see the merging of different types of sources as simply the nature of the beast spawned by technology. “I like this beast and I bet lots of librarians focusing on information literacy instruction like it,” said Tiffany J. McGregor, Interim Director of Library Services at Neumann University (PA). “By not having to explore different vehicles for each kind of information source, instructors can focus on teaching better strategies for using the information itself.”
The overlap dilemma
The non-exclusive nature of these deals has led to content overlap, which makes it challenging for libraries unable to own all four platforms to decide which once to settle on. “We drove the exclusivity angle in the beginning, but in reality publishers don’t want to go there,” said Smith (Project MUSE), citing the fear of loss of course adoption revenues as one of the reasons behind it.
On the other hand, allowing partner presses to “double-dip” means their content will remain widely available and it ultimately gives them more control. “Publishers these days have so many more tools at their disposal than when journals were going online,” added Smith (Project MUSE).
The overlap is frustrating to librarians, particularly those examining their budgets under a magnifying glass, but it is to be expected. “I would be more surprised if there wasn’t any overlap,” said Crosetto (Univ. of Toledo). “It doesn’t mean that we’re happy about paying twice for the same content.”
McGregor (Neumann Univ.) sees non-exclusivity as a way to allow for competitive pricing and less of a monopoly on access as well as an opportunity for librarians to rethink their own practices: “Overlap is something that librarians already deal with, and often a savvy approach to collection development can help minimize the sting.”
The multitude of options available to librarians may indeed pave the way for new approaches to collection development as some gravitate toward cafeteria-style purchasing while others opt for pre-packaged collections. And it is precisely in the realm of pricing and purchasing options that the differences between the four platforms come to light.
Oxford’s discipline-driven approach (with title-by-title purchasing on the horizon) allows librarians to buy (by publisher) in one, several, or all of the 22 main subject modules or among the 270 sub-disciplines, which include books across all presses. Divided into five large subject areas, Cambridge’s model allows for title-by-title purchasing (after a first-time purchase of 25 titles) from a single publisher or mixing and matching across all subjects and publishers.
Project MUSE has bundled the book content into three distinct collections: Complete Collections, Subject Collections, and Archival Collections. Within those three bundles, 47 different purchasing options are available. Finally, JSTOR offers pre-built collections as well, but its big pitch to librarians is “buy whatever you want,” allowing them to purchase across subjects, publishers, and publication years.
While the available options may encourage individualized approaches to collection development, they may also contribute to more “platform fatigue” for both librarians deciding what to buy and for the researchers needing to learn new platforms on top of those their library already owns.
Does this lead to librarians wishing for a single repository of scholarly content? Contrary to what may seem intuitive, librarians recognize the flip side to platform fatigue: more value in the long run and less anxiety. Not only are they willing to set up new vendor accounts, if necessary, they remain focused on the patrons. “When I buy materials, I always remember Gardner’s multiple intelligence theory model— we learn differently,” explains Crosetto (Univ. of Toledo). “In order to address this, we need to provide a variety of resources, including a variety of access points.”
Having choices may alleviate the anxiety of being stuck in an undesirable situation, but it also raises the issue of the time required to choose which platform to buy and train everyone who will use it. “An ultimate repository would make it easy to quickly identify a destination, but what happens if we don’t like what we find at this destination?” asks McGregor (Neumann Univ.).
Despite the overlap and visible differences, great strides have been to improve functionalities and discoverability of content across the board. All platforms feature sophisticated search and browse capabilities, multiple remote access points, and are fully mobile-device optimized. And library support tools like COUNTER-compliant usage statistics, MARC records, and OpenURL compliance, as well as integration of multiple citation tools and DOIs (digital object identifiers) at book and chapter level have become the norm.
From a user perspective, the future looks bright. From an industry perspective, however, it remains unclear. Now that monographs have found their new homes online, will commercial aggregator sites be pushed aside? Will the conglomeration of English-language scholarly content—now available to audiences well beyond English-language borders—lead to further globalization of scholarly resources? And will this globalization eventually lead to an Open Access model for which many scholars have been pushing?
The industry may not be ready to make predictions, but librarians seem equally poised as the university presses to handle the changes. “The key is to continue providing a variety of purchase options at a time when academic libraries have little money left to spend on books,” said Sue Polanka, creator of No ShelfRequired® blog and Head of Reference and Instruction at Wright State University Libraries (OH).
Polanka sees a future in which PDA (Patron Driven Acquisitions) and short-term loans take center stage and book chapters hold their own. “Just in time collections will reign,” she adds. “And access over ownership may be the next norm.”
“This is a challenging time for all in higher education,” concludes Crosetto (Univ. of Toledo), pointing to more uncertainty for everyone who has a stake in the future of the scholarly book. “Are the decisions we are making today going to stand the test of time? Or will future scholars and information specialists look back and ask themselves what were we thinking?”