Major HEFCE study of monographs and open access sheds light on complex issues

Original article appeared on 21 January 2015 via –

The Monographs and Open Access Project considers the place of monographs in the arts, humanities and social science disciplines, and how they fit into the developing world of open access to research. It concludes that open access for monographs has a great deal to contribute to scholarly communication, but that the challenges of introducing it will be real and policy should take account of the various issues identified in the report.

The Monographs and Open Access Project was led by Geoffrey Crossick, Distinguished Professor of Humanities at the School of Advanced Study, University of London [Note 1]. It was commissioned by HEFCE in partnership with the Arts and Humanities Research Council (AHRC) and the Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC).

Important messages in the report are that:

  • Monographs are a vitally important and distinctive vehicle for research communication, and must be sustained in any moves to open access. The availability of printed books alongside the open-access versions will be essential.
  • Contrary to many perceptions, it would not be appropriate to talk of a crisis of the monograph; this does not mean that monographs are not facing challenges, but the arguments for open access would appear to be for broader and more positive reasons than solving some supposed crisis.
  • Open access offers both short- and long-term advantages for monograph publication and use; many of these are bound up with a transition to digital publishing that has not been at the same speed as that for journals.
  • There is no single dominant emerging business model for supporting open-access publishing of monographs; a range of approaches will coexist for some time and it is unlikely that any single model will emerge as dominant. Policies will therefore need to be flexible.

Evidence to support the project was gathered through an extensive programme of consultations, surveys, data-gathering and focused research activities. The research was supported and shaped by an Expert Reference Group of publishers, academics, librarians, funders, open access experts with the additional help of distinguished representatives from overseas.

This project was set up following advice to HEFCE that monographs and other long-form publications should be excluded from requirements for open access in the post-2014 Research Excellence Framework (REF).

Professor Geoffrey Crossick said:

‘This project has demonstrated very clearly the vital importance of monographs to the academic community as a way of developing research thinking, a vehicle for research communication, a demonstrator of academic quality, and much more. Open access offers significant short- and long-term advantages for monograph publishing that should be pursued, but the clear message is that the academically essential qualities of the monograph must be sustained in any moves to open access.

‘The project has shown that, for open access to be achievable, a number of key issues must be tackled. Open access depends on a satisfactory transition to digital publishing that hasn’t yet happened for books in the way that it has for journals, and the various business models that can support open-access monographs are still largely experimental. Furthermore, the potential costs of third-party rights could pose serious problems, and there are issues around licensing that will need careful handling.

I have been encouraged by the very positive way in which academics and others have engaged with this project; it is important that this engagement continues, because there is much to be gained by working with the grain, and much to be lost by not doing so.’

Welcoming the report, David Sweeney, Director, Research, Education and Knowledge Exchange at HEFCE, said:

‘This report makes a huge contribution to the evolving debate around open access, shedding much-needed light on the issues around delivering open access to books. The wealth of evidence and commentary that this project has generated will spark continued debate among academics, learned societies and publishers, as well as provide important guidance to research funders and others interested in developing policies in this area.

‘I am very grateful to Professor Crossick for the open and engaged way that he has handled his investigation into this complex and sensitive area. The report is firmly grounded in the perspectives of the communities that rely so much on monograph publishing, and is all the stronger for it.

‘Monographs sit outside the open-access requirements for the next REF. But the long timescales for book authorship and publishing mean that any policy for open-access monographs in future REF exercises would need to be established soon to give due notice to the sector.’

Read the report

Next steps

HEFCE will consider this report and discuss its policy implications with other research funders including AHRC and ESRC, recognising that any steps towards policies for open-access monographs should be preceded by a thorough process of consultation and engagement.

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  1. A monograph is a long academic book on a single research topic, normally written by one or sometimes two authors. For this project, the term was used more broadly to include edited collections of research essays, critical editions of texts and other works, and other longer outputs of research such as scholarly exhibition catalogues.
  2. The HEFCE Monographs and Open Access Project launched in late 2013. It was led by Professor Geoffrey Crossick and was overseen by a steering group, comprising membership from HEFCE, AHRC, ESRC and the British Academy.
  3. In March 2014, the UK higher education funding bodies announced a new policy for open-access in the post-2014 REF, requiring that certain outputs be made available in open-access format to be admissible to the next REF. Monographs and other long-form publications were excluded from these requirements.
  4. The report, setting out the findings of the project and the results of the various strands of research, is available on the HEFCE web-site.
  5. The remit of the HEFCE Monographs and Open Access Project was:
  • To develop an understanding of the scale and nature of the difficulties that are thought to be facing monograph publishing.
  • To develop an understanding of the place, purpose and appropriateness of the scholarly monograph within the overall ecology of scholarly communication in those arts, humanities and social science disciplines where it plays a significant part. This should include, among other issues, the importance of the monograph to scholarly communication and to reputation and career progression.
  • To examine the role that innovation in publishing and access models can play in ensuring that the various benefits and attributes associated with the monograph can be sustained and, where possible, enhanced. This will involve examining a range of opportunities, risks, challenges and solutions, which should include identifying and examining current and emerging models for monograph publishing, with particular reference to open-access models.