Open Access News

News from the open access movement

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

How universities can support OA textbooks

Kevin Smith, Where should we spend our money?  Scholarly Communications at Duke, July 21, 2008.  Excerpt:

...I think there is also an opportunity here for institutions to be more proactive and seek ways to invest in open access textbooks on a campus-wide level.

Why should schools consider doing this. First, with all the pressure that institutions of higher education are under to reduce the costs for students to attend, open access textbooks offers an avenue for proactive investment that will simultaneously reduce student costs and encourage faculty scholarship. Second, this is a place where universities actually can help combat copyright infringement. Universities have been made the scapegoats in the file-sharing wars, but there is really not a lot they can do to ameliorate that problem, especially since the vast majority of music and movie file-sharing does not occur over college and university networks. But by supporting open access to e-textbooks, we really can reduce the problem of infringement in that realm.

How can universities invest their funds in ways that will encourage open access textbooks and reduce costs (and therefore the incentive to infringe copyright) for students? I can think of three ways, off hand.

First, institutions could invest in infrastructure that would encourage new models for electronic course content. This means a great deal more than simply providing the storage space necessary for an institutional repository. Universities also need to support their faculty authors in efforts to retain copyright so that they can deposit their works in an IR and create new and unanticipated derivative works from those publications. The opportunity to combine materials located in an institutional repository in new ways would create a different spin on the custom textbook; it would offer a heretofore unimagined flexibility based on legal rights retained by the authors of the component parts and licensed to institutions or, using a Creative Commons license, to a broader group of users.

Second, universities and consortia could bring their purchasing power to bear to negotiate multi-user licenses for existing e-textbooks or new ones created in the commercial market....

Finally, universities could make funds available for faculty to encourage the development of open access texts. There has been a great deal of talk recently about funding to support open access via “hybrid” publishing — traditional publications onto which an open access alternative is grafted if the author, or her institution, is willing to pay an added fee. It seems to me that a much wiser investment, and one with a greater return for the dollars spent, could be made by turning those funds to support faculty who want to create online open access textbooks that can be used by students on their own campuses and by others who teach similar courses. Adaptation by others, in that case, would provide an effective “peer-review” to measure the quality of the faculty author’s contribution. In this way, student costs could be reduced, faculty scholarship supported, and the real potential of the digital environment for collaborative learning more fully exploited.