Librarian perspective: Q&A with Curtis Brundy, Associate University Librarian for Scholarly Communications and Collections at Iowa State University

Posted by Tom Grady on May 11, 2022 at 1045

We recently caught up with Curtis Brundy, Associate University Librarian for Scholarly Communications and Collections at Iowa State University, for a Q&A on OA monographs and library collection policies.

Iowa State University Library assists beyond the university faculty, staff and students. How does OA help serve its obligations towards the state of Iowa?

Iowa State University is a Land Grant university in the United States. The Land Grant universities are somewhat unique in the US with a practical mission to advance agriculture, engineering, and science. The Iowa State land grant mission states that we will not just create and apply new knowledge, but we will also share it with Iowa and the World. This aligns remarkably well with the Library’s open initiatives. Especially with open access, where our efforts are having a direct impact on making the knowledge created at the university accessible to Iowans and to others around the World. Our support for open access and open data also aligns well with the growing emphasis for US funded research to have a demonstrated social impact. Research that is open and available to all to read and re-use will inevitably increase usage and increase social impact. This is all very important to our strategy at the Iowa State library.

In an Aug 2021 blog post (co-authored with Sharla Lair), you note that “awareness of Subscribe 2 Open [S2O] lags behind that of some other OA [journal] models”. What do you think about library awareness of so-called S2O monograph models, like D2O, Opening the Future and Flip it Open? Are these beginning to gain publicity in library circles or are BPCs still perceived as synonymous with OA?

I think awareness is growing for both Subscribe to Open and the S2O-like open monograph models. Annual Reviews, which introduced S2O, recently announced it will be moving all of its journal titles into the model. And to date, more than ten other journal publishers have adopted S2O for their own open access transitions. I believe the interest and continued adoption of S2O is in part because many libraries and publishers have well-founded concerns about the inequities of APC based models like Read and Publish. S2O offers an equitable alternative that has a lot of appeal to librarians and others who would like to see the open transition land at a place that is barrier free to both readers and authors. The S2O-like open monograph models are benefiting from this success. As librarians become more familiar with the S2O approach and understand its benefit, I think it is more likely that they will participate not just in journal offers but also open monograph offers.

I don’t believe book processing charges were ever firmly established as a preferred or viable vehicle for open access monograph publishing. As a model, BPCs have the same fundamental equity flaw as APCs. But the equity issue is even greater for BPCs considering their much higher costs than most APCs.

A possible bigger obstacle for equitable open monograph models like Opening the Future is the inconsistencies and legacy practices within library acquisitions. For example, a library’s preference for print over eBook, or individual title purchasing rather than an entire frontlist collection purchasing. For many libraries, supporting an open monograph model represents significant changes in local practice, requiring additional discussion before a decision is made. It may even require changes in how acquisition budgets are internally allocated. But the benefits of open access will prove a powerful incentive and motivator, and acquisition practices and budget allocations in libraries are coming under growing pressure to change. 

In the same article you note that “At our libraries, renewal data is gathered and analyzed in the spring, decisions to renew or cancel are finalized over summer, and this is then passed on to agents like EBSCO in the fall. If a publisher does not synchronize its S2O offer with this timeline, its offer may fail simply because it was introduced at the wrong time of year.” Do you think S20-type monograph models also need to be conscious of this annual cycle?

I think S2O-like offers for books will eventually need to settle into an annual cycle. New open monograph offers must give consideration to when the offer is extended, ensuring sufficient time for outreach and for meeting participation targets. For renewals, libraries will want time to access and review publishing and readership data before making a decision, not unlike they already do for other ongoing subscriptions. Self-service reports that can be aggregated will be helpful as the number of open agreements a library has grows. I think the goal should be to simplify and standardize as much as possible, which will prove of great benefit to libraries and publishers.

You also wrote that for librarians there is an opportunity now “…to help shape the development and direction of S2O. Through directly engaging with publishers and/or taking part in the S2O Community of Practice, librarians can help ensure S2O matures into a viable and sustainable alternative for open access transitions”. Could you expand on ‘directly engaging with publishers’ - what avenues do you see as useful or possible for this dialogue?

Libraries have been actively working with publishers to develop and pilot models. This can take different shapes. I have been part of small groups of libraries working directly with publishers to develop open models. I have worked directly on my own with publishers, offering feedback and suggestions on their open access transition approach. I have done this as well by serving on publisher library advisory committee and publishing committees. And I’ve done it through working with library consortia, helping to establish open investment criteria and principles, and helping to position the consortium to more directly engage with publishes. Those are all examples of how libraries can engage. I believe our biggest success so far with the open transition has been the level of collaboration and partnership between publishers and libraries. 

Can you talk about the divide between Scholarly Comms Librarians and Collections Librarians and how this might be bridged?

Libraries have traditionally placed their scholarly communications and collections work in distinct organizational silos. This has meant, in many cases, that the values that inform a library’s work in scholarly communications do not actually inform the work done in collections. This is an issue of values alignment. If we care about information equity, privacy, and intellectual freedom with our scholarly communications work, then we should also care about these things with our collections work. At Iowa State, we have just adopted a new collection and open strategies policy that centers our library’s values in our collection work. We have also integrated our scholarly communications efforts with our collections efforts to eliminate organizational barriers.

It is not uncommon for US research libraries to spend close to half of their operating budget on collections and acquisitions. Aligning our scholarly communications work and values with collections helps a library to shift this spending from traditional collection procurement to open investing, which will help incentivize and support the transition to a more equitable scholarly publishing system. I believe these types of changes are becoming more common in US libraries.

Iowa State has its own Digital Press. In what way - if at all - does this Press help to further the OA aims of Iowa?

Our publishing program, the Iowa State Digital Press, is still in its infancy. But we see it as a key investment the library is making in openness, one where we have a more active role in bringing open content to the world. And we are having some success. We are an early participant in Lyrasis’ Open Access Community Investment Program to establish sustainable funding for the Journal of Librarianship and Scholarly Communication, which we publish. At this point, we see a lot of potential for sustainably growing our Diamond OA publishing program. The Press has also given us a great opportunity to grow our local publishing expertise and to support exciting open infrastructure projects like Janeway from Open Libraries of the Humanities and PubPub from the Knowledge Futures Group. We very much are taking a multi-modal approach to the OA transition, and our Digital Press is an important part of our approach.

A ‘crystal ball’ question: ‘where do you see the state of OA monograph funding and publishing in 10 years’ time?’

I don’t see a retreat coming from the many exciting open monograph business models that have recently emerged. Over the next ten years, I see further publisher transitions to open, further open model iteration and improvement, and further expectations from libraries that their spending supports open content. I believe libraries will transition from a legacy collection mindset rooted in procurement to a future mindset rooted in open investing and scholarly publishing transformation. Open monograph models are young. They will need time to adapt and evolve. But the open transition in scholarly monograph publishing has arrived, and these next ten years will be an exciting time for us all.

Thank you to Curtis for taking such time and care in answering our questions. We are very grateful for his insight and look forward to continuing the conversations on OA monographs.