Charleston Library Conference at Frankfurt: Open Access in Focus

In News by Hannah Johnson

In a Charleston Library Conference session at the Frankfurt Book Fair, the discussion centered on the changes brought by open access for academic libraries, researchers, and publishers.

Speakers in the session ‘Charleston Library Conference Meets Frankfurt’ take questions from the audience. Image: FBM

By Hannah Johnson | @hannahsjohnson

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The Charleston Library Conference, one of the most important events for academic libraries and publishers, today (October 16) brought a two-hour program to this year’s digital Frankfurter Buchmesse which included librarians, publishers and academic professionals.

Called “Charleston Library Conference Meets Frankfurter Buchmesse,” this digital program marks the start of a closer working relationship between the two big events.

According to Thomas Minkus, vice-president of the Frankfurter Buchmesse, Frankfurt and the Charleston Library Conference this year agreed to cooperate on programming and cross-promotion in order to bring more value to attendees to both events.

In the first half of Charleston’s program in Frankfurt, two major themes emerged from the speakers:

  • Academic libraries are making big changes in their collection development strategies
  • More work is needed to find sustainable business models for the entire spectrum of academic publishing
Academic Libraries: From ‘Value-Based to Values-Based’

Because of open access and end-user expectations, the role of academic libraries is shifting. Jim O’Donnell, university librarian at ASU University, said. “The pressure to move to end-user open access will only increase,” he said, adding that libraries are engaged in finding business models to make that work.

O’Donnell also pointed out that libraries now have a much broader role to play in the academic ecosystem. They’re now part of the publishing process, paying to have their institutions’ researchers published in open access formats, rather than paying just for access to material.

Ivy Anderson, associate executive director and director of collections at the California Digital Library at the University of California, spoke further on the changing approaches to collection development. In particular, she said, this process used to be quantitative, “focused on the dollar side of the equation.”

However, the focus has shifted, she said, from “value-based to values-based.” At the California Digital Library, values like alignment with the academic vision and generous use permissions, and commitment to diversity are factors that influence how libraries acquire material.

Ivy Anderson presenting during Frankfurter Buchmesse 2020. Image: FBM

But even the term “acquisitions” is beginning to seem outdated in world where digital material is accessed, not owned, and where libraries play a key role in helping their institutions’ researchers get published—another point made by O’Donnell and substantiated by Anderson. At the California Digital Library, Anderson said, the focus has shifted from acquiring material to disseminating it.

In the summer of last year, Anderson said, the University of California adopted a new strategic approach to journal acquisitions, driven by the university’s goals to shift from subscription models to open access. This transition has prompted many libraries to issue a set of principles and requests to publishers in exchange for paying to have their researchers published under open access. Libraries are asking for certain terms and privileges—like copyright retention for authors and no delays in sharing the published work.

Anderson added that it’s most important for publishers and libraries to work together on the best way forward.

Open Access: Monographs, Humanities, Social Sciences

Finding a way forward in this open access world for monograph publishing, a strong format in humanities and social sciences, is another challenge—and one that’s taking more time to work out than other areas of academic publishing. In this session, Charles Watkinson, director of the University of Michigan Press and associate university librarian for publishing at the University of Michigan Library, offered a closer look at monograph publishing and some of the future developments we might expect.

The subject of open access publishing for humanities and social sciences came up in a De Gruyter session at the Frankfurt Conference’s academic publishing track as well as in a Publishing Perspectives Talks session with academic publishing leaders.

One reason this is being so often discussed is because humanities and social science researchers often don’t have access to the same level of funding as those in the hard sciences, and this funding is often necessary to publish under open access.

Another reason this is getting attention, Watkinson pointed out, is because the coronavirus COVID-19 pandemic has highlighted the global need for access to information from humanities and social sciences, as well as the lack of open access material in these fields.

Charles Watkinson presenting at the 2020 Frankfurter Buchmesse

“Understanding human behavior and culture is as essential as understanding the natural world,” Watkinson said, and academic monographs on subjects like policing and psychology have particular relevance in today’s world.

Monographs, “deep investigations into a single subject,” Watkinson said, are “written by scholars for scholars” and have a special place in the academic process. Large commercial publishers, he said, have targets to increase their monograph publishing by 15 percent a year because money can only be made from this format at scale.

One trend, he said, is a move toward shorter texts. These “interesting vehicles for work in progress” are also “a great way of recruiting new authors.” Watkinson pointed to Cambridge Elements and Palgrave Pivot as good examples of publishing programs working on these formats.

Unlike the norm in trade publishing, price transparency for academic publishing is clearly defined and valued, in particular because research funding bodies and libraries are footing the bills for open access material, and they want to know what they’re paying for.

Watkinson said that one trend in monograph publishing is to more clearly define the costs involved, and to “decouple” the editorial and production stages of publication. The goal of these efforts is to create the necessary transparency and infrastructure for monographs to be published under open access.

The acquisition and editorial phase of publishing a single monograph costs around US$7,000, said Watkinson. The production and distribution add up to $4,000.

Charles Watkinson presenting at the 2020 Frankfurter Buchmesse. Image: FBM

But putting humanities and social sciences publications on the fast track to open access doesn’t seem likely. “The timescale will be longer … there may need to be different business models,” said Anderson.

Watkinson said that starting with interdisciplinary areas, where the researchers themselves are keen to embrace open access, is a promising path forward. “Let’s start where there’s interest,” he said.

More from Publishing Perspectives on Frankfurter Buchmesse is here, more from us on academic publishing is here, and more on education is here. More from us on the coronavirus COVID-19 pandemic and its impact on international book publishing is here.

And from international industry trends to curated guides to the many online events during this year’s Frankfurt Book Fair, our digital magazine offers you the information you need to make the most of the fair and the rest of 2020. 

Download your free copy now.

About the Author

Hannah Johnson


Hannah Johnson is the publisher of international book industry magazine Publishing Perspectives, which provides daily information and news about book markets around the world. In addition to building partnerships with international cultural and trade organizations, she works with the Frankfurt Book Fair to organize and support a number of its overseas initiatives. Hannah has also worked as the managing editor for an online media company, The Hooch Life, focused on craft distillers and cocktail experts. Prior to that, she worked as a project manager for the Frankfurt Book Fair’s New York office, managing various business and marketing activities.