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Libraries as Publishers – Accessible Open Access

As the Visiting Program Officer with the Association of Research Libraries, I have worked on a number of accessibility-related projects and produced a series of publications on the subject of digital inclusivity. One of my recent  articles as dedicated to libraries as publishers, linking accessibility, Open Access (OA) and the future of the digital book into one important narrative. I strongly believe that all of these things need to be a part of the same conversation and, moving forward, hope that digital accessibility will play a crucial role in the development of open access resources.

About this series

“Include” James Keuning The Noun Project

This article is part three of a four part series in Open Shelf dedicated to the developing area of inclusive librarianship, looking at leadership and the growth of library accessibility policies / emerging librarian competencies with accessibility as a core competency / 21st century libraries, publishing and open access / and managing accessibility projects and collaboration. Each article will explore a unique facet of inclusive libraries through the lens of leadership and project management, using accessibility as a springboard to discuss a more important shift in our profession towards future-forward planning and progressive problem solving.

Part 1: Leadership and the Development of Library Accessibility Policies
Part 2: Emerging Librarian Competencies: Accessibility as a Core Competency


On May 27th, 2015, the University of Toronto Libraries Scholarly Communications team, under the guiding hand of Bobby Glushko, organized an Authors Alliance event called “How Authors can Thrive in a Digital World?” With introductions by Ariel Katz, the panel, comprised of authors and academics, talked about how authors are not a homogeneous group but a group of people with varying beliefs and needs – an important thought when considering publishing models, costs and dissemination strategies for published content.

While some parts of the discussion leaned towards a more philosophical angle such as reflecting on when knowledge became a commodity and how much it should be worth, other questions struck close to heart looking at who sets the market price for published works and what will the emerging formats be worth to our customers. Peter Unwin, a well-known author, talked about how there is an assumption that an author needs “life support” if the book is “sick”, questioning whether a book is a commodity which must always be sold.

The following themes permeated this discussion:

  • transparency with regard to costs of published works
  • consistency in publishing practices and costs
  • value of easy to understand terms for authors signing agreements with publishers
  • how the web has created an opportunity for everyone to be an author or a reviewer
  • digital publishing changing the publishing landscape
  • local vs. international legal frameworks and impact on dissemination of knowledge
  • quality of scholarship found in open access vs. via publisher platforms

Libraries have a lot on their proverbial plate and in the midst of it all have the added pressure of ensuring that materials they are setting out to produce are economically sustainable, can demonstrate value to the community and most importantly be accessible to users of all abilities – what is open access if it’s not open to all equally?

Ryan Merkley, the CEO at the Creative Commons was one of the speakers on this panel and he talked about how the Gates Foundation now requires all papers to be open access – and given that they publish around 1,500 of these a year, that’s impressive. 100% of available grants now have the “OA requirement” which is also written into partnership agreements with other organizations as well.

Along with published formats, the concept of authorship is indeed drastically changing – anyone can be an author, much like anyone can be an editor so how can libraries measure the quality of their open access + fully accessible output?

With Internet growth slowing down, what will the impact be on digital publishing? The story of the internet is about destroying “gatekeepers” and enabling access to information. How can libraries become the default online book place without having to compete with places like, while retaining their rightful roles as more than just “book repositories”?

Many universities now have Open Access policies to support scholarly works and make them available in OA repositories. This will have an impact on what type of contracts authors will be able to sign with publishers. However, since information is not really a “rival good”, it should be free unlike, for instance, oil. The big question remains what is the most economical and logical way of making information available, preserving the integrity and quality of academic scholarship?

The true value OA is in public funds paying for works only once to the benefit of all members of the society, creating opportunities for knowledge to be more accessible to all. Knowledge could probably be open without the actual articles being “open” if an author publishes a condensed version of a journal article to be made available openly in a new format. We (a.k.a. the society) lose what we don’t discover – OA facilitates that discovery process for all, in turn helping our civilization to advance. Building a sustainable library solution to the OA dilemma with accessibility in mind will get us that much closer towards our ultimate goal of democratic information dissemination.

What role can libraries play in this discussion? We should MOTIVATE our publishing partners to embrace the rapidly changing landscape of digital publishing by taking the following steps:

Manage stakeholder expectations by being transparent about what libraries need from publishers.

Organize opportunities for libraries + publishers to identify and share common challenges and discuss future collaborative opportunities.

Team up with colleagues across other departments or organizations to develop standards and guidelines which promote consistent accessible open access practices (as they pertain to formats and peer review practices).

Improve communication across different stakeholders and make sure that everyone who should is able to have part in this important discussion.

Validate partnerships through active participation. Everyone has an important part to play – the digital revolution will not happen on its own.

Advocate on behalf of library users by speaking with publishers and library administrators about the value of open + accessible resources.

Test platforms and share usage statistics with the publishing community in order to inform them about what library users need the digital resources to do for them.

Establish a community of practice by sharing best practices and new projects/approaches to doing things.

Katya Pereyaslavska is currently seconded to the Association of Research Libraries as a Visiting Program Officer for Accessibility and Universal Design and tasked with raising awareness of inclusive library practices and accessible publishing. In her day-to day role as the Librarian for accessibility projects at Scholars Portal, Ontario Council of University Libraries, Katya has been responsible for the development of initiatives such as the Accessible Content ePortal (ACE), Accessibility Information Toolkit for Libraries and the Report on Accessible Media (ROAM).  To find out more about what Katya is up to, you can follow her on Twitter @Socialbrarian or drop her a line via email katya [at]

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