Can metrics support open access monograph publishing?

Academic publishers are developing new ideas about open access in response to the economic crisis in scholarly publishing. To be sure, the open access movement was not started by publishers. It emerged from within the academic community in response to the serials crisis in university libraries and the rising prices of journals. Since 1995, open acccess has moved from the periphery to the centre of academia. The Berlin Declaration (2003) was an important moment that signaled that it was supported by most representatives of the scientific and scholarly establishment. Funding agencies are also moving towards open access as the prefered model as is the European Union, albeit slowly. This raises the question of how citation analysis and performance metrics can be developed that fit with this process. Metrics may either be used to monitor the growth and impact of open access publications. Metrics might also be used by researchers whose performance is evaluated to make the case that they contribute to the wider dissemination of their research.

A specific instance of open access publishing is the development of open access monographs. In this area, academic publishers are taking the lead, not coincidentally from smaller countries, prominent among them Amsterdam University Press. They are edged on by the rapid decline of the publication of printed scholarly books. This is partly caused by a shift from the production of monographs to articles in international peer reviewed journals in a number of fields in the social sciences and humanities. Also, book publishing is an expensive affair. If the sales numbers keep dropping it will soon become virtually impossible to publish scholarly monographs unless they also serve a much larger, non-specialist, audience. The problem is, of course, that book-length arguments are still important to synthesize research findings. This is not limited to the humanities or social sciences, but it is especially urgent in these fields. Can open access be (part of) the answer to this threat?

This was the topic of a conference organized by OAPEN on 25 February this year in Berlin. In my contribution to this conference, I have tried to sketch a possible research agenda to develop appropriate metrics for open access books. The issue of this type of metrics is a combination of four different measurement challenges. Each one of them is already a considerable problem: the measurement of open access (until now mostly developed for journals); the bibliometrics of the humanities and social sciences (plagued by the problem of inadequate source coverage by the Web of Science); webometrics of the use of information sources on the Web (confronted with enormous amounts of noise in the data); and the problem of measuring societal impact of research (often denoted with ‘societal quality’ – a problem of measuring widely diverging interactions).

If open access book metrics would simply be the sum of these four, it would probably be an impossible challenge to develop such a metrics. A research strategy would therefore need to focus on finding generic solutions that may be valid for more than one of these dimensions.

Currently, we simply do not have the tools to properly measure academic open acccess books. But we may use existing work as building blocks. My proposal is to follow a threefold strategy that works in parallel on three different tasks.

The first is to develop a model which describes how scholarly monographs are actually functioning in processes of the creation and use of research and scholarly knowledge. We already have some of these models focused on the economics of book publishing and these could be refined in terms of the information flows that the books are both an expression of and an element in.

The second task would be to work on data production and curation to ensure that the publication process captures the relevant data and that all parties agree on the crucial standards and technical norms needed. An prominent initiative is the COUNTER consortium, that aims to develop “an agreed international set of standards and protocols governing the recording and exchange of online usage data”. Our colleagues in Madrid have moreover developed a ranking method of Web based repositories that may be useful to build on in a metrics of open access books.

The third task is the creation of meaningful indicators of open access monographs. It may be useful to distinguish different dimensions: monitoring the creation or production of open access book sources; measuring their use by both scholars and lay audiences; and lastly their impact, implications, or influence on the creation and use of scientific and scholarly knowledge.

Anyone interested in joining forces in this endeavour?


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