Member storyYoung female scientist working in laboratory

Using the power of collaboration to demystify open monographs

Elaine Sykes, head of open research at Lancaster University, explains how the last twelve months have seen their library team work tirelessly to bring open monographs to the forefront of planning.

UKRI’s open access policy for monographs went live on 1 January 2024, but preparation for the practical implementation has been much longer in the making.

Elaine Sykes, head of open research at Lancaster University

The university has a commitment to open research, welcomed by Elaine and her colleagues:

“We have institutional principles of open research, whereby the university declares its support and encouragement of open research principles. It's part of our ethos and means we have buy-in from the very top for our ambitions in this area, and encouragement to pursue this path.”

Identifying staff resource

In 2023 the library team successfully bid for some internal research funding to create a new fixed-term post, the research culture and open monographs lead. Like library colleagues at many institutions, Lancaster’s open access team’s experience was primarily around open access journals as a primary output, which has some similarities with the monograph market, but is not identical. The new post, which had a remit to investigate open access monographs more deeply, has been hugely valuable and has enabled them to effectively review their offer in the wider open monograph space and help them to bridge any knowledge gaps.

The team is keen for the library to be seem as much of a partner, recognised for skills and expertise, as a service provider, providing high quality amenities and resources. One of the ways this has manifested itself more recently is through the active involvement in the Open Book Futures project, joint funded by Arcadia and the Research England Development fund and now being led by Lancaster University. This new project builds on the pioneering work of Community-Led Open Publication Infrastructures for Monographs (COPIM) project, and will further develop and support the infrastructures that COPIM initiated to allow community led open access publishers to become sustainable, viable alternatives to large commercial publishing houses.

As part of the project, the Lancaster library team will host an engagement role which the team hope will develop closer working relationships with other libraries. The aim is to draw attention to the importance of including library staff in the conversations between authors and publishers, to raise awareness of alternative publishing models, and to show that there are viable alternatives to current ways of working.

From compliance to culture

The phrase ‘from compliance to culture’ is often heard in the Lancaster University library, and it’s something the team is deeply committed to.

“We want people to work on open for its own sake, to sell the idea of open, and promote open as a good thing in itself. I'd like to see us better communicating why we should do open access and not just because it ticks a box and means that we're REF-able. Though that’s not to diminish that! We want to make the knowledge available and encourage people to use this research. There’s brilliant research being done all around the country. But if people aren't using it, then what's the point?”

Community partners

A key part to successfully implementing the UKRI policy at Lancaster is the sense of community, for people to know who to talk to and where to find help and answers to any difficulties they face. This is often seeking resources through the Jisc website which is full of useful information and guides as well as providing spaces for community building and sharing ideas. As a member of the N8 research partnership, other institutions have offered the library team at Lancaster valuable support as they explore the open monograph landscape. For example, the University of Manchester “has been really good at sharing some of the innovations that they've been doing, and which are really inspiring.” The work of White Rose University Press has also been useful for Lancaster’s library colleagues to look to, specifically in providing an opportunity for PhD students to turn their theses into their first monograph.

What next?

So, what does the open research future look like for Lancaster University? Elaine is very positive,

“we’re looking to innovate, we'd like to diversify existing infrastructure and to see more opportunities out there. We'd like to see different kinds of publication models and greater choice available for our researchers as well.”

One example of where the team are engaging in new initiatives is in their involvement with a new project, Trailblazers, to support early career researchers (ECRs) in the development of their first monograph. Lancaster University is teaming up with the University of Liverpool, Salford University, and Liverpool University Press (LUP) to deliver a bespoke programme of masterclasses and bootcamps to help ECRs develop their books, their understanding of the role monographs play in the research process, and the importance of open access. Their books will be published by LUP as part of the initiative.

In addition, colleagues at Lancaster are also working to develop an in-house, online, and crucially, on-demand module for open access monograph publishing. This flexible resource aims to fill the knowledge gaps needed from a research perspective, making the most of the connection between Lancaster library staff and researchers to make open access something achievable for researchers and lessen the perception of administrative ‘burden'.

Through innovation, challenging the status quo, and building a solid community base, the team at Lancaster University are working to demystify publishing open access. They’re making it easier for researchers to access the resources they need, and ultimately, they’re encouraging greater equity in academic publishing.