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Do academics still need monographs?

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Results from the survey released by OAPEN-UK have shown that 10% of researchers for whom access to monographs is important, also claim that it is difficult or very difficult to get such access. Among the researchers who stated that access to journal articles is important to them, the share of those who believe it is difficult or very difficult to get this access is twice smaller.

Is 10% significant or not? In fact, it is hard to say relying on this survey alone. The research sample consists of 2,231 researchers working within the field of humanities and social sciences. And that is all that we know about it, except for the fact that the sample was not a randomized trial of any defined population. We know that the questionnaire was ‘distributed via social media and targeted emails using OAPEN-UK and HEFCE networks’, which is quite a poor description. We do not know where these researchers are from, or where they are working, etc. We can guess that UK-based and younger researchers are overrepresented in this sample, but this is only a guess.

It is very important to ask whose opinion is referred to in this survey. As Bo-Christer Björk said in his interview for the Open Science Dot Com Blog:

Different authors and different readers are in totally different situations. If you think about researchers working at wealthy universities in the United States, then they just do not feel the access problem. (…) Subscription fees again might not be a problem for big universities in industrial countries, but they are a problem for the rest of world, as well as for example, for small, innovative companies. (…) It really depends on whom you ask.

So it is reasonable to assume that for some population of researchers the statistics given above would have been much higher. Anyway, even partial knowledge is better than no knowledge at all, and what is interesting here is that access to books is twice as much of a problem than access to journals!

Books are expensive. Sometimes even terribly expensive. Usually they have relatively small circulations, which makes them hard to find in a regular library. This week I bought one book which was unavailable in my library because I needed just one bit of information that was mentioned inside. Fortunately this book was quite cheep, but the price of some academic books in English are equivalent to a quarter of a researcher’s salary in Central Europe.

On the other hand, editing books and preparing them for publication is very time consuming and therefore expensive. Book Processing Charges are quite high in the case of open access book publishing. De Gruyter Open charges 10 000 euro per book and this price is below the average. The possibility of finding funding is also less likely at the moment for open access books than for articles.

Do researchers still need books?

Do books only create problems? Not exactly. According to the same survey, access to monographs is important or very important for 94% of researchers in the fields of humanities and social science and 84% consider the publishing output of their own research as a monograph as important or very important for them. This is not very surprising for those familiar with academic habits. More surprising is the fact that both of these values are higher for journal articles than for any types of book. Therefore, we can say that publishing and reading books is very important in the humanities, although less important than publishing and reading papers.

What is the conclusion? More support for open access books is vital. Researchers in the humanities and social sciences should try to encourage their universities and funding organizations to shift towards a consistent open access books policy. It will make their own work easier. Both as readers and as authors trying to obtain readers.

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