Direct to Open post-launch: The institutional perspective with Choice Authority File

Part two of our deep dive into Direct to Open (D2O) with the Choice Authority File podcast

In March 2021, we announced the launch of Direct to Open (D2O), a sustainable framework for open access monographs. D2O moves professional and scholarly books from a solely market-based, purchase model where individuals and libraries buy single eBooks, to a collaborative, library-supported open access model. Since our launch last spring, 150 institutions have signed on to Direct to Open, enabling us to publish our spring 2022 catalog of monographs and edited collections open access.

Recently, Emily Farrell, former library partnerships and sales lead at the MIT Press, and Curtis Brundy, associate university librarian at Iowa State University, appeared on the Choice Authority File podcast to talk about the model and the opportunity it presents. Their conversation was distributed as a four-part podcast series; explore part one here.

Listen to the second episode in the series and read along with an adapted transcript below.


Bill Mickey: Emily, you've mentioned that larger institutions get the higher pricing tier and you found that smaller institutions were a little bit harder to get on board. Why do you think that is, regarding the smaller institutions?

Emily Farrell: I think there are a few things. It goes back to time and money. I think budgets can be challenging. In particular, I think that staff time is really the difficult part now. A lot of institutions lost staff during the pandemic, so simply finding the time to assess models takes longer. I also think visibility is more challenging. We are used to working with larger research institutions and having those direct connections. We also only have a certain amount of human capacity in our team as well to reach people and have direct conversations. The best ways that we've been able to amplify our message has been through consortia. We’ve seen more success bringing on smaller institutions through consortia relationships where licensing is centralized, invoicing is centralized, and that labor doesn't then fall onto the smaller institution to manage where they don't have the capacity to do it. I think those are the main challenges.

Bill Mickey: You mention there's a time element here that can be challenging for some institutions. What goes into that assessment on the institutional side? What are you learning from your institutional partners as they go through that process?

Emily Farrell: We hoped to make sure that our model was easy to understand. In most cases where we've had conversations with different types of libraries, the feedback is that it is indeed reasonably easy to understand—so that's positive. But then I think sometimes the model is being reviewed by a scholarly communications team where it then needs to be taken to collection development where those two pieces are separate inside a library, maybe it needs to be taken to a faculty board… So I think that the workflows and processes for approving open access models can be more burdensome. Curtis is in a much better place to talk about it, in terms of what that structure looks like inside a library. But I think that can be some of the challenge; because it's still new and it does challenge traditional collection development approaches and how money is allocated—that can just create more of a time burden.

What's been interesting to see is that over the last year or two, it does seem that more libraries are developing specific guidelines for assessing open access models—particularly where they want to assess how equitable a model might be, and how impactful it might be for their faculty. Those guidelines, I think, are helpful for us and for the library as well. 

Bill Mickey: Curtis, what's your take on this? Could it be that there's quite a lot of OA investment opportunities in the market as it is, so maybe there's some time involved in sifting through those as well?

Curtis Brundy: I would agree with that and I'd agree with everything that Emily said. For libraries this is something that is new. If you think about where we were just three or four years ago, I don't think there was a university press open access model out there that a library could even invest in. There were a couple smaller things, but it's new.

As with anything new, I think there's a sense in the libraries that they need a little bit of due diligence before they invest. But what ends up happening, though, is that we're scrutinizing to a higher extent these things that really should be fast tracked and which should be a no-brainer for libraries—but because they're new, we're taking them through criteria check sheets and having our ScholComm group look at them. Some of this comes down to libraries that have it in their head that open spending should be some fraction of overall spent, when in reality, what we need to do is transit the whole collection spent to support more open.

As libraries do more of this, it becomes normalized. They get familiar with the models and it will speed up. The reality right now is that there are actually not a lot of investments out there for a library, like mine, that is sitting here thinking about our end of year, one-time spending. It's really hard to find anything open to invest in the market. We're already participating in the few university presses that actually have an open model. Most university presses are not even thinking about it, for good reasons; as Emily explained with the back file, the back file's a very important part of the direct open model. And they don't have an investment right now to open up that back file. 

I think we're in a desert of open investments right now, and we're just starting to see the first little blossoms coming through the dry dirt. This is a terrible metaphor, but we really want to turn that whole thing into a wildflower meadow. We're not there yet, but I think it's exciting for libraries. There's still work to be done—like this podcast—in bringing people along and furthering their understanding of both what the open models are, and also the why: Why it should matter to them, why they should be thinking about investing in this way.

Bill Mickey: What are the opportunities for change within the institution that these might influence?

Curtis Brundy: The mindset of librarians working in collections for a long time has been more like a procurement mindset. We were buying a lot of the same things year after year. Not the same book necessarily, but if we averaged buying 20 to 30 print books from MIT Press, we would do that year after year. Somebody would select them, we'd get an invoice, and we’d pay for them. That’s the nature of what we did. What's happening now is that libraries are shifting from more of a procurement approach to an investment in this open transformation that's happening in scholarly publishing. 

And so what do you see at the library level and at the institution? Emily already mentioned, a lot of libraries are coming up with new open principles to guide this type of spending. We just finished a complete rewrite of our collection policy. We've been sitting on a collection policy—like most research libraries—that probably hasn't been touched in 20 years. Those collection policies have been static for a really, really long time. Having an offer like Direct to Open come across the bow of your collection, librarians really may rethink what they're doing and how they're doing it. It prompts those critical conversations about how we bring these things that we say we care about—like openness or equity—into the decision-making process on how we spend these huge chunks of money that are entrusted to us by our institutions. 

Part of that is aligning scholarly communications with collections. We've tended to keep those on opposite sides of the building. But it's also with our diversity, equity, and inclusion work and bringing those values into alignment with how we're spending our budget. So to me, bringing an offer like this to a library prompts these conversations that we should have been having in our libraries five or more years ago. Thankfully we're having them now.

Bill Mickey: You've both mentioned the connection between scholarly communication and collections. Emily, can you just help me understand: What is that connection there that needs to happen or should happen in this context?

Emily Farrell: I think that Curtis captured it a moment ago: There’s been a purchasing perspective;  collection development is about amassing a collection that is for your institution and the people that work at your institution only. It's very much a perspective inherited from print legacy. I think that a lot of the people and the librarians working within a scholarly communications framework are focused on a more integrative approach and a more contemporary thinking about what it is to live out the mission of a university in the distribution and sharing of knowledge. Of course it is about your university community—that's core. But it does go beyond that. It's an exciting opportunity to think beyond the boundaries of your own institution and who it is you are serving,  and for libraries in the role of getting knowledge into people's hands.

I think that’s how it comes back to university publishers in particular. We also have the same mission, the same drive to get that information into more hands. I think that our partnership there, bringing the framework and thought from scholarly communication together with collections, is incredibly important. 

Curtis Brundy: I do think there's progress here. My position title is associate university librarian of scholarly communications and collections. When I was hired five years ago, none of this was on the ground—but the Dean envisioned it in my position, someone who would have a foot in both of these worlds who could try and help bring them together. We’re seeing more of that. It used to be about what you are providing to your own institution and what's within your own building. We measure the value of research libraries by their holdings, right? 

But coming out of the pandemic we learned that his content needs to be open around the world, to the folks who can use it and solve public health problems in the face of a crisis, like COVID-19. So to me, I think progress is really accelerating. I've been in this position for five years and it's been a drastic change, not just in local practice, but how this is all playing out across the world with publishers, with funders, with library consortia… Things are really on the move toward open right now.

Emily Farrell: Not only the pandemic, but also just what we've been seeing with misinformation and fake sources—libraries and publishers working together are some of the best places for people to try to fight back against this and to better inform people to provide this sort of access. I think that's also a really pressing need and part of why work on open data broadly is just so vital. We need to have people that know about these infrastructures that understand how knowledge is shared and used. There's ways that we can help find solutions to these problems.


Learn more about D2O or sign-up to become a participating institution