On May 16, Knowledge Unlatched (KU) launched a new hosting platform for Open Access monographs, the Open Research Library (ORL). Notwithstanding its name, we do not consider the Open Research Library to qualify as an open infrastructure.
The statement from KU opens as follows:
“Free access to scientific content is often limited due to the fragile technical infrastructure around it: content is stored in a variety of versions at various locations and without any uniform search functionalities. The Open Access initiative Knowledge Unlatched has addressed this growing problem and is now launching the Open Research Library together with several international partners. Its goal is to unite all Open Access (OA) book content over the coming months. To this end the Open Research Library is working with publishers and libraries worldwide and is open to all providers and users of quality-assured research content.”
While we can agree with the observation that ‘free access to scientific content is often limited due to the fragile infrastructure around it’, we do not think this initiative is helpful in strengthening the Open Access infrastructure for monographs.
OPERAS, the European Research Infrastructure dedicated to open scholarly communication in the Social Sciences and Humanities, supports the Principles for Open Scholarly Infrastructures: infrastructures should be open, transparent, sustainable, and community-governed. OPERAS is dedicated to develop a distributed research infrastructure in close collaboration with the scholarly community, in accordance with these principles. OPERAS has demonstrated its support of these principles in various projects:
- the HIRMEOS project, a collaborative project of five European book publishing platforms to develop a shared set of added value services, in order to make these available to the scholarly community and enable integration with the open science ecosystem;
- the development of the Directory of Open Access Books (DOAB) as a central platform to improve transparency and quality assurance around Open Access monographs;
- the upcoming, recently funded project TRIPLE, an innovative discovery service aimed at increasing the discovery, access, reuse and societal impact of Social Sciences and Humanities artefacts (data, publications and projects).
In our opinion, the ORL does not meet the criteria for open infrastructures. On the contrary, based on the statement from KU and the early release of the ORL, the approach of this platform closely resembles well-known internet strategies to quickly achieve a dominant position by aggregating all available content and offering a free service to the community, while aiming for a lock-in of users and stakeholders. The ORL is neither open nor transparent, in particular regarding its governance.
While we are not against commercial ventures or market competition, we strongly believe that vital infrastructures supporting Open Science should not fall in the hands of commercial operators. These infrastructures should be a collective responsibility of stakeholders in scholarly communication. We see SCOSS and the recent launch of the IOI initiative as positive signs that this collective responsibility can become a reality. With this in mind, we think that the ORL is not helpful, and could well be harmful, on the road to establishing a distributed, open and sustainable infrastructure for Open Access monographs.
This statement is the outcome of an open consultation with the OPERAS Core Group. 20 May 2019.