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Publishing Accessibly—Open Access and Your Library as a “Publisher”

Last Updated on November 30, 2020, 3:13 pm ET

The 2015 Library Publishing Forum took place in Portland, Oregon, in late March, nestling itself comfortably following the ACRL conference. Program topics explored themes such as the evolving role of libraries as “publishers” and what that role really entails. What can library publishers do that we cannot get from huge publishing houses or university presses?

The debate about terminology defined at least one of the sessions, inspiring heated participation among the audience. During the break-out discussions led in another session by library colleagues from Stockholm University, questions of peer review procedures were tied to the increasing interest in publishing open access monographs. While some schools cited challenges in motivating authors to contribute large-scale works to open access collections, many positive opportunities were identified for libraries to address—areas where publishers have historically struggled.

So what exactly are these areas of opportunity for libraries to participate in open access publishing? And what can libraries do differently from other publishers?

Provide High-Quality Publication Services

What does this mean for users of all abilities? In my view, this could be a publication which provides library users with as many tools as possible, to be assembled like Lego or molded like putty into a format of their choice. This would be a high-quality publication that is peer-reviewed and available in open access to all users who are invited to interact with this work in their preferred way.

Thrive in Online Environment

Digital publishing is certainly the way forward, however, print-on-demand options should be available to all users. People have varying study methods and some prefer the hard-copy format that they can hold and make notes in.

Enable Citation Capability

If you would prefer folks not to doodle in your high-quality print editions, enabling citation capability can be very beneficial.

Facilitate Interaction with Original Sources

This one is pretty self-explanatory. It is valuable for researchers to be able to effectively locate works cited. In a digital environment, that should be made even easier.

Maintain and Preserve Digital Content within E-books

An interactive book is a very sexy option—sporting embedded videos, tactile samples of crocheted works or links to terminology. However, many of these features can pose significant barriers to screen readers and create roadblocks in navigating a valuable monograph. End users should be given the option to strip a publication of all of these features and download a plain text file if needed.

Ensure Economic Sustainability

A key incentive for authors to contribute important scholarship to open access is knowing that their work will reach the widest audience possible, equating open access with access to users of all abilities will ensure just that.

Preserve Content across Formats

Producing sustainably means producing materials that can be preserved effectively and converted into multiple formats if need be. XML can generate just about any format, be it Word or an ePub, which can then interact with any assistive technologies a user might employ.

Set Standards

What is an accessible book? There is a plentitude of guides and toolkits available online that walk you through how to create an accessible format or convert a print book into an OCR’d PDF. However, it would be so much better if we created inclusive learning materials from the beginning. Consortia have a tremendous power in establishing future-forward processes that are easily adopted across the continent. Setting standards related to publishing formats, metadata, and discoverability will improve the quality of research outputs in North America.

Improve Services

Currently accessibility services and libraries seeking to secure accessible format materials for their users have to find creative solutions in doing so, as not every publisher has an explicit policy with regard to accommodation. Libraries that produce their own publications can easily build accessibility into their sustainability plans, developing platforms that are easy to navigate and content that is technology friendly.

Respond to Necessary Measures

And lastly, if you are your own boss, it is easy to respond to issues in an effective way. If your level of accessibility has been reported as troubling, you can fix the issue yourself without having to communicate these concerns to a third-party vendor. If publishers can’t always support the production of inclusive learning materials, libraries as leaders in information should step away from their supporting role and into leadership shoes, pushing for open access and preservation of flexible and accessible information resources for users of all abilities, hopefully, along the way, bringing publishing costs down.

Where does this leave us today? As consortia or partners we need to systematically explore the above themes, focusing on the value of producing quality form as well as content. Extending the peer review process and measuring quality of publications is a step in the right direction. Identifying what libraries can do that publishers can’t and developing successful business cases for the establishment of library publishing processes will enable libraries to reclaim rightful ownership to information, assuming the leadership role in information creation and dissemination and working towards the de-“magazinification” of the web and towards building more sustainable digital learning resources.


Katya Pereyaslavska is the Scholars Portal accessibility librarian at the Ontario Council of University Libraries (OCUL) and the University of Toronto Libraries (UTL), a position she has held for almost three years. She currently serves as an ARL visiting program officer (VPO), working with the Accessibility and Universal Design Working Group.