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Here Come the OA History Monographs

As we enter the second year of our three-year pilot, the pace is quickening. 

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The Sustainable History Monograph Pilot (SHMP) is a Mellon-funded initiative to publish open digital editions of high-quality books from university presses in the field of history. Unlike other Open Access (OA) pilots, SHMP transforms the publishing process and outputs, while focusing on a single academic discipline. Led by the University of North Carolina Press and utilizing its subsidiary, Longleaf Services, we are aiming to publish at least 75, and potentially as many as 125, monographs during the period.

In August of 2018, we convened a working group in Chapel Hill, NC, to help plan the phasing of the pilot. Made up of presses, librarians, and platform providers, we confirmed the proposed timeline and discussed some of the open questions, including:

  • How much of a subsidy should a press receive for the cost of acquiring? Answer: $7,000. 
  • What is the optimal lag time between the digital publication date and the availability of a print version? Answer: 90 days.
  • Should the pilot have a branded name? Answer: Yes, the Sustainable History Monograph Pilot.
  • To what degree would marketing the collection of titles be beneficial versus putting the burden of marketing exclusively on the presses? Answer: There was consensus that while the primary burden of marketing individual titles always lies with the originating press, there would be benefits to marketing the “collection” especially at history conferences.
  • Should Longleaf or the individual presses distribute content and metadata files? Short answer: Longleaf; long answer: it’s complicated—see more on this below.
  • What type of usage metrics should be provided to authors, presses, and institutions? Answer: Unclear and a topic of much discussion among other grant-funded working groups.

Following that session, we put out a call to members of the Association of University Presses for participation and crafted a memorandum of understanding to confirm their commitment. As of this writing, we’ve had 23 presses commit, representing a broad cross-section of the university press world.


University of British Columbia Press
Cambridge University Press
University Press of Colorado
Cornell University Press
Duke University Press
Fordham University Press
University of Georgia Press
University of Hawaii Press
Indiana University Press
Kent State University Press
Liverpool University Press
Louisiana State University Press
Manchester University Press
University of Michigan Press
University of Nebraska Press
University of New Mexico Press
University of North Carolina Press
(and The Omohundro Institute)
University of Oklahoma Press
Oxford University Press
University of Rochester Press
University of South Carolina Press
University of Virginia Press
University of Washington Press

Overlapping with that signup period, we began stitching together our workflow, developing our internal forms (such as manuscript appraisal and transmittal forms, “the case for authors” form; subsidy request forms; memos on how to secure DOIs, ORCIDS, and CC licenses for our presses) and putting in place the tools we will be using during the grant.

But we’re still wrestling with real challenges.

Our OA platform partners want Longleaf to distribute publishers’ metadata to them, but OA metadata poses an unusual set of challenges. Most publishers’ content management systems don’t have all of the fields required for OA distribution (including things like chapter-level metadata, DOIs, ORCIDs, CC licenses). Metadata tends to be distributed seasonally (twice a year) but we need to push out metadata on a rolling basis as new books are ready. Wholesaler intermediaries play a valuable role in the distribution of digital content, but when sales commissions models are upended by zero-cost products, how do presses step in and try and perform those tasks? 

We’ve also experienced some pushback from authors about participating in the pilot. Or more precisely, several prospective authors (especially those who are tenure-track) have said they would like to participate, but when they’ve asked among their peer historians, the advice has sometimes been to select a more traditional publishing option. We are collecting data on why authors agree or refuse to include their project in the program and this, fortunately, is a minority position.

And we have only begun to take on the challenges of how to measure OA usage. This is a major topic and we will dedicate a future blog post to it. 

But in the meantime, it’s been incredibly satisfying to watch our first books emerge from our process. These books are high-quality history monographs published by some of the world’s finest university presses—and they’ll be available immediately to readers around the globe. 

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