University of Pittsburgh Press Offers Open Access to Select Digital Backlist

Though debate over digital publishing and open access is still far from resolved, university presses are beginning to take bold steps in the hope of innovation. Perhaps out of necessity, and certainly driven by mission statements promoting the dissemination of scholarly research, academic publishers have taken the lead in exploring the implications of open access and the real and perceived differences between web-based and print publications.

Recently, the University of Pittsburgh Press has announced that it is working to make selected backlist titles available online, free of charge, through Pitt's University Library System (ULS). The first of the Pitt Press collections to be made available online is the Latin American Series, with thirty-nine titles already presented for open access. Readers of the digital editions can click on any chapter or article from the table of contents, and then browse through the entire book. It is also possible to download individual pages as PDF documents, perform a full-text search of the book, and skip to any page using a drop-down menu.

A product of shared objectives between University of Pittsburgh's press and libraries, this collaboration follows a trend of increasing cooperation between such custodians of research. "This pilot project emerged from a series of discussions which addressed areas of common concern regarding emerging technologies, the dissemination of scholarship, trends in both the sales and usage patterns of various forms of media, and the appropriate roles of both the library and the Press in the scholarly communication system," said Peter Kracht, Editorial Director and Director of Electronic Publishing at University of Pittsburgh Press.

The partnership benefits the libraries by offering additional content for their electronic catalog, while providing the press with an opportunity to enter the digital arena with a more robust presence than it could otherwise achieve. ULS will be responsible for all costs associated with the program, and will also employ its technology assets and infrastructure toward digitizing the press's backlist. "As a smaller university press, frankly Pittsburgh lacked the independent capacity to launch a major digital publishing initiative on our own. The Pitt library, which has long held substantial collections of public-domain materials in a number of subject areas, had already invested in the equipment and staff to provide a scanning as well as digital storage and search capabilities to access this material," Kracht said. "It was not hard for both sides to see the advantages of cooperating on a initiative such as this."

D-Scribe, ULS's digital archive, already has a formidable database of open-access digital content. Drawing on resources from the University of Pittsburgh Library system, the university's digital thesis program, and other cultural institutions, D-Scribe's archive includes more than sixty collections of photography, archival documents, theses and dissertations, and electronic journals. But with the addition of the press's Digital Editions, the University Library System may eventually acquire up to five hundred titles.

As with other digital publishing ventures that make commercially available material accessible for free online, University of Pittsburgh Press will be tracking the effects of the D-Scribe project on sales of printed books during this experimental phase. But this will only be one factor in determining how the initiative progresses. According to Kracht, the launch of UPP's Digital Editions has been coordinated so as to highlight factors beyond sales and revenue, by selecting titles and a list that would be less vulnerable to cannibalization and to which the press has undisputed claims to the electronic rights. "

Inherent in this process is an exploration of the changing role of university presses and evaluating the options available to presses in a digital environment. "It may be that the lessons we learn suggest the need for some rethinking about the best ways to underwrite the dissemination of scholarship than the traditional consumer-pays-for-print-edition system," Kracht said. He suggested that what may eventually emerge is a system by which print and digital media complement each other across markets, and this assertion has been supported by research into electronic publishing carried out by other member presses. Certainly, the benefits of having digital editions exist side by side with print publications would include increased access to scholarly research and the option of a format of presentation that is convenient for different users.

Like other university presses that have entered into digital publishing endeavors, the University of Pittsburgh Press has needed to make a series of decision as to format and access. Its publishing model is similar to University of Michigan's digitalculturebooks site, in which the university's press and library joined to create online versions of new media publications. But unlike another project, put forth by the National Academies Press, Pittsburgh does not allow users to download the entire book or individual chapters as PDF documents. NAP charges a fee for this format and offers full-text browsing on the site for free, while Pitt maintains only the free browsing model.

Though the landscape of digital publishing is always shifting and the research of various organizations is constantly adjusting publisher strategies, Kracht sees online content as a necessary component of Pitt's mission-based publishing program. "The combination of digital format with open access allows us to provide a genuine service to the international scholarly community by making this material readily available in the region and beyond."

The University of Pittsburgh Press Digital Editions:

The ULS Digital Library:

Shaun Manning
Communications Coordinator, AAUP