As Universities Switch to Online Teaching, Digital Collections of Libraries and Publishers Take Centerstage

The importance of Open Access for university libraries and academic publishers is slated to increase, as printed books and in-person access become deemphasized in the COVID-19 context.
As Universities Switch to Online Teaching, Digital Collections of Libraries and Publishers Take Centerstage

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As of September 2020, in the United States only 75 of around 3,000 universities and colleges plan to exclusively offer in-person instruction, whereas about 1,927 education institutions have expressed plans to offer at least some of their instruction options via online channels (Enis, 2020). This sea change is accompanied not only by extended e-resource offerings from publisher product vendors, but also by budget cuts, which adds to the challenges that libraries face as they seek to assist teaching faculty members with adopting online resources for their remote instruction needs.

In North America, the pandemic onset has accelerated the evolution of university libraries toward closer involvement with supporting the digital access needs of students and researchers. On the one hand, this has spurred the launch of publisher-led projects targeted at the higher education market. On the other hand, scholarly publishers, such as ProQuest, make extra efforts to integrate Open Access into the panoply of their offerings that span both paywalled and freely accessible content (Enis, 2020).

In this respect, Open Access books and resources are likely to demand less copyright compliance management than their closed access counterparts. Additionally, Open Access does not involve the access uncertainty that free access usually does, as journal and book publishers wind down their free access deals with the presence of COVID-19 becoming the new normal. In this context, renewable subscription models gain in uptake, as vendors factor in library budget shortfalls into their product structures (Enis, 2020).

Publishers and libraries are also likely to exhibit an increasingly keen interest in transitioning their print collections and products into electronic formals via a variety of models, while increasing the selection of limited and Open Access resources university faculty can deploy for their instructional and research needs. Thus, rather than complementing print collections, digital books are likely to become increasingly attractive in their own right, also since they can accommodate innovative pricing and access models (Enis, 2020).

Consequently, as industry reviews suggest, Open Access collections can be filling the gaps in the evolving landscape of library resource acquisitions centered on specific subject areas, such as gender studies. As much is indicated by the John Wiley & Sons performance in the first quarter of the 2021 fiscal year ending on July 31, 2020, that saw an uptick in digital and online product sales. This growth was apparently driven by Wiley’s research- and education related publishing. In these sectors, Wiley’s sales performance has increased by 5% and 29% in this period, while respectively totaling around 241 million USD and 64 million USD (Milliot, 2020).

Likewise, these developments have been reinforced by Wiley’s strong performance in the Open Access sector driven by demand for its research content and digital textbook offerings (Milliot, 2020).

By Pablo Markin


Enis, M. (2020). REMOTE POSSIBILITIES: COVID-19 is accelerating the move to digital amid budget pressures; library vendors share what they near from customers and how they're meeting rapidly evolving needs. Library Journal, 145(9), 19+.

Milliot, J. (2020). Wiley Posts Q1 Gains Led by Digital Sales Boost. (2020, September 4). Publishers Weekly Online, NA.

Featured Image Credits: View from the library, University of Birmingham, UK, March 10, 2020 | © Courtesy of Damien Walmsley/Flickr.

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Go to the profile of Pablo Markin
over 3 years ago

Apparently, Open Access has been the driving factor behind Wiley's growth in the research publishing and platform sector of 6% in constant currency in the first quarter of this fiscal year.