Reviewing the Impact in the Global South and 20 Per Cent Year-on-Year Increase in Interactions for KU Open Access Books During First 9 COVID-19 Months

Reviewing the Impact in the Global South and 20 Per Cent Year-on-Year Increase in Interactions for KU Open Access Books During First 9 COVID-19 Months


The 2020 third-quarter (Q3) usage reports for Knowledge Unlatched (KU) have been recently shared with its stakeholders. In the first 9 months of 2020, we have seen an increase of 20% in the Open Access (OA) interactions per book, as compared to 2019. We are excited to report this, because it shows the increasing use of OA books, which is of especially great importance during these times.

At the same time, at KU, we are eager to also grow the impact in those regions, where access to scholarly materials might not be so self-evident. Therefore, in this Open Impact Report, we will zoom in on the actual use of KU content, e.g., books, in the Global South, in order to evaluate what we can do better to drive its adoption.


For the analysis of this Open Impact Report, all the KU book interactions are taken into account from January 2018 until September 2020. Therefore, the number of books analyzed are increasing over this period. The empirical data for online interactions have been obtained from the following hosting platforms: OAPEN (available until July 2020), JSTOR, the Open Research Library and Project MUSE.

How do the Global South Interactions Compare to the Rest of World?


It is clear that the KU books are mostly consumed by students, faculty and researchers from the Global North countries since the start of 2018 (~75%). This is not overly surprising, given that most of the institutional financial supporters for KU collections and their constituent book output derive from these continents. In addition, it should be noted that the main language of KU books is English and that most of the research activity in the fields of Humanities and Social Sciences comes from North America and Europe. However, the share of Asia is also significant (~18%) in the total interactions for this period, which we review further in the next section.

How does the Global South share of OA book interactions compare to the Global North over time?

Also in relative terms, not much has changed over the investigated period, as can be seen from the figure below. The distribution of total interactions involving KU content has remained relatively stable in recent years. 


However, when looking at the absolute numbers strong upward dynamics can be observed for all continents, including the Global South, in 2020, which is remarkable. This might be related to COVID-19, as part of the impact of which institutions and researchers around the globe might have promoted the use of OA materials. As mentioned above, based on our research results, the increase in the number of interactions per book equalled around 20% globally in 2020, as compared to the same period in 2019.

The Role of Language

For a closer focus at usage statistics from South America, the present report has sought to control for the impact of language on interaction performance. For the sake of that, we have, therefore, subselected the empirical data for the few Spanish-language books KU has unlatched (n = 13) in recent years. While the resultant data set is relatively small, the figure below allows us to make the following conclusions: Language has a significant promotional effect on the adoption of OA books in the Global South. In recent months, South America has been responsible for 40% of the interactions for Spanish-language books, which strongly contrasts with only ~1.75% for all KU unlatched books in other languages. This strong uptake of Spanish-language content has occured during the initital months of the COVID-19 pandemic, while possibly indicating the increasing relevance of OA books during this period.


Overall, based on this report, there is a strong increase in the total interactions of OA books transitioned into Open Access by Knowledge Unlatched (KU) during the first months of the COVID-19 pandemic. The uptake of scholarly books made openly accessible by Knowledge Unlatched in the Global South is also growing in terms of absolute numbers. In relative terms, the share of North American and European countries is only slightly decreasing, whereas Asian countries have been found to be increasing their usage of KU OA books. One can also tentatively conclude that language plays a crucial role in increasing the uptake of OA content in South America and Africa. For this reason, KU is determined to increase the linguistic diversity of the books it transitions into Open Access.

The Focus on Language of the Open Research Library

For this reason, KU also seeks to make more non-English-language books available in Open Access via unlatching but also more immediately at the Open Research Library (ORL). This was accomlplished in September 2020 through the addition of 660 Portuguese-language and 190 Spanish-language books, as shown in the chart below. The addition of these Spanish- and Portguese-language books is likely to increase the relevance of the ORL in the Global South and, thus, the adoption of KU OA books in South American and African countries.

Cumulative number of OA books on the ORL by language over time

We continue to asses the implications of these empirical findings as concerns the broader impact of KU's activities, especially as additional information becomes available.

If you have any questions about the Impact of Open Access Books, feel free to write me a message at so that we can provide answers to your inquiries in our blog article series at the Open Research Community.

Written by Max Mosterd

Editerd by Pablo Markin

Featured Image Credits: New study: Jacksonville's seaport generates more than 26,000 area jobs, Jacksonville, Fla., USA, March 27, 2019 | © Courtesy of JAXPORT/Flickr.

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