In support of open infrastructures: A statement from OPERAS in response to the ‘Open Research Library’, a new initiative from Knowledge Unlatched

In support of open infrastructures: A statement from OPERAS in response to the ‘Open Research Library’, a new initiative from Knowledge Unlatched.

On May 16, Knowledge Unlatched (KU) launched a new hosting platform for Open Access monographs, the Open Research Library (ORL). Notwithstanding its name, we do not consider the Open Research Library to qualify as an open infrastructure.

The statement from KU opens as follows:

“Free access to scientific content is often limited due to the fragile technical infrastructure around it: content is stored in a variety of versions at various locations and without any uniform search functionalities. The Open Access initiative Knowledge Unlatched has addressed this growing problem and is now launching the Open Research Library together with several international partners. Its goal is to unite all Open Access (OA) book content over the coming months. To this end the Open Research Library is working with publishers and libraries worldwide and is open to all providers and users of quality-assured research content.”

While we can agree with the observation that ‘free access to scientific content is often limited due to the fragile infrastructure around it’, we do not think this initiative is helpful in strengthening the Open Access infrastructure for monographs.

OPERAS, the European Research Infrastructure dedicated to open scholarly communication in the Social Sciences and Humanities, supports the Principles for Open Scholarly Infrastructures: infrastructures should be open, transparent, sustainable, and community-governed. OPERAS is dedicated to develop a distributed research infrastructure in close collaboration with the scholarly community, in accordance with these principles. OPERAS has demonstrated its support of these principles in various projects:

  • the HIRMEOS project, a collaborative project of five European book publishing platforms to develop a shared set of added value services, in order to make these available to the scholarly community and enable integration with the open science ecosystem;
  • the development of the Directory of Open Access Books (DOAB) as a central platform to improve transparency and quality assurance around Open Access monographs;
  • the upcoming, recently funded project TRIPLE, an innovative discovery service aimed at increasing the discovery, access, reuse and societal impact of Social Sciences and Humanities artefacts (data, publications and projects).

In our opinion, the ORL does not meet the criteria for open infrastructures. On the contrary, based on the statement from KU and the early release of the ORL, the approach of this platform closely resembles well-known internet strategies to quickly achieve a dominant position by aggregating all available content and offering a free service to the community, while aiming for a lock-in of users and stakeholders. The ORL is neither open nor transparent, in particular regarding its governance.

While we are not against commercial ventures or market competition, we strongly believe that vital infrastructures supporting Open Science should not fall in the hands of commercial operators. These infrastructures should be a collective responsibility of stakeholders in scholarly communication. We see SCOSS and the recent launch of the IOI initiative as positive signs that this collective responsibility can become a reality. With this in mind, we think that the ORL is not helpful, and could well be harmful, on the road to establishing a distributed, open and sustainable infrastructure for Open Access monographs.


This statement is the outcome of an open consultation with the OPERAS Core Group. 20 May 2019.


DARIAH has endorsed OPERAS’ statement on 21 May 2019.


Elisabeth Ernst

Digital Humanities Officer at Max Weber Stiftung (MWS) and Communication Officer for OPERAS

5 Responses

  1. 21/05/2019

    […] to access open content in an attempt to monopolise access for commercial gain. As OPERAS have said in a statement criticising the ORL, ‘the approach of this platform closely resembles well-known internet strategies to quickly […]

  2. 21/05/2019

    […] Since the announcement multiple actor groups involved in the production of open monographs have voiced their concerns about the new platform as it goes against the fundamental principles and values that […]

  3. 29/05/2019

    […] Publishers claiming the company was ‘attempt[ing] to monopolise access for commercial gain’ and OPERAS suggesting that the Library could be ‘harmful … to establishing a distributed, open and […]

  4. 04/06/2019

    […] protest against KU’s actions have even prompted condemnation from OPERAS (Open Access in the European Research Area through Scholarly communication), which derides KU for […]

  5. 07/06/2019

    […] It has to be asked: is it, in fact, a public and universal community “good” that all OA books be aggregated in one, central repository? Do we in the OA community, in fact, want there to be one central “marketplace” for both the funding and aggregation of OA books content? Do we really want only “one salesforce” and “one contact person” for OA content, whether journals or books? At a time when it feels critical, within the landscape of scholarly communications, to reduce our dependence on proprietary platforms and service providers, does it make sense now to throw our collective support into a “one-stop” platform for all OA books content worldwide (a platform, we might add, that does not appear to have been developed in a transparent dialogue with a majority of stakeholders in the OA publisher community)? ScholarLed emphatically believes we should be looking instead to participate in the collective, community-led development of heterogeneous but also networked and distributed infrastructures for OA books that would allow the integration and interoperability of a multiplicity of OA books initiatives at various scales, yet would also “scale small” where that is desired and beneficial, such as in certain highly localized contexts. In other words, we value diversity that incorporates and thrives on different scales of alliance and interoperability in the OA books landscape, and we do not want a centralized, monopolised OA monoculture such as that presently “on offer” from Knowledge Unlatched. Of course, once scholarly works are affixed with certain Creative Commons (CC) licenses, anyone may (within a range of freer and more restrictive parameters) aggregate OA materials into a “one-stop hub” and even potentially monetize that venture (although the troubling question remains whether or not KU can actually monetize OA book content that carries a CC license with the “NC”/Noncommercial designation[7]). The more troubling issue here is how, historically, KU has positioned itself as a member of a community devoted to collective and collaborative forms of, and infrastructures for, Open Knowledge. Supposedly neither on the publisher’s side nor the library’s, KU presents itself as a “neutral” and “agnostic” broker between the two, yet, at this moment, KU appears to be emerging as a competitor in what it views as an OA “marketplace.” As OPERAS shared in their own statement, […]

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.