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‘Setting up an Institutional Open Press: First steps’ by Suzanne Tatham and Catrina Hey

Welcome to a series of blog posts by publishers, talking about the platforms they use to publish their open access books. In these posts, a range of different presses tell us what platform they use, why they chose it, and how it fits (or occasionally doesn’t quite fit) their work.

The second post in the series is by Suzanne Tatham, Associate Director, University of Sussex Library, and Dr Catrina Hey, Open Publishing Supervisor, University of Sussex Library. The University of Sussex is coming to the end of a pilot project to create an open textbook, a step on the road to developing an open university press. Suzanne and Catrina discuss using Pressbooks to support this pilot.


As we reach the concluding stages of our pilot project at the University of Sussex to produce an open textbook, it’s a good moment for us to reflect on the choices we made. First and foremost: why did we choose Pressbooks?

Pressbooks promotes itself as a “versatile, user-friendly publishing platform educators rely on to create, adapt, and share accessible, interactive, web-first books”. It’s an authoring and editing tool that enables academics to write and publish openly their own monographs, edited collections, and open educational resources (OERs).

Conversations with academic colleagues made it clear that there was appetite at Sussex for institutional publishing, particularly from those with more of a teaching focus. We were approached by an academic from our School of Psychology who felt strongly about the cost of access to their key biological psychology textbook. She also felt that there were clear advantages in creating a textbook that’s fully customised to course requirements, with the opportunity to make it engaging for students.

We were inspired by NUI Galway’s use of Pressbooks to support the creation of OERs, as explained by our colleague Bethany Logan:

“We’d dipped our toe in the open publishing waters before with a project hosted on Fulcrum, but it was NUI Galway’s open and honest feedback that gave us the confidence to dive in to PressBooks”.[i]

What were our requirements?

We were looking for a platform that facilitated both individual and collaborative authoring. We needed it to be easy for authors to embed multimedia seamlessly, and to create interactive content using tools such as H5P. We also needed it to offer both EPUB and PDF exporting options.

Having taken the decision to run a pilot project to publish a psychology textbook, we needed a hosted solution that could be quickly implemented. For us, it was an important feature of Pressbooks that you are able to select your own domain name – we opted for openpress.sussex.ac.uk. We also needed enough flexibility with customisation to be able to apply institutional branding.  

Discoverability was always going to be key with this project. Pressbooks provides an established sharing platform for us to make our publications discoverable. If academics are going to commit time and effort to open publishing, they need to have confidence in the platform. Their publication needs to have academic rigour and a professional look and feel.

The ability to assign DOIs at chapter level, not just book level, was also essential functionality for us. Given our first publication had several contributors, we wanted a platform where we could acknowledge each author’s contribution, to give them credit for their work. Pressbooks’ contributor feature lets you do this at chapter level, including the author’s name, photo, affiliation, social media links, brief bio and links to their fuller profiles.


We were the first institution to take advantage of the chapter-level DOI option within Pressbooks. This led to a technical challenge when we discovered that the metadata export option was not compatible with CrossRef upload. We were able to resolve this in-house by writing a Python script.

Metadata is crucial to us as we want our publications to be discoverable. Our Psychology textbook is openly available on the PressBooks Directory and can be found by carrying out a title search. It has also been harvested by various North American OER directories and repositories. However, it’s unlikely that the majority of UK students and academics would know to search Pressbooks directly, so we have created high-quality MARC records for our own Library catalogue and shared them with the wider UK community via Jisc’s Library Hub Discover. This means other institutions can access and download these records, and the books can then be made discoverable via their institutions’ discovery services.

Ideally, our psychology textbook would be discoverable via the Directory of Open Access Books (DOAB). However, the nature of our pilot project means that we don’t meet the DOAB criteria for inclusion for the following reasons:

  • We anticipate that the Psychology textbook will be regularly updated and new content added. This is one of the significant benefits of Pressbooks’ OER capability, but it does mean that we won’t have a static text in the way required by DOAB.
  • Each chapter in the textbook was reviewed by the authors and university colleagues but our peer review process cannot be verified in the way required by DOAB.

As we carry out a review of our pilot project, we will need to consider the peer review process, as we would want future publications to be included in DOAB. We are also keen to see how the community deals with the nature of books which are more OER in nature and veering away from the traditional static textbook model.

Reach and impact are important to us as a Library, as we push institutionally to develop our Open Press and get academic buy-in. We need detailed analytics to understand fully the use of our publications, so not just online views but downloads too. We want to know where we’ve been indexed (including Google Scholar) and harvested. Academics will want to understand their students’ engagement with the textbook – how often are they consulting it, which parts and for how long.

PressBooks uses Koko Analytics (an open source WordPress plugin). This is not available to view externally; only book and network administrators can view them. At the point of publication of our textbook, the analytics could not be exported but PressBooks have now made this possible. Koko Analytics offers stats on page views, visitor numbers, referrers, which can be seen broken down for each individual book on the local PressBooks network, but it doesn’t show the geographical breakdown of visitors, for example, or whole-text downloads (which our authors have requested). Google analytics can be used to provide further and enhanced stats (e.g. location of visitor). We hoped we could embed this so it could be viewed by our authors externally, but we couldn’t as PressBooks is a third-party landing site. We’ve set up a basic analytics feed from PressBooks but this needs further work, as currently it doesn’t filter out page views pre-publication, nor filter per book (this is currently carried out manually post export in csv).

A final comment on analytics. We’ve used a CC BY NC licence with our Psychology textbook. We’re keen to track new versions created by other authors and institutions.  Pressbooks will capture derivatives that are created within the Pressbooks platform but we will also want to track translations and other versions that are created outside of Pressbooks.

Promoting open publishing at your own institution

We’re at the early stages of establishing an Open Press at Sussex but we’ve learnt a lot from our successful pilot project. The visual appearance of the Psychology textbook has attracted other Sussex academics and this has brought new projects on board. One of the selling points for making an open textbook was that authors would get the kudos from it being adopted by other institutions and beyond. As well as them having an open textbook to use in their teaching at their respective institutions, we pushed the benefit of the book acknowledging their chapter contributions to a wide audience.

As we work to increase our institutional support for open access publication, we see our Open Press as part of the landscape for book publishing. Whilst Pressbooks lends itself to open publication of textbooks and other educational resources, we will not want to limit its use to this type of publication. Our longer-term aim will be to promote its use to researchers for publication of their monographs and other research outputs.

[i] Logan, B. 2023 ‘Small steps and big ideas: an open textbook pilot project’ https://www.uksg.org/newsletter/uksg-enews-537/small-steps-and-big-ideas-open-textbook-pilot-project

Read the other posts in this Publisher Spotlight series on the platforms presses choose to publish their OA books: https://openaccessbooksnetwork.hcommons.org/category/publisher-spotlight/ 

CC BY 4.0 This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.