By Lucy Barnes and Silke Davison (OABN coordinators)

Over the summer we launched our (not a) survey to find out more about the OABN community: a huge thank you to everyone who shared and responded to it! We promised the survey would be ‘to the point, short, and productive.’ We hope it was certainly the first two, and now it’s our job to make it productive as well. 

The survey closed on 15 September and since then we’ve reviewed the responses and, along with our OPERAS OABN Special Interest Group (SIG), discussed how we can respond.

We set the survey up because over the three years we’ve been running the OABN, our community has grown and we wanted to learn: who are its members today, what do you want to see from the network, and how might you be able to contribute to it? 

Given that this is OA Week and the theme is ‘Community over commercialisation’, we thought it was the perfect time to share what we’ve learned from our community. In two posts, we’ll explore: 

  1. a) what we found out (in this post), and 
  2. b) how we’re responding to it (in the next post).

A note on numbers

We currently have over 340 mailing list members, over 440 Humanities Commons members, and over 1400 Twitter followers. At our events, we usually get between 20-50 attendees. But – apart from the event attendees – we aren’t sure how many of these are active and engaged participants, and how many simply signed up to one (or several) of these channels at some point but then forgot about it. We therefore didn’t have a baseline number of responses we wanted, and we didn’t approach the survey as an academic exercise that would give us a comprehensive overview of the OABN. Instead, it was an effort to ‘take the temperature’ of our engaged user base and see what they wanted to tell us.

We received 67 responses to our survey, and here’s what they said.

Who are our community?

Our respondents are a mix of publishers (28), librarians (34), researchers (14) and infrastructure providers (13) – and we did allow respondents to select more than one option, so there will have been a degree of crossover between these groups (as the more numerate among you will have already realised!)

People from 19 countries, including countries in Europe, the Americas, Asia and Australasia answered our survey. This represents a degree of global reach that’s encouraging, but on the other hand, 48% of respondents were from the United Kingdom – and while we’re very happy to have lively participation from the UK, we would have preferred to see more balance here and a greater representation of people from other nations. 

Likewise there are a real mix of languages spoken by our respondents (24, including Japanese, Marathi, Creole, and Hindi) but everyone also speaks English – unsurprisingly, since the OABN operates in English and the survey was written in English. However, we’re open to holding events and sharing resources in other languages to enable greater and easier participation in our activities, and we’ll expand on this in our next post.

We asked how long respondents had been involved with OA books, and the replies were a real mix from ‘only very recently’, to ‘many years’, and everything in between. We’re neither a community of experts nor all novices, and perhaps a range of experience is the perfect blend for a network like ours. Similarly, respondents have been joining the OABN throughout our life from 2020 onwards, so we keep attracting new people (which may mean we need to run a similar exercise in a couple of years’ time to find out if and how our community changes…)

We also found out that people tend to find out about us via other organisations, networks, or individuals – so please keep sharing the word! On that note: if you’re ever doing a presentation about OA books, do please include this slide (if appropriate) to let people know that we’re here and they’re welcome to get involved.

What do you want from the OABN?

A lot of people said that they joined us to receive updates, news, and resources about what’s happening in OA books, as well as to meet others working with OA books and to attend events. The most popular way of engaging with us among respondents is to read our blog, followed closely by attending events and reading the mailing list emails. We hadn’t realised that the blog was quite so popular, and we will be focusing more on producing posts in future.

When asked what they value about the OABN, respondents mentioned:

  • the community of people, 
  • the opportunity to form connections with others, 
  • the expertise within the network, 
  • the resources we share, 
  • and the focus on books rather than journals. 

Several people also commented favourably on the breadth of topics and opinions to be found here, although a couple of respondents suggested that commercial publishing and viewpoints don’t get enough attention. This clash was interesting to us, and we’ll follow up on how we plan to maintain – or if you’re of the second viewpoint, perhaps to expand – the breadth of what we cover in our next post.

In terms of what respondents would change about the OABN: some people said that it’s difficult to keep track of everything that we’re doing and how they can be involved because we’re active on a number of different channels, so we’ll think about how we can better use the website as a central hub for what we do. Others are keen for the OABN to point them to what’s going on in the world of OA books in quite a comprehensive way – as a directory, or map of the landscape. There’s also a strong desire to learn more about OA books in different parts of the world, and to see languages other than English used. 

Topics of widespread interest include: publishing tools and platforms, OA book policies, success stories and best practices, funding models, and infrastructures. There were also some notable individual requests, such as one respondent who wants to hear more about OA books in STEM subjects. We’ll bear these in mind and use them as inspiration for future activities.

Finally, when we asked what was preventing people from engaging more with the OABN, the overwhelming answer was a lack of time – which we can certainly empathise with! However, the difficulty of keeping track of what we’re doing and a shortage of events in convenient time zones for some people were also mentioned, reflecting feedback given earlier in the survey.

Next, find out how we’re responding to all this information in our next post.

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