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Publishers told to free up content during coronavirus crisis

Libraries demand open access as teaching moves online due to Covid-19

Publishers are facing increased pressure to become open access as the coronavirus pandemic forces many universities to move online.

A group of sector bodies including higher education IT firm Jisc and vice-chancellors’ body Universities UK have joined forces to urge all those who publish digital content to make teaching and learning materials—especially those on the coronavirus—free during the ongoing outbreak.

Jisc director of licensing Caren Milloy told Research Professional News the push to make content free during the pandemic could influence wider conversations around open access.

“A crisis like this clearly demonstrates the value of digital content being open to access and use—removing restrictions and barriers that can frustrate students, teachers and researchers,” she said. 

More open models “are what we are striving for”, said Milloy, and the coronavirus pandemic could “raise the profile of discussions with textbook publishers, in particular, about how that can be achieved in the long term”.

In a statement published on 20 March, the sector groups called on publishers to waive all limits to their content, lift any restrictions on remote access, and temporarily remove photocopying limits.

Many publishers have already made information on the coronavirus open access, and Milloy stressed that publishers’ response to the virus “has been really positive”.

Now Jisc and the other groups behind the letter want to make them aware of how they can help students, teachers and researchers through the crisis, she said.

The groups—which also include the Association of Colleges, library scheme SCONUL, Research Libraries UK, the UK Universities Purchasing Consortia and the Southern Universities Purchasing Consortium—are also urging publishers to allow flexible renewal dates, as processing payments could be interrupted with staff absences, and to delay or minimise planned price increases to give institutions breathing space as the global financial markets remain volatile.

“We recognise that this is a challenging time, for all of us, and we hope that by putting these actions in place and by continuing to work together, we will be able to support the millions of students, teachers and researchers here in the UK,” they wrote.

A version of this article also appeared in Research Fortnight