Schlegel, Open Access and ISBNs galore

Front cover of 749:32.c.201.31

Front cover of 749:32.c.201.31

Ten years ago receiving material under legal deposit was a fairly clear-cut matter.  Where the publisher had a choice, the only vagary was whether we would receive a paperback or a hardback.  However, from April 2013 British publishers have had the choice of depositing print or electronic versions of their texts, so monitoring new titles is not so straightforward.  When I was asked recently whether we would receive a print copy of the latest publication by Professor Roger Paulin, Emeritus Schroeder Professor of German, The life of August Wilhelm Schlegel, I couldn’t give an immediate answer.

In fact the publisher of this title, Open Book Publishers, based here in Cambridge, promotes open access for full academic monographs in the humanities and social sciences, and therefore deposits electronically.  Most publishers who deposit electronically do not permit open access, however, so the sole access we can offer to many new titles is via dedicated terminals within the Cambridge library network.  An obvious question is whether this adequately meets our users’ needs in all instances, or whether we need to buy an additional copy, either in print or e-format, so that we can guarantee wider access.  Most bibliographical data for e-books appears only on Library Search, with some exceptions for the earliest e-book acquisitions, for which records appear in both catalogues.  The existence of a record for The life of August Wilhelm Schlegel : cosmopolitan of art and poetry in Newton is solely because in this instance Professor Paulin has donated a print copy, which stands at 749:32.c.201.31.

Another symptom of changing trends in publishing is that this Schlegel biography exists with five different ISBNs – one for the hardback, another for the paperback, a third for the PDF, a fourth for the epub and a fifth for the mobi.  We edge slowly forward into unchartered waters.  Whereas in the past librarians have depended heavily on the ISBN, as a unique identifier, in order to establish whether we have an item, with five variant ISBNs on offer our checking has to be more vigilant.

In addition, all OPB books are assigned a DOI (digital object identifier e.g. 10.11647/OBP.0084), although this is not currently incorporated into our catalogue records as a matter of course.  Every DOI works as a stable URL that can be used to re-direct to different web pages in time.  Because all OBP titles are Open Access and under Creative Commons licences, and because the pdf of all their titles is held by both the British Library and Portico, the archiving of all their e-books is guaranteed in perpetuity, even if OBP should cease to exist.  Many of our users have concerns about the permanence of the digital copy.

ISBNs can cause other problems.  Open Book Publishers have very properly given a different ISBN to each different manifestation of the text, but not all publishers are so scrupulous.  It is not uncommon for the same ISBN to be assigned to more than one title, sometimes with unfortunate consequences.  If you look up a Danish set on Library Search called Dansk industri efter 1870, you get a very unfortunate conflation of data, giving the title of the first volume of the eight volume set but offering eight classmarks. The Library holds eight volumes with distinct authors and titles, but these also have an ISBN for the set as well as 8 individual ISBNS, and in consequence the system has jumbled the data. Fortunately it is not a problem on Newton, which clusters titles according to different criteria and where all eight titles display correctly.  When a new discovery platform is introduced, probably in the summer of 2016, this is hopefully a problem which will disappear.

An interesting aspect of digital publishing, and an issue which Open Book Publishers is increasingly encountering, has to do with the speed at which changes can be made to a published book.  It is not uncommon for an author to find mistakes after publication and ask for these to be corrected.  Thanks to print on demand, and to the fact that there is no print run, OBP often decides to go ahead and amend the book, the new version retaining the same ISBN and DOI.  However, at the moment the amended version is not accepted by British Library through the electronic deposit portal, which leads to a discrepancy between the deposited version and the one available on the publisher’s website.

David Lowe

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