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Stronger Together: Library-led Open Access Publishing in Scotland

Published onApr 16, 2024
Stronger Together: Library-led Open Access Publishing in Scotland


The purpose of this article is to look at library-led Open Access publishing initiatives across Scotland: particularly the Scottish Confederation of University and Research Libraries (SCURL) Open Hosting Shared Service and Scottish Universities Press (SUP).

SCURL Open Hosting Shared Service

SCURL is a membership body that supports service development and improvement across Scotland’s university and research libraries. Key areas of work are coordination, collaboration and advocacy. SCURL’s aims are:

  • To improve services for users and maximise resource through collaborative action

  • To collaborate towards the creation of a co-operative library infrastructure in Scotland

  • To advocate the contributions and benefits of library services to stakeholders

  • To provide mutual support for members.

In 2018, the University of Edinburgh (UoE) submitted a proposal to SCURL, pitching the creation of a new shared service that would be governed by SCURL and provided by library staff at the University of Edinburgh. The aim of this shared service was to equip member institutions with a hosting solution to fulfil their Open Access publishing activities, with the development time charged to UoE. The fee for the shared service is at cost (currently £1,400 + VAT per year), and everything is reinvested, predominantly covering technical and staffing costs. All members meet four times a year to discuss the direction and growth of the shared service, ensuring it is very much a partnership and not just led by the University of Edinburgh.

Shared Service Offering

The hosting solution is fulfilled by the use of Open Journals System (OJS) and Open Monograph Press (OMP). SCURL partners get their own installation of the required open-source software, and the staff at UoE complete the initial configuration of the site and customisation of the user interface. The fee is charged per installation. So, for example, a user pays one fee for OJS and can set up as many journals as they like. They don’t pay per journal.

Both OJS and OMP can be used either to manage the full publishing workflow, including submission management and peer review, or just for publishing online. Using OJS and OMP requires minimal technical expertise and full training and guidance is given by UoE library staff members so that our partners can then deliver that training to their users.

Partners also receive ongoing technical support, including migrations, upgrades, bug fixes and general day-to-day maintenance.

Furthermore, the shared service offers guidance in all areas of publishing, including:

  • Archiving and preservation, including internal daily back-ups as well as advice on which organisations to approach for preservation partnerships

  • Copyright and permissions

  • Reporting on content usage, including metrics, citations and downloads, as well as information on how to understand and report on data

  • Policy development, such as and peer review policies

  • Indexing databases and ensuring that content is eligible and of a high quality. Partners make the submissions to the databases themselves, or show their users how to

  • Publication ethics, including what to include and how to write a policy. Partners deal with ethical issues themselves, but the group can meet to discuss and help where appropriate.

There are elements where the partner institutions are required to make their own arrangements, albeit with advice from UoE library staff. For example, the shared service does not include the allocation of ISSNs, ISBNs and DOIs, as member institutions are expected to create and fund their own accounts with the relevant organisations that issue these. Also, the shared service does not include copyediting or typesetting services, due to lack of resource.

Benefits of a Shared Hosting Service

There are many benefits to a shared service, especially for Open Access content.

For example, there is the option to offer many flexible hosting and publishing solutions. The shared service allows support for:

  • Library based hosting services, such as that of St. Andrews Journal Hosting Service and Edinburgh Diamond

  • Publishing arms for membership groups, such as that of the Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh

  • Traditional presses, such as that of the Scottish Universities Press.

Flexible options means the ability to attract a wider pool of potential membership signups.

Another benefit is regular meetings and Teams channel means knowledge can be shared, pooled, and built upon. Very often, individual services and presses are run by small teams of one or two people, so working in collaboration with people running similar initiatives feels like having a team and more colleagues to bounce ideas off.

Finally, there is a greater opportunity for innovation. More people means more ideas and input, ensuring we can invest into shaping the shared service in the most beneficial way to all members.

Challenges of a Shared Hosting Service

Of course, there are also challenges to a shared service.

Institutions sign up to the shared service to outsource resource they don’t have in-house, such as the technical infrastructure required to support a hosting service. This results in resource for multiple partners coming from only one place. As such, it is important to ensure a shared service grows sustainably so it remains fit to run.

Furthermore, although the cost of this particular shared service is low, it still could create a financial barrier which may deter potential partners from signing up. The SCURL Open Hosting service hasn’t has only increased the cost once since its inception and remains cost effective to ensure partners get the full value.

As mentioned before, more people can mean more ideas, but of course there is always the risk of having so many people that not everyone is heard or that it’s harder to come to an agreement. A way to mitigate this is to have only one or two representatives per institution at meetings, rather than whole teams.

The Future

The SCURL Open Hosting Shared Services aims to develop strategies and policies to ensure all partners are compliant with industry standards as well as developing funding legislation.

Overall, the shared service will be grown according to partner needs and requirements.


To finish, the shared service launched with three members and now has eleven, with more on the way. The members are:

  1. Glasgow Caledonian University

  2. Heriot Watt University

  3. Queen Margaret University

  4. Robert Gordon University

  5. Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh

  6. Scottish Universities Press

  7. Society of Antiquaries Scotland

  8. St Andrews University

  9. University of Edinburgh

  10. University of Glasgow

  11. The University of the Highlands and Islands

One of the latest members, Scottish Universities Press, remarked that “Setting up our OMP site was very straightforward, and the training provided was excellent. The team get back to us very quickly and provide really good advice.”

So, now to pass over to SUP!

Scottish Universities Press

The Scottish Universities Press is another SCURL initiative. 18 SCURL member libraries have collaborated to develop a fully open access (OA) and not for profit press. Our members range from large research-intensive institutions to smaller teaching focused or more specialist institutions. However, despite these differences, each member has an equal voice in all decision making and a sense of shared ownership is key to the development of the Press.


The discussions began several years ago. SCURL member libraries have been heavily involved in the transition to OA at Scottish institutions through our involvement in supporting compliance of changing funder policies, managing our institutional repositories, and through handling changes to acquisition and subscription models. Libraries are often the ones paying publisher invoices for large article and book processing charges, and we have seen a significant rise in costs to institutional budgets.

A shared challenge for our libraries emerged:

  • How can we find out true costs of publishing?

  • Can publishing be done differently?

  • Can we better support our academics?

The only way to find out was to do it ourselves. SCURL members have a strong history of working together on shared services for libraries, so the governance infrastructure to start the project was already in place, and we could also benefit from the wide variety of skills and expertise that we have available across the SCURL library network.

There was no existing road map available, we had to start from scratch. In 2019 SCURL commissioned research to test the proof of concept for a collaborative universities press. The report was very favourable towards the prospect and discussions began on taking forward the findings.

Throughout 2020 a partnership was formed across the 18 institutions. One of the first steps in the development of the press was looking at governance. We wanted an open and inclusive management structure so that all participants have an equal voice in decision-making and the Management Board was then established in 2021 with a representative from each Library. Through them we have constant sense checking and course setting, and it is key to a sense of shared ownership that we can take on board different viewpoints and experiences.

A project plan for the start-up phase was developed and 2022 was the year that things really got going for the Press as we developed our workflows, financial model and technical infrastructure. This allowed SUP to launch our first calls for content in early 2023.


SUP aims to provide a clear and cost-effective route for our researchers to make their work freely available to a global and more diverse audience. By publishing more research open access, SUP has the opportunity to increase the impact and global visibility of the research produced at Scottish HEIs, ensuring access for all regardless of location or ability to pay. We also aim to provide an easy route to open access publishing that will satisfy changing funder requirements. From 1 January 2024 UKRI funded monographs, book chapters and edited collections must be made open access within 12 months of publication and Coalition S members are committed to full open access for monographs. It is also likely that the next Research Excellence Framework (REF) policy will be updated to include open access for books. We aim to help staff at our institutions who will be affected by these upcoming policy changes.

The open access infrastructure created through SUP has the potential to save universities money in the long term.​ SCURL libraries spend around £30 million a year providing access to electronic resources for learning and research. These prices are only likely to increase as publishers start to look at open access for books and how this will affect their profits.

We also wanted to create a Scotland-wide solution by pooling resources and working togetherallowing smaller institutions who do not have the resources to start their own publishing initiative to become involved.

We are very keen to explore alternative approaches to academic publishing with the needs of the academic community at the center, and we are constantly asking ourselves what we can do differently. Ultimately, we want to contribute to wider global efforts to create a fair and equitable academic publishing model.​


The remit for the Press was clear and focused:​

  • Start with one type of publication

  • Focus on high quality research

  • Completely open dissemination

SUP will publish monographs and edited collections in any subject by staff from member institutions. We decided to start with books due to changes in funder policy outlined above. We are seeing Book Productions Charges (BPCs) from commercial publishers of £15,000 or more, so focusing on books in the start-up phase seemed like a good approach.

We will cover all subject areas that receive submissions, although we are conscious that the arts & humanities and social sciences are likely to be most involved in publishing monographs, and this has proved to be the case so far as the proposals we have received do fall into these areas.

All books will be published CC-BY licenses on the SUP platform, meaning the content can be reused, shared and adapted and authors retain the copyright to their work. Print copies of books will be available to purchase, using a Print on Demand service, because we understand that a print option is still important for monographs.  Authors will also still earn royalties on print copies sold.

It was really important for us to prove to our academics that we take research integrity seriously, and that we will publish high quality content. All proposals and manuscripts will go through a rigorous peer review policy that is managed by the SUP Editorial Board.

We will also provide a full publishing service to our academics, as you would expect from a more traditional publisher. This includes everything from the production side (for example professional copyediting and typesetting) through to marketing, discoverability, reporting on usage statistics and securely archiving the titles to ensure the e-book will always be available open access.

Setting up SUP

When setting up SUP it has been important for us to work things out ourselves, allowing us to learn from what is being done and from best practice, but to also challenge ourselves, really looking in to why some things are done the way they are and what we can do differently. ​ We have borrowed heavily from startup culture and entrepreneurial methodology​ and the start-up model has allowed us to be very agile in the development of the Press.

Our approach in developing the model has been to:​

  • use the resources we have (libraries, academic community)​

  • investigate and learn things we don’t yet know (costs, production methods, platforms)

  • build partnerships to keep accelerating both of those (individual, institutional, creative and commercial).

Member libraries contribute to running costs through a subscription, which is determined by institution size. This covered the start-up costs, for example the branding and website, and also covers the ongoing fixed costs of running the Press, such as staff salaries and platform hosting fees. Due to this subsidised model, we have been able to offer a low production charge, ranging from £3,500 to £5,500 (including VAT) depending on the length and complexity of the book. The production charge rates are set significantly lower than commercial publisher’s BPCs and this reduces the costs of publishing for our members. We do operate on a not-for-profit basis and any surpluses will be re-invested in the press for the benefit of all members.

When it comes to the online platform, SUP uses the SCURL shared OMP hosting service through the University of Edinburgh Library, discussed earlier in the article. This approach not only fits well with our not-for-profit ethos but gives us greater control over the direction of the platform, something we wouldn't have such reassurance of via a commercial third-party provider.

While we have tried to keep as much of the work within the SCURL network, one aspect that we did have to outsource to a third party was the book production side, such as the copyediting, typesetting, design of the book and the file creation. We managed to source a local, highly experienced, and employee-owned company.

Again, I wish to emphasize the importance of the libraries working together, using our existing skills and expertise. Our Management Board has formed several working groups to focus on key areas of development, including a training and development group to raise awareness of SUP across our institutions, and a Research and Policy group to monitor developments in the funder and policy landscape, advising SUP on potential impacts​.

We are also collaborating with some existing SCURL working group. For example, we are working with the SCURL Copyright & Legal group to develop our guidance for third-party copyright, and we will work with the SCURL Collections & Metadata group on discoverability of our content.

These in-kind contributions are central to the SUP collaborative model, based on realising efficiencies through sharing resources. This is also central to SUP's identity and appeal to authors; being SCURL-owned and library-led as a clear alternative to traditional publishing models.

Editorial Development

The first significant milestone for the Press was the recruitment of the SUP Editorial Board. This started as an open call to researchers at participating institutions, and after a formal recruitment process the Board was announced in July 2022. We quickly mobilised this group and they developed a peer review policy in line with international best practice but also through their own experiences as authors. With the Editorial Board in place were also able to start finalising our content strategy.

All this preparatory work provided the foundation for the first calls for content to be released, with a time-limited call for near-complete manuscripts in November 2022. The aim of this call was to source content that we could publish relatively quickly, as a new Press it is important for us to be able to demonstrate the quality of our content to potential authors. This call closed in January 2023 and was quickly followed by the launch of our open call for book proposals in February. We were really pleased to receive several proposals from these initial calls, exceeding our initial expectations.

The first tranche of proposals then progressed through the peer review workflows in the Spring and the Editorial Board met in May where the very first proposals were accepted for publication.

Alongside these major operational developments, there was a parallel governance work track focused on establishing SUP as a Community Interest Company (CIC). This embeds our not-for-profit status and maintains ownership through the SCURL member libraries. This also allowed us issue the contracts for our first titles, and SUP now has five books moving towards publication.

Next Steps

We are now developing plans for the next phase of the project, as we move from start-up to functioning publisher. The plan for phase 2 was finalised at the SCURL AGM in June 2023 and covers the period 2023-2025.

The two key strands of work in phase 2 are:​

  • Proactive commissioning: SUP will recruit a commissioning editor role to bring in additional staff resource in supporting the development of content

  • Content Strategy Review: the SUP Steering Group will work towards expanding the SUP infrastructure to publish different materials, such as textbooks and journals. The aim is to approve the plan at the SCURL AGM in June 2024.

Phase 2 will also see us move into the production and then promotion work cycles and we are anticipating that SUP will publish its first title in Spring 2024.

Opportunities and Challenges

Lastly, we want to reflect on some of the opportunities but also challenges we have faced so far.

Starting with some of the challenges, we do know that funding will be a challenge for the future. SUP operates on a very nimble basis while delivering the potential for very significant savings in the long-term. However, we are also highly aware that not all academics at participating institutions will have funding from a research grant or from their school to cover these production charges, even if they are lower than commercial publishers. The model we have now is a good and sustainable starting point, and we are committed to scoping alternative funding options to make it more equitable. Several of our proposals are funded from their local library budget already.

We need to be strong advocates for investment in open access at institution-level to fully realise the benefits of being institution-led.​ We also need to keep up the advocacy in more general terms, recognising that a new press needs to demonstrate quality of output and author experience to allay any concerns that may still exist around prestige. Keeping academics at the centre of what we do will be an ongoing challenge but one that our structure is very well-placed to address. ​As a starting point we have developed an advocacy toolkit for our Libraries and Editorial Board.

We hope that the library-led publishing infrastructure that SUP has delivered can be scaled up to accommodate broader academic publishing needs. We see SUP as a positive response from SCURL member libraries to meeting some of the challenges that are coming down the line.

The work we have done so far has certainly raised the profile of libraries within institutions. We get that feedback from both the Management and Editorial Boards. There is only greater potential in this area as SUP moves to production as a fully-fledged publisher. We also see further opportunities to work together and we are looking at ways to involve more Library staff with the press, helping them learn new skills and continuing to strengthen that feeling of shared ownership, as well as possibilities for student placements and support for Early Career Researchers (ECRs). We are hoping to bring publishing back into the institution.

We are so happy to see so many libraries at the forefront of change in OA publishing, and we are looking forward to working together towards a fairer and more equitable publishing ecosystem.

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