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The Open Book Collective Becomes A Registered Charity

Published onFeb 01, 2024
The Open Book Collective Becomes A Registered Charity

In December 2023, the Open Book Collective’s (OBC) application to the Charity Commission for England and Wales was accepted, and the OBC is now a registered charity (charity number 1206287). Registering as a charity has been a complex and time consuming process, but is an important step for the OBC. Here we outline what this development means for us and for all of our members and partners.

An often overlooked aspect of longform open access publishing is its role in the expansion of education to users and publics beyond those directly involved in higher education. OBC is working to increase the volume and diversity of academic knowledge available for free, to anyone. Open access book publishing distributes research outputs online, free of access charges or any other such other barriers, usually with open licences that allow unlimited sharing of those outputs, as well as their republication, reuse, and translation. An important part of our charitable remit, then, is to help support a form of scholarly publishing available to the general public. Our charitable object, as outlined in our Articles of Association is ‘to advance the education of the public in general […] by increasing access to research and academic materials through the support of open-access books and infrastructures’.

As a membership organisation working to increase access to open book publishing for the good of the public at large, OBC brings together universities and their libraries (many of whom are themselves charities), through to the publishers and open publishing services providers. Our members work together to provide greater access to high quality long form publications. We also work together to advocate for and inform policies for furthering open access educational materials.

An important way we do this is by building and enacting a collective funding model to deliver vital new funds for open access book publishing. This involves our supporting members – most of whom are university libraries – providing direct financial support to our Provider members through potentially renewable annual subscriptions. The lack of financial support, both for open access book publishers and service providers and for intermediaries capable of delivering that financial support, is a major barrier to a much more widespread adoption of open publishing. For too long, those working to fund open access book publishing within academic institutions and those looking to produce and disseminate open access books to a wide, global readership have struggled to engage with each other in more collective, networked ways, to the detriment of the financial sustainability of the production of open knowledge. Part of the reason for this is that the infrastructures and networks that might enable them to do so either do not exist or are not suited for the kind of equitable, sustainable, small-to-medium scale open access publishing the OBC supports.

To support its charitable objectives, the OBC also provides grant funding to support organisations working in line with OBC aims and values expand their capabilities and operations, and to enable the incubation and seed-funding of new, bottom-up open access book initiatives. It does this through inviting and assessing applications to its Collective Development Fund, which is currently financed by a mixture of funding received by the OBC as a partner in the Copim Open Book Futures project and by contributions by Providers from their subscription income. These grants will assist open access book publishers, open publishing service providers, and other open access book initiatives develop their operations and become more sustainable and more able to meet the technical and other standards of the larger open knowledge community. We have recently released an update on this funding programme, including confirming our intention to launch a first call in April 2024, as well as providing indications of eligibility criteria.

A further reason the OBC was keen to become a registered charity, is to add further protections (in addition to our member-led governance structure) from any potential future attempts at commercial acquisition, as well as to reassure potential supporters of our firm intention to remain wholly committed to being a non-profit working for the public good rather than commercial gain.

Currently, the OBC is a charitable company (a CLG – Company Limited by Guarantee), as this enabled rapid incorporation, enabling us to source funds for our Provider members quickly. Now we have secured charitable registration, we intend to explore moving to become a Charitable Incorporated Organisation (a CIO). The OBC currently has Articles of Association based on guidance from the Charity Commission. As a CIO, it would have a constitution based on guidance from the Charity Commission.

As a new charity, we hope to be able to demonstrate the value that we can bring to the open access community, higher education, and the public at large. As ever, we welcome any input and feedback on our work.

Header image by Photo by charlesdeluvio on Unsplash.

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