It'll set you back a cool $95 to buy a hardcover copy of the new book by Assistant Professor of history Jessica Taylor.

Or you can download a digital version for free of "Plain Path and Dividing Lines: Navigating Native Land and Water in the Seventeenth-Century Chesapeake," Taylor’s recently published monograph from the University of Virginia Press. That's thanks to an innovative open-access publishing project called Toward an Open Monograph Ecosystem (TOME).   

“There should be equitable access to knowledge,” said Taylor. “Now if someone says that my book sounds interesting, I can say, ‘It's online for free, if you want to check it out.’ Because of that, I've had so many cool conversations, not just with fellow academic folks, but beyond campus.”

Rethinking academic publishing

When TOME launched in 2017 as a five-year pilot project of the Association of American Universities, Association of Research Libraries, and Association of University Presses, its goal was to shift the business model of academic publishing from post-publication sales to front-end publication grants.

As one of 12 participating universities, Virginia Tech offered three $15,000 grants per year to faculty whose monographs were being published by university presses, allowing the press to make an open-access digital edition of the book freely available.

With the help of TOME funds provided by Faculty AffairsUniversity Libraries, and the College of Liberal Arts and Human Sciences, 12 books by Virginia Tech faculty have been made open access thus far with two more history monographs set to be published shortly.

“It’s Ut Prosim at work,” said Corinne Guimont, interim director of publishing services and digital scholarship coordinator in University Libraries. “TOME expands the dissemination of scholarship within and beyond the academy so that everyone can access it, which aligns with Virginia Tech’s land-grant mission.”

Continuing TOME

The official pilot program ended earlier this year. But the big news is that Virginia Tech will continue the TOME initiative to support open-access books.

“We're going to call it TOME at Virginia Tech, so people are aware that it's still the same basic program, but that it is specifically at Virginia Tech now,” said Guimont.

The main change to the program is that, while funding will continue to come from Faculty Affairs and the library, TOME recipients also will seek matching funds from their home departments and colleges. “We hope that providing this funding as a matching program will not only allow us to support more projects, but will also help build a sustainable resource for the future,” said Associate Vice Provost for Faculty Affairs Rachel Gabriele.

The library also offers several additional forms of support for faculty interested in open-access resources.

  • The Virginia Tech Open Access Subvention Fund offers faculty up to $1,500 to cover article processing charges for articles accepted for publication in scholarly peer-reviewed open access journals.

  • Open Education Initiative faculty grants support faculty in using, creating, or adapting open educational resources in the classroom. Faculty who want to make their original works open access or adapt open educational resources as alternatives to traditional textbooks are eligible for funding.

  • Virginia Tech Publishing published 16 books and 12 journals in the past three years, all of which are open access.

Open-access victory

For academic presses, TOME is a win. The $15,000 pre-publication grant helps cover production costs. And data has shown that as access to online versions soars, sales of print books don’t tend to decline, helping publishers turn a profit.

It’s a win for faculty. For Taylor, being able to connect the University of Virginia Press with a $15,000 publishing grant made her monograph more appealing. “I don't think that publishers are entrenched in some kind of ancient idea about what publishing should be,” she said. “I think that they are interested in new models, and it just seemed like an exciting process for all of us.”

Readers emerge victorious too. On the heels of International Open Access Week, the TOME initiative allows Virginia Tech scholarly research to find a broader audience among people who otherwise couldn't afford an academic book. “Now, they're able to access that material, and that helps us at Virginia Tech get our researchers’ work out there a lot more,” said Guimont.

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Written by Melody Warnick