A Statement from ScholarLed on Knowledge Unlatched’s “Open Research Library”

“On May 16th, Knowledge Unlatched (KU) announced a new initiative to develop and launch the Open Research Library (ORL), which they envision as a “a one-stop hub” for “all available [OA] book content under one search and hosting interface” that will also provide “corresponding catalogue data…to library systems.” It is KU’s claim that they are responding to the wishes of researchers and librarians who have expressed to them a desire for “all” Open Access (OA) book content to be accessible “in one place, for easy discovery and user-friendly navigation as well as further dissemination into third party systems.” KU further claims that the ORL is a collaboration “with publishers and libraries worldwide.” Claiming to be working in partnership with publishing and library communities, they are asking libraries to help fund the ORL at a rate of $1,200/year (at a 3-year lock-in), for which they will receive “a set of [value-added] exclusive services,”such as micro-branded library sites, COUNTER statistics, catalog records, and the like. This raises the worrisome question of whether or not the ORL engages in the business practices of “openwrapping” and “openwashing” (monetizing services, engagement, and infrastructural support around openly licensed content). KU has long positioned itself as a values-driven, community-minded initiative that shares a mission with research libraries to make knowledge accessible to the world, without barriers, although it has not been forthcoming, nor publicly transparent, about its transition in 2016 from a Community Interest Corporation (CIC) registered in the UK under Frances Pinter’s leadership, to a for-profit (GmbH) company registered in Germany under Sven Fund’s managing directorship. In a news update issued in March 2016, KU presented this transition as an “expansion” into a “new branch,” when in fact Fund, under the auspices of his for-profit, “strategic investments” firm fullstopp, was acquiring and transferring the majority of KU’s “assets” to his own for-profit portfolio of publishing services, leaving behind in the UK a completely separate research and analysis group focused on ecosystems for OA monographs, KU Research, which operates independently of KU.[1]

We share the concerns of our fellow ScholarLed consortium member Open Book Publishers (OBP) regarding KU’s under-publicized acquisition by fullstopp, and also question KU’s moves since 2016 into what increasingly looks like OA platform capitalism and rent-seeking, whereby those businesses, such as Facebook and Google, that are claiming to be “neutral arbiters and spaces of informational exchange” are, in fact, “siphoning value from socio-cultural activity,” and “rather than producing new value,” they “simply coordinate virtual properties and charge for their use.” Most worryingly, these platforms confuse “capital-flow and social form, rearranging the relationship of profit to community (and therefore class), and of intelligence to organization.”[2] We are witnessing an important moment in history where platforms are emerging as a “third institutional form, along with states and markets.”[3] ScholarLed was formed by a collective of OA books presses (Mattering Pressmeson pressOpen Book PublishersOpen Humanities Press, and punctum books), who share a commitment to opening up scholarly research to diverse readerships, to resisting the marketization of academic knowledge production, and to working col