Knowledge Unlatched, supported by libraries, and made available in PDF to any reader, anywhere in the world

This week, I’d like to highlight Knowledge Unlatched (KU),  a nonprofit in the U.K. that “offers a global library consortium approach to funding open access books” (according to Wikipedia). It shares a number of similarities with the HathiTrust Digital Library, featured on NSR last week, and provides a backdrop to KU’s business model.

KU began in 2012, after two years of exploratory work by founder Frances Pinter, who has owned a publishing house since 1973 (when she was 23). The Wiki on KU details its beginnings and growth, also well-covered in two blog posts (Griffith University and The Bookseller). What is of particular interest is that both collections rely on consortia of universities and colleges to maintain their services.

Essentially, then, KU uses a collective purchasing arrangement to providing open access books. Academic libraries around the world share the cost of a single ‘title fee’ to a publisher. In return, the item is part of a Creative Commons license and is available via the Open Access Publishing in European Networks, a hosting service, and the HathiTrust Library as a downloadable PDF. Perhaps the greatest beneficiary of this arrangement is the reader because there is no DRM with which to contend. Therefore, because titles are fully downloadable, my understanding of such things suggests that it can become part of other ebook collections as well. No promises, but that’s how it appears. In any case, KU does provide true open access to its titles and that is a real boon to those of us who care about unfettered access to information.

The main limitation to KU’s collection is size. Currently, the total number of titles in its collections is still under 1,000. A recent amount per consortium member library was about $1200/yr. and will decline as more libraries partner with KU. (I could not find the current number given on the KU site, but other sources put it at 300ish from over 20 countries).

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