When I discuss the Center’s two book series with potential authors, a recurring question centers around the implications of publishing an open access book if the authors are still pre-tenure or anticipate applying for promotions. 

How can authors make a case for demonstrated excellence in high-quality scholarship if they publish open access? Using many of the same strategies authors would use for other publications. What’s more, open access authors may have some advantages when it comes to documenting the impact of their work!

While each college or university has its own standards for promotion and tenure, most require candidates to demonstrate that their scholarship:

  • Is peer-reviewed,
  • Meets high-quality standards appropriate to their discipline, and
  • Is published by nationally or internationally recognized journals or publishing houses.

Open access publications can meet these standards. Considering the first two bullets, for instance, books in the Center’s Open Access Book Series are peer-reviewed by the series editors and members of the editorial board. These readers evaluate draft manuscripts and revisions with attention to:

Yet peer-reviewed, high-quality scholarship does not have “impact” if no one reads it. In their introduction to the Journal of Scholarly Publishing’s special issue on open access, Marguerite Avery, Alex Holzman, and Robert Brown write:

The mantra “publish or perish” no longer captures the academic zeitgeist; circulation of the published work is arguably just as important. Scholarship that exists only as a printed book faces dispiriting odds of ever leaving the library shelf. For a growing number of scholars, publication alone is no longer enough; content needs to be demonstrably accessed and cited as well. Access becomes the key to scholarly impact.

(Avery, Holzman, and Brown 2017, 1)

Open access leads to scholarly impact.

While the Center for Engaged Learning might not be a widely known publishing house (yet), we can demonstrate the reach of our Open Access Book Series. We transparently include metrics on the home page for each book, identifying both the number of page views and the number of downloads. Our first open access book was published in December 2019. As of this writing, each of our books has been downloaded over 3,000 times (with some surpassing 5,000 downloads), far outpacing sales of most traditional academic texts. 

Furthermore, we know from our site analytics that the books are accessed by readers around the globe.

Open access visitors by country, December 2019-November 2021. Readers have accessed the book sites from all the countries in blue, with the greatest proportional access over the 23 months from the U.S. (in dark blue).

Admittedly, downloading the book doesn’t automatically equate with reading the book. Of course, the same is true of buying a book; I have an impressive stack of books in my office waiting to be read—and another at home!

But being able to download a book for free does increase the chances that others will be able to read it—regardless of their budget—and cite it in subsequent publications. The first book in the Open Access series, published in December 2019, already has over 30 citations. And the most recent book, published in September 2020, has been reviewed (positively!) in half-a-dozen (and counting) publications.

Although open access books aren’t yet traditional, they can meet higher education’s expectations for peer-reviewed, high-quality scholarship, and they certainly have the potential for global reach. When a well-researched and well-written book is free to access, readers are more likely to engage with it—and share it with others. And isn’t that the underlying goal of “impact” measures?

This post is part of our series on academic (book) publishing, which offers insight into the publishing process and shares tips for scholars writing about engaged learning and teaching in higher education. In addition to sharing these publication process strategies, we’re happy to help authors/editors in our Open Access Series document the reach of their books.


Avery, Marguerite, Alex Holzman, and Robert Brown. 2017. “Special Issue on Open Access.” Journal of Scholarly Publishing 49 (1): 1–4. http://doi.org/10.3138/jsp.49.1.1.

Chick, Nancy L., Sophia Abbot, Lucy Mercer-Mapstone, Christopher P. Ostrowdun, and Krista Grensavitch. 2021. “Naming Is Power: Citation Practices in SoTL.” Teaching and Learning Inquiry 9 (2). https://doi.org/10.20343/teachlearninqu.9.2.2.

Felten, Peter. 2013. “Principles of Good Practice in SoTL.” Teaching and Learning Inquiry 1 (1):121-25. https://doi.org/10.20343/teachlearninqu.1.1.121.

Jessie L. Moore is Director of the Center for Engaged Learning and Professor of English: Professional Writing & Rhetoric. With Peter Felten, she edits the Stylus Publishing/Center for Engaged Learning Series on Engaged Learning and Teaching and the Center for Engaged Learning Open Access Series.

How to cite this post

Moore, Jessie L. (2021, November 30). Making a Case for Open Access Books in Promotion and Tenure Processes [Blog Post]. Retrieved from https://www.centerforengagedlearning.org/making-a-case-for-open-access-books-in-promotion-and-tenure-processes