Alistair McNaught Alternative formats Policy & strategy

Praise a publisher – critique a publisher: Autumn 2017

Universities and colleges have a legal obligation to provide resources in accessible formats to print disabled students. However, many of the e-book platforms they subscribe to have limited accessibility or are tied-in to scarcely accessible third-party tools like Adobe Digital Editions. So it is not unusual to need to get the raw file from the publisher or from RNIB Bookshare Collection – if the publisher is a partner. Alistair McNaught wanted a reality check on the process…

The first term of a new academic year is critical for student confidence and success so library services work hard to ensure they can meet the needs of their print-disabled students. This year they worked harder still because I asked them to give me feedback on how well the publisher requests were going – praising what was good and critiquing what was bad. The results of that survey will be reported in series of blogs. This is the first giving you an overview of what happened and what you told us.

How was the data collected

  • The survey was promoted via the LIS-accessibility Jiscmail list, an online library community for discussing accessibility related themes.
  • Data was collected on a GoogleForm offering free text fields for praising up to 3 publishers and critiquing up to 3 publishers. Respondents were required to supply a work email address for verification purposes only.


Responses were collected from October to December 2017 – a key period for servicing disabled student needs and building confidence in accessing course resources. The last response was December 13th 2017.

Total respondents = 26 respondents from 20 universities; all bar 1 were verified by work emails.

Praise for publishers

  • Total praises – 61 praises were distributed among 28 publishers.One or two aggregators slipped onto the list as well.
  • Multiple praises – 8 publishers were positively mentioned in multiple responses. This reflects both quality of service and – potentially – distribution on reading lists. It needs to be remembered that publishers receiving only a single positive mention have still made a significant difference to the study opportunities of a student. Smaller numbers of mentions may reflect nothing more than sample size. The best turnaround time quoted came from Little Brown in a single mention. The top scoring publishers are listed below:
Oxford University Press 15
Sage 8
Taylor & Francis / Routledge 7
McGraw Hill 3
Palgrave Macmillan 3
Cambridge University Press 2
Wiley 2

Critique for publishers

  • Total critiques – there were 47 critiques of 24 publishers. Only one aggregator was mentioned. Two non-specific ‘critiques’ included ‘Any US publisher’ (2 mentions) and ‘Online applications’ due to the difficulty of keeping track of requests.
  • Multiple critiques – 6 publishers and 1 aggregator were mentioned more than once. Again, distribution of critiques could reflect sample size but multiple critiques for repeat concerns could have a detrimental impact on reading list recommendations so are worth exploring.
Penguin Random House 11
Pearson (US) 3
Wiley 3
Worth 3
Cengage 2
Elsevier 2
VLeBooks 2

Next steps

The Praise results – with reasons – will be published on this blog in the next week or so and we’ll tweet to celebrate the good work being done by supportive publishers.

The specific critiques will be forwarded to publishers first to get their responses. The critiques and the responses will be published in a later blog post – hopefully in mid to late March.

But YOU have a role to play as well, whether a publisher, librarian or disability specialist. Use the comments below to let us know if these findings ring true. Twenty universities is about 15% of the sector. What do the other 85% think? Some publishers are clearly winning hearts and minds – what are they doing that’s different? Is it replicable? Or if you are a publisher that appears to have been unfairly critiqued tell us what you do that’s great to redress the balance.

Let us know your thoughts…

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