It can be said — or is assumed — that a textbook released with an open-copyright licence is maintained by the community that uses it. However, the reality is that many open textbooks aren’t changed — at least the original versions — once they’ve been published. Instructors who adopt an open textbook might customize it for their own use and maintain a private copy, but the community may or may not benefit from these improvements.
“Another flaw in the human character is that everybody wants to build and nobody wants to do maintenance.” – Kurt Vonnegut
Excerpt from the BCcampus Open Education Self-Publishing Guide by Lauri M. Aesoph
Textbooks that have an individual or organization that takes responsibility for its ongoing quality and viability tend to experience the highest adoption rates. At BCcampus Open Education, we have learned that the most successful textbooks are the ones with authors that take an active interest in their maintenance by paying attention to errors, noting potential improvements, and promoting their book amongst colleagues.
The first step when creating your post-publication plan is to lay out how your completed book will be maintained. This involves setting up ways to receive and record feedback, fixing reported errors, and planning for revisions and new editions. There is a lot to keep track of, so setting up a schedule can be helpful.
Give your readers a way to offer feedback about your textbook. Some authors do this by adding a line to the preface or introduction that invites suggestions. You can provide your contact information such as an email or create a feedback page can be added to the front or back section of the textbook. This feedback page should contain details about the kind of feedback you’re looking for and how the reader can submit comments.
If the textbook is housed in an online platform that doesn’t use page numbers, it can be difficult for readers to clearly describe what section of the text they want to comment on. In your call for feedback, encourage readers to be as specific as possible in their description of the location of their comments. Alternatively, some online platforms have a comments feature that can be enabled. Another option would be to use an external (and open source) annotation system, such as Hypothes.is, which allows users to leave comments directly on a web page.
Think about how you will process feedback. The treatment for each item will depend on what has been reported: an error, new information, a potential resource to add, or suggestion on the structure of the textbook. It is also good practice to respond to recommendations by thanking your colleague for taking the time to write to you. If you have information about how to use your textbook or ideas about supplementary materials, include these in your response.
Another way to collect feedback on your textbook is to give instructors the opportunity to submit a review of your textbook.
Regardless of how carefully a book is copyedited and proofread, it will probably contain errors after publication. Your job is to accept this fact, create a system that allows readers to report errors to you, and develop a means to correct these errors. BCcampus Open Education uses a Report a Textbook Error form. A feedback form that invites error reporting might be sufficient for you, or you can just provide an email where people can contact you.
Think about who will make the corrections. This can be you or someone else, like a student assistant or copy editor. This will often depend on who has access to the book’s source files after publication. Also, how often will corrections be made? Will you fix them immediately? Monthly? Quarterly? And how will you respond to the individual reporting the mistake? A simple thank you with a description of how and when the error will be addressed is one way.
Develop a means to track and record corrected errors for your readers’ reference. You can use an erratum — a record of errors and their corrections for a book or other publication — that is added to your book. Or, like BCcampus, record adjustments on a Versioning History page. If there is more than one format or file type for which the textbook is available, remember to update these and note the date on the erratum or Versioning History page.
Many authors are already thinking about the next edition of their textbook before the first edition is published. They realize that their textbook is a snapshot of information and that this information will continue to evolve after the book is published, so they plan for the next edition immediately. (Remember: Writing a book will never feel finished. There is always something that can be changed, improved, or added. At some point, you will need to stop and say “good enough.”)
Some authors prepare by collecting notes about what they’d like to change, and material and resources they want to add to the next edition. Others create a duplicate copy of their book — easy to do in Pressbooks, for example — and use it as a template for the next edition. If you want to plan ahead for the next edition, decide how much new and changed information warrants a new edition, and how often this might occur.
The maintenance schedule for your book can and should include all tasks that will keep your book relevant and current. Develop a timetable and process for each of the following:
- Responding to, reviewing, and incorporating feedback
- Checking and fixing links and embedded multimedia in online books
- Correcting reported/detected errors
- Adding minor updates to keep the content current
- Creating a new edition
“Kurt Vonnegut Quotes,” Goodreads, https://www.goodreads.com/quotes/276615-another-flaw-in-the-human-character-is-that-everybody-wants (accessed August 11, 2017).