ATG NewsChannel Original: Academic Library Publishing, Part 1: Changing Times, Changing Roles

Nancy HertherAcademic Library Publishing, Part 1: Changing Times, Changing Roles (1 of a 3 part series – click here to view part 2)

by Nancy K. Herther

Today’s academic library is surprisingly different from what it was just ten years ago. For years, spurred on by the internet as the communications channel, librarians have sought to maximize the potential of this new medium. Extreme price increases from commercial academic journal publishers created financial stress on collection budgets, diminishing access to the scholarly record. Librarians responded with efforts such as setting up repositories to house digitized or PDF versions of dissertations and other scholarly works, supporting and promoting the development of Open Access (OA) journals, and, more recently, supporting Open Data requirements from funding sources. In order to support the increasing campus need for publishing services to support the development of new publication venues within the academy, libraries of today are advancing projects and redefining their missions.

“In the earlier years of the Web,” note UC-Berkeley researchers Julie LeFevre and Terence Huwe in a recent article, “libraries focused on moving services online and building digital collections, but in recent years, libraries have emerged as key players in the world of digital publishing.” The authors go on to note that “librarians already possess the requisite skills to become digital publishers, and the collaborative culture of the library profession is a strength for this new role.”

After years of building competence and capacity, academic libraries can lay claim to many key skills in this area:

  • Librarians are notable for their close connections with both authors and readers, developed over centuries of service and collaboration.
  • A clear and well-developed commitment to preservation of the historic record throughout time and technological change.
  • Forming alliances such as SPARC to advance open scholarly communication and work with stakeholders to “educate stakeholders about the scholarly communication system, advocate for “policy changes that highlight the use of technology to advance scholarly communications and research dissemination,” and “incubating new business and publishing models that encourage openness for the benefit of scholarship and academe.” Today this international alliance includes more than 800 academic and research libraries across the globe.

SPARC logo

  • Cofounding and managing alternative scholarly communication systems, such as AgEcon Search, org, the Networked Digital Library of Theses and Dissertations, the Digital Public Library of America, and many others. These digital initiatives have provided ground-breaking expertise extending traditional competence in organization, metadata creation, and user interfaces.
  • Providing copyright information for faculty regarding their rights as authors and supporting the adoption of addendums to publisher agreements to affirm the rights of authors to their works. A Google search on “copyright librarian” AND site:edu results in more than 1,800 hits—and many of these professionals have law degrees.
  • Educating faculty about publishing options, along with information linking journals to costs for libraries in efforts to expose unreasonable and constant price increases that have crippled the ability of libraries to provide all of the content they need to support their clients.
  • Participating in the scholarly publishing process through peer-review, research publication, and the evaluation of publication quality. This includes Jeffrey Beall’s efforts to expose what he considers predatory publishers.

The Web has brought with it options for not only OA, but Open Source, Creative Commons, and other options that are changing the very structure of how academic scholarship is being created, organized, disseminated, and accessed. Perhaps the best example here is dissertations and theses—once print-bound and available for interlibrary loan or purchase, they are now increasingly made available in PDF formats through institutional repositories across the globe.

On the technology side, the rise of OA has brought with it the development of a wide variety of publishing platforms (significantly with Digital Commons, DpubS, Dspace, Eprints, Fedora, Open Journal Systems—OJS—and WordPress) making it possible for organizations and associations to effectively manage and maintain publishing activities. In a recent article in New Library World, Oregon State University’s Faye Chadwell and Shan Sutton assert that “our fundamental role in removing barriers to the free exchange of information is transforming the landscape of scholarly communication through building institutional repositories, publishing OA journals, hosting OA Educational Resources, facilitating access to research data, and advocating for the passage of OA policies.”

Libraries As Publishers

In the past five years, academic libraries have begun to stake their presence in the area of scholarly publishing. In a 2013 article in Journal of Web Librarianship, UC-Berkeley librarians LeFevJisc logore and Huwe refer to libraries as “players in the world of digital publishing,” possessing “all of the necessary skills to act as digital publishers,” resulting in the evolution of a whole new “core competency” for academic libraries.

In 2008 Karla Hahn published a survey for the Association of Research Libraries that identified library publishing initiatives at 65% of research libraries in North America. In 2011 Jisc, the British public agency supporting academic and research activities announced funding for Huddersfield Open Access Publishing (HOAP), the University of London SAS Open Journals, which provides “An Open Access hosting service for social science and humanities journals produced by or in association with the School of Advanced Study,” and EPICURE (E-Publishing Infrastructure Capitalising on UCL’s Repositories) at University College London.

Not to be out-done, a group of academic libraries began discussions at the same time, forming what became the most notable example initiated in the U.S.: The Library Publishing Coalition (LPC). A 2012 library survey by a group of librarians, led by Purdue’s Jim Mullins, found that “approximately half (55%) of respondents indicated having, or being interested in, offering library publishing services. Interest in such services varied by institution size, with over three-quarters of ARLs being interested, compared to 3% of Oberlin Group institutions. Most libraries with existing programs anticipated increasing the program’s scale or scope in the next year.” At about the same time, an IMLS-funded Strategies for Success project found that library-based publishing groups lack a central space where they can meet, work together, share information, and work out common issues.


A Long History of Connections to Publishing

Academic libraries have long served their communities’ need for publication support through providing services across the full range of content development: Creation; Dissemination by providing resources to support opportunities for funding; Access through shared cataloging, loaning, and reviewing; and broader Engagement through programming events and other options.

Today’s academic libraries are positioning themselves for a central role in the new Open Access environment for 21st century publishing of texts and data in dynamic, digital formats accessible and indexed for maximum impact and value. Through the process of environmental analysis and self-assessment, libraries are now building on existing experience and strengths:

  • Provide digital infrastructure—with existing repositories, archives, global cataloging, campus connections to information technology sources.
  • Reliable and with a long term perspective—libraries have well-defined, established programs in information management, access, and preservation.
  • Tools that are close to researchers’ needs—libraries develop collections to meet the needs of their clientele and local strengths of their faculty.
  • Provide consultation on copyright, data management, funder requirements, and publication venues.

As noted in the recent CLIR report, libraries are expert as running services not systems and this expertise is of high value regardless of how campus publishing is organized.

The Library Publishing Coalition

library publishing coalition -logoLed by library leaders from Purdue University, the University of North Texas, and Virginia Tech, the idea for developing a community dedicated to advancing the field of library publishing was born. Educopia provided the initial two-year structure for the 61 academic libraries that founded the LPC with funding from the Mellon Foundation. Today, the LPC is an independent, community-led membership association based on common values and goals: “Based on core library values and building on the traditional skills of librarians, distinguished from other publishing fields by a preference for Open Access dissemination and a willingness to embrace informal and experimental forms of scholarly communication and to challenge the status quo.”

To celebrate the 2013 Open Access Week, the LPC launched the first edition of the Library Publishing Directory (2014) which covered 115 academic and research libraries, generally in North America. “In documenting the breadth and depth of activities in this field, this resource aims to articulate the unique value of library publishing; establish it as a significant and growing community of practice; and to raise its visibility within a number of stakeholder communities, including administrators, funding agencies, other scholarly publishers, librarians, and content creators.” The 2015 Library Publishing Directory, highlights the publishing activities of 124 college and university libraries from North America, Europe and Australia.

2015 LPC Directory cover

“The LPC began as a seed-funded initiative: 61 libraries pledged funding for two years of work to design and build the organization,” explains Sarah Lippincott, the Library Publishing Coalition’s Program Manager. “These Founding and Contributing Institutions, as we termed them, participated in two years of collaborative work and conversation that culminated in the establishment of the LPC as a membership organization. We officially launched the organization six months before the end of the two-year project period because the community was eager to see the LPC move forward with activities that fulfill its mission. Libraries see a tremendous opportunity to contribute to positive changes in scholarly communication—changes that make research more open and accessible, changes that encourage multimedia and new modes of scholarship, and changes that promote engagement with new audiences. In order to full engage in this process of transformation, they need a community that fosters common practices, provides professional development, and offers an infrastructure for productive collaboration. The LPC provides this structure and also provides a collective voice for the community.”

This new initiative represents a new era for library publishing. “While there are library-based publishing initiatives that have been operating for a decade or more, library publishing has come into its own in the last several years. The Library Publishing Coalition currently has 65 members in three countries (the United States, Canada, and Australia).,” Lippincott explains. “Our members represent a range of institution types and sizes. Many are large, research-intensive universities, but we also have a significant and active community of liberal arts colleges and comprehensive universities.”

“Some of our member libraries, such as Oregon State University, Temple University, and

Sarah Lippincott

Sarah Lippincott

Indiana University (as of this month) are administratively linked to their university press, providing opportunities for new collaborations and experiments,” she continues. “These libraries and others are demonstrating the unique value that libraries can bring to publishing and the gaps they can fill in the current ecosystem. For example, the library at Ohio State University has made it a priority to publish conference proceedings on behalf of faculty. This was an unmet need that the library stepped in to serve. Libraries are often finding their niche in publishing content that presses can’t or won’t work with because it’s not commercially viable, because it is created by students, because of technical limitations, or a number of other reasons. That’s not to say that libraries only take on publications that commercial scholarly publishers or university presses don’t want. Libraries are committed to publishing high-quality scholarship in a variety of forms, much of it peer reviewed.”

It Takes a Whole Institution

“One of the significant advantages libraries have as publishers,” Lippincott concludes, “is the existing and often deep relationship with the campus, including students and faculty. Many libraries are leveraging these relationships to engage students in the process of scholarly communication. The libraries at Illinois Wesleyan University and Pacific University, among others, have strong student journal publishing programs. In these programs, students actively participate in authoring scholarship and in editing the journal, teaching them important skills as well as information literacy concepts.”

CLIR report cover

In July 2015, the Council on Library and Information Resources (CLIR) published a detailed study, by Ann Okerson of the Council of Library Resources (CLR) and Alex Holzman (retired Temple University Press official) on the current state of publishing activities in American academic libraries, titled The Once and Future Publishing Library. The report, which will be covered in more detail in Part 2 of this series, concludes with this statement:

Library publishing has a long history. We have come to think of the present initiatives as ways of reconnecting with a very old mission, yet making it fresh and new in radically new circumstances with radically new technology. But its development in the digital age is still nascent, and if libraries are to play

Ann Okerson

Ann Okerson

a significant role in overcoming the cost of access to information today, they will have to expand significantly beyond their current scope, probably through expanded current programs and many new ones. How much time and how much of their budgets do librarians want to put into publishing programs as opposed to the many other functions they fill? Who should even answer that question? To paraphrase the Ithaka report“it takes a whole institution.”


Nancy K. Herther is Librarian for American Studies, Anthropology, Asian American Studies & Sociology at the University of Minnesota, Twin Cities campus.


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