NewsChannel Original: University Presses & Libraries, Part 3: Working to Forge New Relationships & Expertise

Nancy HertherBy Nancy K. Herther

(This completes Nancy’s 3 part series – please click here to read part 1, and here to read Part 2 )

Many productive collaborations are based on combining distinct expertise toward a common goal. The Library Publishing Coalition, for example, includes some university presses, those with administrative connections to the campus’ library system.

Just as academic libraries are going through major changes and challenges, university presses have also struggled with technology advances, been given limited resources, and have generally taken a far more conservative stance in dealing with new initiatives and possibilities. At the same time, these presses possess deep connections to both their author and reader communities, understand the needs and marketing process to their core audiences, and have built up a highly respected credentialing process.

Changes in the library/literary marketplace—with the decline of small scholarly booksellers and the rise of mega internet-based, price-over-quality sales giants like Amazon as well as declining library budgets—have created problems affecting university press core business models. Conventional monographs are losing their sustainability while costs increase overall.

New relationships and venues (MUSE, JSTOR for example) have provided new opportunities. Online, thus far, has not substituted for print revenues, with most presses opting for a hybrid model—especially for OA titles. The ability of OA to increase discovery and long-term use of their titles (backlist as well as current) is allowing for increased sales and impact. Today, most academic publishers seem to prefer CC-BY-NC contracts in order to recover costs of print editions. Today, many publishers report that Green OA isn’t feasible for them yet due to a needed longer embargo period in order to recoup costs.

For many, if not most, university presses, there have yet to be compelling motivations to consider repositioning the press within academe. As one insider noted there is “not a financial reason, not a mission reason, not a synergy reason.” In contacting press officials—few wanted to be quoted for this article—many saw a potential for a broader mix of OA scholarly monographs that might include more commercial as well as non-profit ventures, institutional mixing with professional presses, and even more professional scholar-controlled presses.

One example of this last type of new press is bRestless Books logoy Ilan Stavans (Lewis-Sebring Professor in Latin American and Latino Culture at Amherst College) who with colleagues has established Restless Books in 2013 with the tagline “an international publisher for a world in motion.” An article on the press in the LA Times noted that “Restless is producing ‘traditional’ ebooks (though it has no plans to move to print soon)…and also ‘visual’ ebooks with interactive components.”

2007 CLIR Report

The CLIR report, University Publishing in a Digital Age, written by Laura Brown, the former president of Oxford University Press USA, along with ITHAKA’s Matthew Rascoff and Rebecca Griffiths, sought to provide a “qualitative study” of the landscape in 2007. “Scholars,” the report noted, “have a vast range of opportunities to distribute their work, from setting up web pages or blogs, to posting articles to working paper websites or institutional repositories, to including them in peer-ITHAKA logo2reviewed journals or books. In American colleges and universities, access to the internet and World Wide Web is ubiquitous; consequently nearly all intellectual effort results in some form of publishing.” The report emphasized “the need for universities to consider more strategic approaches to publishing in its broadest sense; the value of inter and intra campus collaborations; and the potential for publishers, universities, and libraries to work together to take a leading role in determining the future of scholarly communication.”

The report noted that many, successful collaborations between libraries and presses already existed—from Project Muse at Johns Hopkins, Columbia International Affairs Online (CIAO), and the development of the Encyclopedia of North Carolina. The encyclopedia was published by the University of North Carolina Press, which had financial support and image licensing expertise from the UNC Library. The intention was to publish the reference work online as a partnership between the institution’s press and the library. “We [the library and press] worked together well on a project [The Encyclopedia of North Carolina],” the report quoted UNC staff. “This was a good collaboration. I think what we need to do is figure out the line between building special collections ourselves with tools to make them more accessible, and creating editorial layers that filter that content. The former is what we do well. The latter is what presses do well. How can we work together to build on these mutual strengths?”

NCPedia logo

For many presses and libraries, this is the key question—what are the synergies, the mutual and distinct strengths, needs, and shared opportunities. For the encyclopedia, a one-volume print edition was issued by the UNC Press while an online version – NCpedia is available freely online and is continually updated. “As of July 1, 2015, NCpedia included 6,867 entries and 7,164 images!” The online version is coordinated and managed jointly by the Government & Heritage Library at the State Library of North Carolina, a part of the North Carolina Department of Cultural Resources.

“University Presses have diverse origins, areas of focus, business models (e.g., whether or not subvention), and of course size,” notes University of Minnesota’s University Librarian Wendy Pradt Lougee. “A quick glance of some distinctive areas of focus suggests this diversity. Some of the larger presses have comprehensive portfolios, with a mix of journals and monographs. Others have focused either regionally or in particular domain areas.”

Wendy Pradt Lougee

Wendy Pradt Lougee

Although university libraries also have unique features, these are generally outweighed by their commonalities—focus on user support, information access, educational efforts, technical expertise in evaluating, developing and maintaining metadata, digital and physical assets, etc. The very development and maintenance of library catalogs is a key asset for any publishing infrastructure—coordinating server space, technicians, and catalogers and abstracters who perform the tasks that support findability. It is a relatively small step from the added skills needed for other types of digital collections or indexes: Selecting and acquiring rights to journal literature, assigning keywords to articles, and controlling the vocabulary. Library catalogs may not often get their due, but many compare well in scale and detail from core databases, such as PubMed, which contains more than 24 million citations; while adding more than a half million new records each month.

Libraries & Presses—Strong Allies or Hesitant Alliances?

Peter Berkery

Peter Berkery

In the past five years, a number of university presses have administratively moved to report through their institution’s library. Reactions have ranged from a relative shrug to serious concern about the future independence and operation of these presses. Although many were contacted to comment for this article, few agreed to be quoted. Although many in academe and publishing hope to see at least an open discussion, many expressed hope with the appointment of Peter Berkery as Director of the Association of American University Presses. He began his 2013 appointment with a Mellon-funded ‘listening tour’ of university presses to hear from the presses themselves about their issues and priorities.

“University presses are grappling with the twin disruptions of the technology juggernaut and the corporatization of the academy,” Berkery notes. “In a different context, these pressures would force consolidations—much the way trade publishers are combining (e.g., Random Penguin!). University presses, of course, can’t merge; but in order to achieve some of the same benefits—benefits that will become absolutely essential as those dual forces advance—they can act consortially.” Among Berkery’s near-term goals are to “build stronger ties to other key stakeholders in our ecosystem. Provosts, librarians, general counsels, faculty all have their own associations representing them. I plan to reach out to them and help increase their understanding of the full variety of ways in which we are critical to the scholarly enterprise.”

AAUP Report Cover

In 2013, the AAUP published its own Press and Library Collaboration Survey, which found the following:

  1. Library publishing services are on the rise. 65% of respondents say library-publishing programs are an increasingly important service. 62% of all respondents (77% of library respondents and 34% of press respondents) to this question agree that publishing should be a part of the library’s mission. Presses must imagine a way of engaging with these and other emerging publishers on campus.
  2. Collaboration rather than duplication is recommended. 69% of respondents believe that library-publishing initiatives should complement press publishing programs, rather than reinventing (or duplicating) a service for formal peer-reviewed literature.
  3. Recognize and discuss mission overlap. 95% of respondents see the need for presses and libraries to engage with each other about issues facing scholarly publishing beyond the usual topics of open access, fair use, and copyright.
  4. Understand the scope of publishing activity on your campus.
  5. Look beyond the financial figures.

ARL’s Vision of the Academic Library in 2033

ARL Strategic Thinking coverThe Association of Research Libraries’ recently published blueprint, Strategic Thinking and Design Report, was “fueled by the deep desire of the ARL membership to rise up to the challenges facing higher education in the 21st century.” The report is bold, the vision is clearly defined with the realization that this is an “unprecedented project to reimagine the future of the research library and reshape its organization to help bring that future into being.” So much for the image of librarians as quiet introverts or concrete thinkers with little imagination.

The report, officially published a year ago, is required reading. The report writers call the blueprint “worldbuilding” and note that “this is just the beginning of the first chapter—working towards a new set of roles for ARL should lead research libraries and higher education forward in unanticipated ways.” The report also makes note of the ongoing work of ARL members who have already begun to work the principles and goals of the blueprint into their organization design. One organization well along this path is the University of Minnesota Libraries (which is the author’s affiliation although I have had no significant role in this planning process).

In 2012, even before the final ARL report, the University of Minnesota Libraries embarked on an organizational restructuring for the future. “In our organization review process that birthed the new Content & Collections division,” Lougee explains, “we spoke to several dimensions of change: 1) The value and importance of conceiving of our ‘content’ role as beyond our own collections; 2) The need to see our expertise with content as an asset to be shared in service development (related to creating content creation services); 3) The increasing imperative of working collectively with other institutions on content-related initiatives (e.g., HathiTrust and CIC shared storage are two examples); and 4) The critical importance of supporting the full lifecycle of knowledge work.”

“This latter point,” Lougee continues, “speaks to various phases of what happens in knowledge work—discovery, integrating new old knowledge into new knowledge, creating new scholarship, sharing scholarship and creative works, and preservation. The C & C division has these principles as foundational elements of its focus. That said, these roles are necessarily requiring multiple bases of expertise and no one division can operate independently. Expertise in scholar engagement, data and technology, access, etc. are all essential to realizing these roles.”

Lougee, a key participant in the ARL process believes the 2033 vision of ARL’s process and plan represents “a System of Action (SoA)—that is, a broad problem space with interrelated components. The shared problem space is how we work collectively within the academy to support the full life cycle of knowledge creation and sharing. The ‘scholarly dissemination engine’ is intentionally focused on enabling and creating a sustainable model for disseminating scholarship within the academy.” Other ARL members are clearly working to incorporate these principles and goals into their own programs and mission statements as well. Clearly academic libraries are ahead of the curve, creating visions that are far more than assertive of existing or past values, and aggressively preparing for future opportunities.

“Overall, the move to shift publishing operations to libraries clearly is the result of other forces in academic publishing and how well or not those presses now under library management are doing likely has more to do with those wider forces than the management at a given library,” reflects Andrew Rouner, Digital Library Director at Washington University in St. Louis. WUSTL is developing goals similar to those of the ARL 2033. “While very broad, WUSTL is especially pursuing the model of library as active partner with faculty especially but the university community more broadly as well. Library publishing is certainly a key part of this, but in many respects, services such as digital preservation can be seen from a different perspective as a form of publishing, just as what once were regarded as “digital projects” are now also seen as in part as library publishing. This is reflected in the name change of the department I supervise, formerly called ‘Digital Library Services,’ and renamed a few years ago, ‘Scholarly Publishing.’ The department still supports digital projects but these are now regarded as one position on a spectrum of library publishing.”

Erich van Rijn

Erich van Rijn

Although not deeply familiar with the ARL framework, Erich van Rijn, Director of Publishing Operations for the University of California Press believes that “mapping out a future for anything in 2033 is quite an ambitious exercise! Publishing is a very dynamic business, and it’s in a massive state of flux at the moment. UC Press has responded by taking on projects such as the Mellon-funded initiative to improve content infrastructure, as well as projects such as our Luminos and Collabra open access publishing initiatives that deliver content using innovative new models. All of these efforts are part of a larger strategy to engage with the scholarly community in different ways both by providing more robust tools that are necessary for publication and offering different models for delivery of scholarly content to academic audiences. Certainly, any publishing organization that seeks to simply stand still during these times of change will not be around for much longer.”

“I can’t speak for the reaction of other press directors,” MIT Press Director Amy Brand explains, “but I can say wholeheartedly that I embrace ARL’s vision of the academic library in 2033. The future I envision for the MIT Press builds on MIT’s culture of experimentation to show others what’s possible in digital scholarship and sustainable, accessible academic publishing. Our goal is scholarly publishing that is integral to the evolving research and discovery process, digital and otherwise, and that with MIT’s broader mission—to generate and disseminate new knowledge, and bring it to bear on the world’s challenges. From my perspective, the best academic publishing is curation and innovation that not only keep pace with how and what scholars are researching and communicating, but that actually change the conversation and accelerate discovery in their own right.”

AAUP Director Peter Berkery sees great value in the ARL 2033 vision: “The ARL Blueprint presents a bold vision for the future of the academic research library. AAUP representatives were included in the work-shopping of the Blueprint, and both the process and the output reflect thoughtful stewardship of the library community’s strategic planning process.”

Charles Watkinson-web

Charles Watkinson

“I can’t speak for my organizational colleagues in AAUP or the many individuals who count SSP as their disciplinary home,” Charles Watkinson, Associate University Librarian for Publishing and Director, University of Michigan Press advises, “ but I do find the account the ARL blueprint gives of the shift from ‘knowledge service provider’ to ‘collaborative partner’ very convincing. Another way I would characterize this is as being a shift from serving the needs of faculty, staff, and students as users of scholarly information to partnering with them as authors. It’s well recognized that the same individuals can behave very differently when wearing these different hats (a classic 2002 paper by Mabe and Amin described this as the “Dr. Jekyll and Dr. Hyde phenomenon).”

“University presses have a lot of expertise in working with faculty as authors and libraries have a lot of experience of working with them as users,” Watkinson believes. “There are great opportunities for knowledge exchange here but as our two worlds collide one can also see the potential for tension. I do think that one interesting area where libraries and presses are both seeing common strategic opportunity is around the management and dissemination of research data. Presses are very interested in linking the ‘narrative’ of journal articles and books to such ‘data’ and libraries are very interested in building data collections. I worry sometimes that by viewing data as a passive ‘collection’ libraries risk disincentivizing data creators. Bringing a publishing lens to bear on data repository development suggests a much higher investment on usage stats, integration into the information supply chain (e.g., A&I services), branding and other services that deliver the prestige authors want and need.”


“As for presses reporting to libraries,” John Hopkins Press Director Greg Britton explains, “there is nothing inherently wrong with this arrangement, and there are several examples of very successful university presses with this reporting structure. For example, MIT, Stanford, New York University, Penn State, Indiana, and Georgia all have presses that report to their university’s library. I think of MIT Press as a good example of how this can actually work to a mutual advantage of both library and press. In collaboration with the library, MIT Press has pioneered many projects on delivering digital products, experimented with non-traditional publishing, and even tested various Open Access models. This innovative stance is clearly influenced by a close dialogue among library and publishing colleagues. Those experiments, in turn, are replicated in different ways by other publishers and libraries.”

Ann Okerson and Alex Holzman’s July 2015 CLIR report on The Once and Future Publishingonce and future library publishing Library concludes with four recommendations: “First, libraries should be strategic about their opportunism. Second, other stakeholders (presses, IT organizations, learned societies) should recognize the potential in libraries and challenge them to realize it. Third, university administrations should recognize that potential and make well-informed decisions, even while challenging libraries to make clear strategic connections among their priorities. Fourth, faculty and others who produce content should cast an appraising and encouraging eye on their own libraries as potential partners in imagination and innovation. At the end of the day, the combination of imagination and strategy is what could support library success at a scale we do not now see or imagine.”

The scholarly communication system is undergoing change at a faster rate than ever before.

Still, the goals and outcomes of this system remain the same—and perhaps are even more important in this era of accountability within the academy and in the larger society. Clearly librarians will play an increasingly active role in the new ways in which these publication/dissemination functions are carried out. Today, academic libraries are ahead of the curve on futuristic planning and making sometimes difficult strategic choices in order to refocus their efforts on future needs and opportunities. Hopefully under Peter Berkery’s leadership, the presses will be catching up soon with their own ideas, initiatives, and actions.

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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