v32#2 Biz of Digital — Re-Thinking Scholarly Communication & Publishing at Pacific University

by | May 11, 2020 | 0 comments

by Johanna Meetz  (Publishing and Repository Services Librarian, The Ohio State University Libraries, 320G 18th Avenue Library, 175 West 18th Avenue, Columbus, OH 43210;  Phone: (614) 688-1192;  Former Scholarly Communication & Publishing Services Librarian, Pacific University Libraries/Associate Director, Pacific University Press) 

Column Editor:  Michelle Flinchbaugh  (Acquisitions and Digital Scholarship Services Librarian, Albin O. Kuhn Library & Gallery, University of Maryland Baltimore County, 1000 Hilltop Circle, Baltimore, MD 21250;  Phone: 410-455-6754;  Fax: 410-455-1598) 

Pacific University is a small liberal arts university with a total enrollment of about 4,000, which is equally divided between undergraduates and graduate students.  The Libraries at Pacific have about 25 staff members, spread across two main campus locations.  Despite its small size, it has a substantial publishing program that grew out of a successful institutional repository.  As of 2019, the Libraries were publishing 7 journals, many with a full-service model that included copyediting and typesetting as well as hosting, DOI registration, and preservation.  In addition to journal publishing, Pacific University Press, a digital open access press, was founded in the Libraries in 2015.  It published its first book in 2016, and reached its goal of publishing 3 books per year in 2019.  While the Press outsources tasks like copyediting and cover design, much of the work on books is done in-house by the Scholarly Communication & Publishing Services Librarian/Associate Director of Pacific University Press (titles held by one librarian at Pacific).

As a successful program or initiative grows, it is inevitable that it will reach a point where it can’t expand any more without additional resources.  Those resources might be in the form of staff members, time, or software, but generally they boil down to money.  An academic library’s needs are varied and expensive, as are the needs of academic institutions in general.  As library budgets remain the same or decrease, the challenge to continue to offer the same resources and services, let alone additional or improved resources and services, increases.  For smaller colleges and universities, these budgetary limitations can be even greater.  No matter how much we might want to continue to expand a service indefinitely, it is not always possible to continue to do more with less.

This column will provide an overview of a series of questions that I asked myself when restructuring the services related to scholarly communication and publishing at Pacific University when we reached a point where we were unable to continue to expand our publishing program.

1.  What resources are available to you?

When the request for funding for an additional part time staff member to work in publishing at Pacific was denied in 2018, we knew we had to consider making changes to the services we offered.  As a basis for those changes, we had to acknowledge what resources were available to us, and which were not.  The libraries couldn’t have more money for an additional staff person, but I could create more time in my position by changing the services we currently offered.  This led me to ask:

2.  What are the needs of our community?

What would benefit the students and faculty at Pacific the most?  What would benefit Pacific University as an institution the most?  While publishing open access journals is certainly an important endeavor, it is also costly in terms of time because we offer a full suite of services that includes typesetting and in money because we utilize freelancers to copyedit articles for some journals.  Since the founding of Pacific University Press, publishing high quality peer-reviewed books had become more of a priority. 

In addition, these two endeavors — publishing journals and books — were taking time away from administering Pacific’s institutional repository.  The repository is particularly important in that it captures much of the student work at Pacific, though additional outreach would enable us to preserve and share more, like the undergraduate capstone projects completed by all students.  Moreover, other important issues were being discussed on campus, like OERs (Open Educational Resources).  While there was a limited amount of time to devote to this, there wasn’t time to drive a campus-wide initiative.  Also, as the number of online course sites at Pacific has grown, there has been an increasing need for education around issues like copyright.  Essentially, the areas of focus for the Scholarly Communication & Publishing Services Librarian had shifted over time, and they needed to be brought back into alignment with the current needs and goals of the larger institution.  This led us to select three areas of focus: book publishing, IR administration, and outreach about OER and copyright.  In turn, we had to choose an area to decrease our commitment: journal publishing. 

We chose to focus more on book publishing rather than journal publishing for a few reasons.  First, while the number of OA journals that are published is steadily growing among library publishers in particular, the number of university presses is declining.  In addition, there are fewer OA books published by university presses.  Since the majority of Pacific University Press books are made available for free download (the only exception being short fiction), and the Press was set up in such a way that it does not depend on making a profit on the books it publishes, it can give a voice to scholars whose work would not be published by a traditional university press because it may not sell enough copies to pay for itself, let alone make money.  Of course, all open access publication is important and has a positive impact, but we felt that Pacific University Press was in a unique position to publish works that may have gone unpublished as well as to demonstrate a new model of book publishing itself, and so we chose to concentrate our efforts there.

3.  What collaborations have been most successful?

As discussed, over time Pacific became the publisher of many journals, some that were more successful than others, and some that fit better with the direction of the University.  We defined a successful journal as one that regularly published, had invested editors, and was tied strongly into an area of strength at Pacific, whether that was health sciences, undergraduate research, or librarianship — the subject areas of some of our journals.  Evaluating each of them allowed us to make hard choices.  In the end, two of the journals were combined, two found new homes, and one ceased publishing altogether.

Re-prioritizing and re-structuring the responsibilities associated with my position reinforced many ideas I valued, including:

1.  At some point, one more small thing to do is still too much.

As part of this process, we re-homed a journal that was very low-maintenance for us.  We didn’t copyedit it or create the layout; we only hosted it, registered DOIs, and preserved it.  However, the time spent on this journal is time that could have been spent doing other things, like IR outreach or educating faculty and students about OER and copyright.

2.  Make time to assess the direction you’re going frequently.

When you’re busy with the small details day-to-day, it can be difficult to remember the big picture.  Are you progressing toward the strategic goals?  Do the goals themselves need to be modified?  One strategy I used to remind myself to take time to do this higher-level thinking was to schedule time on my calendar.

3.  Keep tabs on the needs of community.

Similarly, it is important to stay in touch with the needs of your community.  Big or small, research or teaching focused — it’s important to find ways to stay connected to what’s happening on campus.  I found that talking to librarians who have frequent contact with faculty members as well as instructional designers at Pacific was helpful.  In general, taking time to communicate with others either virtually or in person, including administrators, faculty members, other librarians, staff, or students, is invaluable.  It can be easy to overlook these opportunities, especially when you’re busy and working with partners outside of your institution.

4.  Make a business plan.

I encourage anyone who is starting or who has a library publishing program or any other similar initiative to make a business plan using the method outlined by Kate McCready and Emma Molls in their article entitled “Developing a Business Plan for a Library Publishing Program.”1  In this context, a business plan is defined as document that “create[s] shared expectations for funding streams, quality markers, as well as technical and staff capacity” (McCready & Molls, 2018, p. 1).  It includes “the principles of the program, scope of services, and staffing requirements” as well as “production policies, financial structures, and measures of success” (p.1).  Once you have a business plan, it can be revised when things change, but it’s important to have a framework to use to make decisions.

5.  Cultivate boundaries.

Librarians are professionals who work in service of others.  This means that saying “no” does not always come naturally.  However, in order to build a successful institutional repository, publishing program, or any other initiative, it is necessary to define and uphold boundaries.  If a project or partnership is proposed, it should be evaluated in the context of a document like the aforementioned business plan.  If it isn’t a good fit for any reason, saying “no” will allow you to shape your initiative into what you’d like it to be — and move you closer to your goals.  It allows you to reserve time that you can spend in other ways that are of greater service to your community.

In sum, even when in the beginning stages of building a program or initiative, it is good to keep in mind that resources will always be limited.  In order to create something sustainable that is in service to your community, the importance of creating a business plan, evaluating it over time, making changes as often as needed, and carefully appraising potential partnerships can’t be overstated.  This is critical for scholarly communication and library publishing programs in particular, since the scope of services offered by libraries varies widely depending on the budget, the number of staff people, the commitment of the institution, the needs of the community, the interests or expertise of librarians, etc.  


1.  McCready, K., and Molls, E.  (2018).  Developing a Business Plan for a Library Publishing Program.  Publications, 6(4), 42.  https://doi.org/10.3390/publications6040042

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