For the past year, representatives of some of the most influential university libraries in the country have been meeting and exploring the potential for library/press partnerships for scholarly publishing in the future. In the next 2 years, representatives of more than 50 academic libraries will consider their roles in the future of access to scholarly literature. Called the Library Publishing Coalition (LPC), the group is being led by Educopia Institute, an Atlanta-based consultancy that has experience working on other library digital efforts.
This is not a small issue for academic libraries or university presses. In her dissertation on the subject of open access publishing, British Columbia Electronic Library Network’s Heather Morrison tells NewsBreaks that, “the primary current economic support for scholarly publishing comes from academic libraries (about 73%) and that transitioning this support to open access will be key to making this transition happen. The high profits of some of the larger publishers should be enough to illustrate that this is doable—publishers like Elsevier, Wiley, and Springer earn more than 30% in profits. However, with some efficiencies it should be possible to create a much more affordable system.”
Morrison noted, “By my calculations, a scholar-led open access publishing system could cost a very great deal less than what libraries currently pay for subscriptions—up to 96% less based on the calculations quoted by Edgar & Willinsky. I don’t think that this amount takes into account the library publishing services per se, and it may be advisable to try to direct more money to the journals per se to avoid burnout, but the huge difference in costs suggests that there is quite a bit of leeway.”
Björn Brembs, professor of neurogenetics at Germany’s Universität Regensburg, notes that, “libraries need not make any profit. If libraries manage to keep the same costs as publishers, at least the subscription segment, currently dominated by large publishers with profit margins well beyond 30%, stands to run in excess of 30% more cheaply. In the case of our university library, e.g., which is already running four open access journals, this would mean annual savings of at least 700,000 EUR.”
A Strong Shared Mission
Both Project MUSE and JSTOR are good examples of the long-standing cooperation and mutual respect that libraries and scholarly publishers have developed. Project MUSE, founded in 1993 between Johns Hopkins Press and the school’s Milton S. Eisenhower Library, is a very successful nonprofit that now provides more than 550 peer-reviewed academic journals and another 20,000-plus ebooks to nearly 3,000 libraries worldwide. JSTOR—short for Journal Storage—founded in 1995, began as a system for access to back issues of ejournals, but it now includes books, current journal issues, and some primary sources. JSTOR now services more than 7,000 institutions across the globe.
Interest in collaboration was further encouraged by the 2007 publication of the Ithaka report University Publishing in a Digital Age. The impact was seismic: “This groundbreaking paper underlines 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.”
Sandy Thatcher, retired press director at Penn State, notes that the report’s detailed analysis of the strengths and weaknesses of each partner “show very clearly that there are real synergies to be realized from bringing these two different kinds of organizations together in the joint enterprise of digital scholarly publishing, rather than either trying to go it alone.”
In 2011, a report on “Sustaining Scholarly Publishing: New Business Models for University Presses,” was released from the Association of American University Presses. The report looks at current and innovative approaches being taken by these presses during a “period of intense change in the scholarly communication ecosystem.” The report highlighted new models being tried and provided a strong defense for the important roles that these organizations provide: “The publisher’s role is more complex than mere dissemination. ... The technological and cultural shifts of the last decade—the transformation from a print-based system of content scarcity and centralization to a digital, decentralized system of content abundance, easy access to expertise, attention as the coin of the realm, handheld connections, and distraction as a big business—challenge not just publishers’ business models, but may even threaten many of the intellectual characteristics most valued by the scholarly enterprise itself: concentration, analysis, and deep expertise.”
LPC: From Idea to Blueprint
In March 2011, the Association of Research Libraries published "New Roles for New Times: Digital Curation for Preservation," written by Tyler Walters (Virginia Tech) and Katherine Skinner (Educopia Institute), which explored “how research libraries are attempting to add value in the chain of events that produce new research knowledge and information.” Already experienced in digital archiving and the provision of information services—from selection to searching to access—many academic libraries have already found themselves taking on collaboration—or even management—for campus university presses. This includes the University of Michigan’s MPublishing, an integrated publishing system that includes its press and is managed by the associate university librarian for publishing and technology. The University of North Texas Press is also managed by its university libraries.
“I think libraries already are an effective agent—and perhaps THE most effective agent we see thus far—in reinventing scholarly publishing,” explains Educopia’s executive director Katherine Skinner. “Libraries have established deep relationships with the faculty and students they support. Many times, they’ve been the experimental allies of the most progressive professors/scholars who are exploring the use of digital tools and environments to further knowledge in the digital humanities and the e-sciences. They’ve accomplished this both through the dissemination of scholarly publications and through creating intensive data mining/visualization mechanisms that foreground primary source materials (Emory University’s Slave Voyages is a shining example). Increasingly, they are establishing programs that meet a vast need for efficient, cost-effective ways of recording and disseminating the scholarly record. Supporting that development field-wide is really the inspiration for Educopia’s involvement.”
In 2010, questions about the role between libraries and scholarly publishing were raised by the libraries of Purdue University, Georgia Institute of Technology, and the University of Utah. Published in March 2012, their SPARC-sponsored survey examined “the extent to which publishing has now become a core activity of North American academic libraries and suggested ways in which further capacity could be built.” In their report, the deans of these institutions were “convinced that the time has come to use the evidence of growth of and demand for publishing services to make the critical, difficult decisions necessary to foster and continue this work.” This commitment would come at a cost, such as reallocating funds from existing budgets and developing new library-publishing positions in libraries, at the potential loss of existing positions and functions. Their final message: “Our national organizations and associations must propel the coalescing, cross-institutional interests that were identified through the whole-hearted participation of so many diverse academic libraries.”
Publication of this report and survey is credited with having “elevated the conversation” over library publishing, notes Tyler Walters, dean of University Libraries at Virginia Tech. Today more than 50 colleges and universities are participating as Founding or Contributing Institutions in the Library Publishing Coalition project predicted to end in December 2014. LPC hopes to “design a collaborative network” with four components:
- A governance/organizational model and sustainability plan
- Detailed documentation covering fundamental components of this coalition
- Outline multiple methods for “practitioners to meet, exchange information and gain training”
- Launch “a strong, sustainable Library Publishing Coalition that will serve the needs of this field”
Ambitious perhaps, but given the transitions taking place in publishing, this offers an interesting counter-balance to the options of self-publishing or commercial efforts that are stressing the traditional book publishing sector today.
As noted in the official 2012 Library Publishing Coalition proposal: “Libraries already touch every academic program on campus as providers of information services; they are widely trusted by faculty, staff, and students as links to sources of authoritative information; and they have staff members who are knowledgeable in many aspects of information management, including the creation and hosting of systems designed for its preservation and dissemination. In this context, library publishing services are emerging in a number of ways and in a range of institutional contexts.”
New Roles and Changing Visions
In a 2008 study on "Research Library Publishing Services: New Options for University Publishing," Karla Hahn, director of ARL’s Office of Scholarly Communication, noted that, “the question is no longer whether libraries should offer publishing services, but what kinds of services libraries will offer. Consequently, leaders need to ask to what extent can the university benefit from investments in library publishing services, particularly in the context of related transformations in library services. While new investments are needed, there are both great demands for publishing services and significant benefits to be obtained from strategic investments.”
Other ventures continue to develop for this unique segment of the book publishing arena. Amherst College Press was announced in February, which is another modest effort to provide library oversight to the production of edited, peer-reviewed works—digital first—to serve the academic market.
“My own view reflects that of the authors of the Ithaka Report,” Thatcher continues, “let a thousand flowers bloom. There is no one best way to achieve the goals we all have, so the more experimentation the better.”
“Ultimately, the value of LPC will be shown in how well it helps us at Penn State and my colleagues at many other libraries support our faculty and students in publication ventures,” notes Mike Furlough, associate dean for Research and Scholarly Communication at Penn State. At Penn State, this includes oversight of their Office of Digital Scholarly Publishing, a joint venture with Penn State Press. “We haven’t had very good or consistent fora for publishing programs to work together, for staff to learn from other colleagues, to really get a good grasp on the needs, or to create infrastructure that will support us all more generally. So that is why we joined up with LPC: to help our community establish something more like a ‘discipline’ of library publishing services. It’s a tall order, but I have worked with the folks at Educopia on other efforts and I think they are a great host for the program’s development.”
Despite all our efforts, no one believes that this indicates libraries will be able to re-invent scholarly publishing yet. “There are too many players who have a stake in scholarly publishing, and we haven’t found effective ways of engaging all those other players, including revenue-based publishers and researchers,” says Furlough. “What we have done in libraries with publishing so far is a drop in the bucket compared to the entire universe of scholarly production. We could stop today and most researchers would never know the difference.”
Joe Esposito, former publisher and now respected consultant, notes that, “the current trend is for new publishing entities to be funded out of institutional resources and by philanthropies. Some of these will be deemed valuable and will endure. Others will have difficulty maintaining their funding over the long run. It’s likely that most of these ventures will not succeed, and that’s true of most ventures of all kinds. It’s best to view these new programs as interesting experiments, and we need all the experimentation we can get. Libraries cannot be an effective means of ‘reinventing’ publishing. But, individual librarians can. As Emerson said, all great institutions are the shadow of a single man. We might accuse Emerson of gender-bias, but the basic truth of his comment is indisputable.”
Hopes of LPC Participants
“Many research and academic libraries are growing a portfolio of publishing-related services today,” says Virginia Tech’s Walters. “This includes help with the technical production of e-journals, e-conference proceedings, ebooks, websites, databases, and new forms of scholarly digital resources. While this phenomenon is occurring, we all struggle with the capacity to provide technology support and workflow support to make these services effective and successful. We also need to continuing developing out business and services models involving library publishing services. The LPC’s expectations are to develop the community of library publishing practitioners necessary to review and assess our services, develop best practices, and models for business, service, and technologies that only can be developed (and afforded) through inter-institutional means. Coming together in the LPC means that libraries offering publishing services have a place to work together and advance our capacities to perform these services in the Digital Age.”
Rebecca Kennison, director of Columbia University’s Center for Digital Research and Scholarship (CDRS), sees great value to the LPC venture: “The LPC arose from the perception—rightly, I believe—that the existing organizations were limited venues for discussion and collaboration among those of us within academic libraries who provide services in support of scholarly communication endeavors on our campuses. Are we publishers, so should we attend publishing conferences? Are we librarians, so should we attend library conferences? Or are we ‘liblishers,’ as John Unsworth famously put it in his keynote address to the Society for Scholarly Publishing meeting in 2005, “Pubrarians and Liblishers: New Roles for Old Foes.”
“I think what is driving the LPC is the sense that it is now becoming an explicit, even an expected role for academic libraries to be doing their own publishing and supporting faculty publishing with various levels of technology and expertise,” says Sarah Pritchard, Northwestern University dean of libraries. “The question is, exactly what and how? Each library and each project is different, and there is little consistency in how our organizations are funding and staffing this work. What I hope will emerge is a structure for testing new models and sharing the results and the best practices; for promoting further collaboration and training; perhaps even eventually a way to achieve efficiencies in the logistical side of things, but that is really not the immediate goal.”
“I think the biggest challenge facing not only library-based publishing operations but anyone in publishing is the rise of what we at CDRS like to call ‘DIY publishing,’” says Kennison. “The same easy-to-use technologies, widespread technological expertise, and the plethora of emerging publishing platforms that have lowered the barrier to entry for library-based publishing operations have also meant that increasingly anyone can publish on their own—and they do. This reality can, will, and should inflect the services we offer now and the ones we will offer in the future, but that requires a flexibility of approach that has not traditionally been a value in either library or publishing operations. So the biggest challenge I see is in our being proactive, not merely responsive, in our nimbleness to provide the scholarly communication services our faculty and students want and need, not just today but next year and three years from now.”
University of North Texas dean of libraries Martin Halbert—and current president of the Educopia Institute Board—explains that “what motivated UNT to join the initiative is the need for practical advances in scholarly communication, specifically the interrelationship between libraries and academic publishing. At UNT the university press reports to me, and I work on a regular basis with our press director to explore new innovations in scholarly publishing. The LPC is a way to share innovative new ideas for synergies between libraries and publishing operations, and I strongly felt that this would help us going forward.”
“There are some aspects of publishing that benefit from scale, and libraries naturally look to cooperate with the same partners we have long had for other kinds of resource sharing,” Pritchard concludes. “But an institution might want to do local support for their own faculty; the one does not preclude the other. The whole goal of the LPC is to explore the multiplicity of models.” Whether LPC proves to foster a revolution or represent another key milestone in the long journey of scholarly publishing—such as JSTOR and Project MUSE have been—clearly this is a development worth the time and energy being given for the exploration.