July 18, 2017

Ten Questions with the Library Publishing Coalition

Julie Speer

Julie Speer

More than 50 academic libraries, in collaboration with the Educopia Institute, founded the Library Publishing Coalition (LPC) this January. The project initially emerged from conversations between Purdue University, the University of North Texas, and Virginia Tech.

The coalition has a large potential audience: According to the IMLS-funded Library Publishing Services: Strategies for Success project, over 55 percent of academic libraries are implementing or developing publishing services.

Among the LPC’s goals are targeted research, a directory of existing library publishing services, a forum for networking and training, and the design of the LPC’s own structure and sustainability plan. Other LPC goals include advocating within the university and funding communities, fostering connections between libraries and other nonprofit publishers, collecting best practices, and collaborating with at least one LIS school to explore the creation of an advanced certificate in library publishing.

LJ caught up with the co-authors of the LPC’s founding documents—Julie G. Speer, Associate Dean for

Charles Watkinson

Charles Watkinson

Research and Informatics, University Libraries Virginia Tech, and Charles Watkinson, Director and Head of Purdue Libraries‘ Scholarly Publishing Services and the Purdue University Press—to find out how the LPC is progressing on its ambitious agenda.

Library Journal: What is driving so many libraries to become publishers?

Charles Watkinson:  With the growth in digital scholarship, libraries are seeing a demand on their campuses for publishing services that often don’t quite fit with what existing publishers offer. As well as still working with societies, commercial publishers, and university presses to produce peer-reviewed books and journals, scholars are interested in producing less formal publications such as conference proceedings, undergraduate journals, technical reports, and experimental projects that mix text with audiovisual content and other data. As libraries reinvent themselves as providers of services as well as stewards of collection, they often find that they are the information professionals on campus best placed to serve these emerging needs.

Julie Speer: Driving libraries is a desire to help faculty and students create, curate, and disseminate new knowledge. Libraries provide access to collections, yes, but we also support the full lifecycle of digital research and scholarship. Developing repository services, advancing scholarly communications, and supporting open publishing practices are motivating factors for some libraries. Some explore publishing services as a means of embedding library expertise and services at the point of need and in early stages of the research lifecycle.

LJ: What led you to create the LPC, and why do you feel it is best organized as an independent organization rather than a branch of ACRL or some other umbrella library group?

CW: Julie and I are only a couple of cogs in a wheel that includes the representatives of 54 libraries. While Virginia Tech, Purdue, and the University of North Texas played an initiating role, our institutions are now just three among many.  Also, what we are currently engaged in is explicitly visualized as a two year project to create a library publishing coalition, rather than a fully formed organization.

During 2010 and 2011, Julie and I were members of a team from Georgia Tech, Purdue University, and University of Utah libraries that received a grant from IMLS to assess the state of library publishing and make some recommendations about how the movement could be advanced. The project, Library Publishing Services: Strategies for Success, consisted of a major consultation process involving a survey of academic libraries of all sizes, a series of case studies, and three regionally-dispersed workshops that included over 120 library publishing practitioners and library leaders.

It became very apparent during the project that there was a need for a mechanism for further collaboration, but the challenge was to find a host willing to focus on the practical needs of library publishers without making library publishing ancillary to other activities, such as Open Access advocacy. Also, since much of the innovation within library publishing happens at smaller institutions, it was very important not to exclude a library on the basis of size.

JS: One of the outcomes of the LPS study was a recognized need for continued community-building efforts around library publishing services. Many libraries provide publishing services on their own, without collaborators or a forum for exchanging ideas and best practices. It was important to form an organization that could represent and support the diverse needs and interests of the library publishing community. We’re excited to work with Educopia during the two-year project period and as the community begins to shape the Library Publishing Coalition.

LJ: Could you give some examples of the range of library production and publishing practices the LPC represents?

CW: Like university presses, library publishers range in size from very large programs, like those at Columbia, Michigan, Pittsburgh, or California Digital Library, to very small programs driven by a single innovator, such as Illinois Wesleyan, Pacific University, or University of Massachusetts at Amherst. They share a tendency toward Open Access approaches and an interest in applying the traditional skills and technical infrastructure available in libraries to the challenges of publishing. So, for example, there is a strong focus on enriched and standardized metadata, the leveraging of digital repository systems, and integration with other library services, especially those concerned with research data management and special collections. In some situations there is a strong partnership with a university press, as at Syracuse, Indiana, Penn State, Michigan, and Purdue. In others, the library is “going it alone.”

JS: For some libraries, publishing practices are about supporting the creation of scholarly products through editorial support in the form of layout editing, copyediting, metadata, and/or copyright assistance. Some libraries host publishing platforms locally, such as PKP’s Open Journal Systems software, and provide basic software hosting and technical support. In some cases, final versions of articles and proceedings are archived in institutional repositories—one way libraries can support the full lifecycle of scholarship from creation through to preservation and access. Some libraries leverage hosted publishing solutions, such as bepress’ Digital Commons platform. Libraries are also involved in new and experimental forms of publishing, partnering to design and develop scholarly digital resources. Some libraries develop partnerships with their university presses. This is really just skimming the surface of the publishing practices that participating libraries engage in.

LJ: What progress has the LPC made towards its deliverables? Are there any numbers yet on costs, staffing, and financing? Has the forum been established?

CW: The LPC project only started in January, and remember that it is a project currently, not the organization itself. The first forum is being planned for spring 2014, a directory of library publishers is being compiled, and a couple of research projects are just getting started. However, some of the main tasks involve the fundamentals of agreeing on priorities, setting up a governance structure, and hiring staff. An excellent program manager, Sarah Lippincott, is now in place, which is making things move along much faster than in most new enterprises.

JS: The project committees already meet regularly and have made very good progress towards meeting deliverables. We’re currently focused as a group on the overall design of the Library Publishing Coalition and we have a few different related projects underway.

LJ: It’s pretty clear that large research institutions have the people, funds, and mandate to do this; what role does the LPC see, if any, for smaller colleges that are more focused on teaching in the library publishing landscape?

CW: One of the findings of the Library Publishing Services: Strategies for Success project was that small colleges play a major role in this field, perhaps because librarians are often closer to the faculty and have a clearer understanding of their needs. Also, there often hasn’t been a university press or other publishing partner on campus, so librarians have a major gap to fill. The barrier to becoming a library publisher is financially quite low, although the learning curve is steep, since being a good publisher requires acquisition of wide range of knowledge and skills. Open source software such as the Public Knowledge Project’s OJS is fairly easy to install, while hosted options like BePress’s Digital Commons system provide many of the tools needed off-the-shelf.

One particularly interesting area of publishing that smaller colleges are excelling in is publishing student work, an activity that aligns well with the growth of undergraduate research opportunities on campuses and a demand for more experiential learning. Another, more conventional area, lies in mining the archives and special collections to produce books and catalogs. Some relatively small colleges are being even more ambitious, such as Amherst College, where a full-scale Open Access digital monograph press is being constructed.

JS: Small colleges play an important role in the field. Drivers for offering publishing services are often the same—to support the evolving research and scholarly needs of students and faculty—but the human, technology, and service model infrastructures they’re based on may be quite different.

LJ: How new is this trend? Are there previous studies to compare the 2012 data to?

CW: There were a couple of important studies about five years ago by Karla Hahn for ARL and Raym Crow for SPARC. They primarily focused more narrowly on research libraries, and found a lot of planning under way but few well-developed programs. What’s changed now is that the programs have started to produce product and are finding enthusiastic support on campuses from faculty, staff, and students. They are also looking at the usage data coming out of repositories that have been repurposed as publishing platforms and tend to be startled by the high number of downloads and the broad international spread of use. At Purdue, for example, we are seeing usage of Purdue e-Pubs, our institutional repository platform, increasing at the rate of 1 million new downloads every six months, and 70 percent of the usage is of original, not previously-published content. Publishing also aligns much better than it did with other library scholarly communication services, such as managing research data.

LJ: The Strategies for Success project found that 90 percent of library presses are seeking to promote change. What change are they seeking?

CW:  Many library publishing programs were founded 5 to 10 years ago with a lot of rhetoric about transforming the scholarly communication environment through Open Access strategies. But most library publishers now recognize that this kind of transformation needs to happen at a broader, cross-institutional level, and cannot be achieved at a single institution. What they have found, however, as they have been working on publishing, is that there is substantial demand for a different sort of digital publishing service on campus; one that is complementary to rather than competitive with more traditional publishers. So enabling the next generation of digital scholarship is now, I think, the most motivating rationale for library publishers.

JS: We do support open access, of course, and we seek to raise awareness of author rights, and to promote new and experimental approaches to the creation, communication, and dissemination of digital scholarship. We recognize the growing need for innovative publishing strategies for emerging forms of scholarly communication. At Virginia Tech, for example, we offer an open access publishing fund and publish open access journals and open conference proceedings. We also partner on digital humanities projects, assisting individual faculty members on coding and hosting projects whenever possible. As with any library service, you should be aware of evolving user needs and respond to them in a way that is economically viable for all involved and aligns with your organizational mission and local research environments.

LJ: What sort of external partners are library presses collaborating with? How many are pure library efforts, with no collaborations?

CW: Out of the 2,500 or so four year colleges in the US there are only 100 university presses, so the majority of libraries don’t have the opportunity to partner with a university press. Even those that do sometimes have trouble creating a partnership, because many university presses serve a system, whereas libraries tend to be based on a particular campus. Where library/university press partnerships are possible, the results have the potential to be very exciting, as long as there is mutual respect between these two groups of information professionals and some of the issues around different business models can be overcome. It is difficult to quantify numbers, but slightly fewer than half of the library publishers who responded to the Library Publishing Services survey had a university press available to partner with. Of those that do partner, most are on the same campus (as at Purdue, Michigan, Penn State, Utah State, Wayne State, and Syracuse) but there are a few who partner on disciplinary projects across campuses, such as Duke University Press and Cornell Libraries over Project Euclid. A large university press that has recently moved into a strong partnership with the library is Indiana University Press. There is a lot of excitement within the scholarly publishing community to see what will come of that.

As both the Director of a University Press and a Head of Scholarly Publishing Services at a library, I am particularly aware of the synergies that can exist between libraries and university presses who share the same campus. I understand that some university press directors view the Library Publishing Coalition project with some wariness, but I think their concern is misplaced, because the type of informal publishing most libraries are interested is complementary, not competitive, to the university press model.

Incidentally, a major opportunity I see going forward is the potential for libraries, perhaps through their publishing arms, to collaborate with scholarly societies over the management of research data in particular disciplines. Relatively few examples exist of partnerships between libraries and scholarly society publishers, but there are some great opportunities in this area.

JS: Identifying collaborators and opportunities for collaboration in library publishing can be challenging propositions. We hope the Library Publishing Coalition enables the development of a robust network of mission-similar publishers, and results in deeper collaborations among library publishers, and between library publishers and external partners.

LJ: Has the prospect of collaborating with LIS school(s) to create an advanced certificate in library publishing panned out, and if so, can you tell me which schools yet?

CW: It’s still too early to announce anything, but there are obvious candidates for partnership among LIS and iSchools. One exciting opportunity that developing certification in collaboration with LPC offers is that there would be a multitude of opportunities for internships all over North America, so there could be a great combination of theory and practice.

JS: During this project period, we hope to make significant progress towards building a strong foundation for partnerships between the Library Publishing Coalition and LIS schools.

LJ: Have the contributions of members covered the LPCs estimated expenses, or does the coalition anticipate having to seek grants or other funds (and if so, from where)?

CW: For the two year project period, the contributions have covered estimated expenses of building the organization, but this is a field with so much potential that there will undoubtedly be additional projects needing support, and it is hoped that funders will also see the opportunities for advancing digital scholarship that library publishers offer.

JS: Yes, contributions from members combined with seed funding from Educopia have helped to cover the costs of the two-year project period.


Meredith Schwartz About Meredith Schwartz

Meredith Schwartz (mschwartz@mediasourceinc.com) is Executive Editor of Library Journal.

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