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Starting or Growing a Publishing Program
Considerations and Recommendations
This section offers a quick-start guide to library publishing, including recommendations for gaining traction for your initiative, selecting appropriate technologies, developing thoughtful policies and procedures, and developing organizational and business models that position you for success. The underlying theme of this section is the need for each library publisher to clearly and thoroughly define its mission and objectives. As Karla Hahn noted in 2008, “Library-based publishing programs are pragmatic responses to evident needs, not services in search of clients” (p. 24). Thoughtful evaluation of campus needs is a critical first step in building a successful service that is tailored to the institutional context. A publishing program optimized for publishing undergraduate journals may look very different from one designed primarily to publish scholarly monographs. It is clear from the variety of emerging models and the seemingly infinite permutations of services, business models, staffing, and policies, that a one-size-fits-all approach will not work for library publishing. Library publishing is, by definition, experimental. It is also deeply sensitive to the needs of its stakeholders, which vary significantly depending on the institutional context. The following recommendations are therefore intended to provide general guidance on the considerations any would-be library publisher should bear in mind and are not meant as a road map for implementation. Each section below incorporates advice and perspective from practicing library publishers and concludes with a brief list of further readings and resources relevant to each topic.
Defining Your Niche
Publishing is never an end unto itself. Authors create their work with the expectation that it will be read. Publishers acquire and disseminate content with the expectation that it will find an interested audience, and they make every effort to ensure that it does. For libraries aspiring to launch publishing programs, defining internal and external audiences is therefore an essential first step. Internal audiences include the faculty and students who produce publishable scholarly and creative works. External audiences are the groups of readers, no matter how small, who would find these works of interest. Why would an author publish with your library? Why and how will a reader connect with your publication?
In order to attract high-quality publications and build a robust market for their services, library publishers must define their unique value proposition. Commercial and mission-driven scholarly publishers, such as university presses and scholarly societies, offer prestige, visibility, and professional support for their authors. Authors have confidence that these publishers will give their work a broad reach, a high impact, and a polished look. The most sophisticated library publishers can offer these benefits, but many libraries have more modest service offerings and limited reach. However, library publishers can also offer unique advantages. They generally boast the least restrictive licenses, embrace experimental publications, and offer unparalleled flexibility and a service orientation. Green, English and digital humanities librarian at the UIUC, considers flexibility their greatest asset. According to Green, “Our authors see a lot more behind the scenes and have more input throughout the process. Because our publishing program is nascent, our authors have a real chance to shape our workflows and how we work with them. We are truly author-driven” (personal communication, January 30, 2017).
Institutional subsidies contribute to libraries’ flexibility and tolerance for experimentation. Holly Mercer, associate dean of research and scholarly communication at the University of Tennessee, explains, “We’re not trying to make money or even break even, so we can consider supporting authors and publications that might not find the right supporters or right venue otherwise. If it’s something that’s good scholarship with a niche audience, a small number of readers that will benefit, that’s good enough” (personal communication, January 30, 2017). Whether or not they follow the same selection criteria as other scholarly publishers, library publishers should be able to justify investing resources in a publication. Fundamentally, libraries should be able to identify a potential audience, even an extremely small one, for each publication they take on. Identifying potential audiences helps libraries avoid the appearance of so-called vanity publishing and forms the basis of marketing efforts. Identifying audiences and impact goals in advance also helps library publishers measure which publications have been successful, informing their future projects. Isaac Gilman, university librarian and library director at Pacific University, encourages librarians to establish a solid rationale for a publishing program and each publication in their portfolio. He explains that librarians should ask themselves whether they are “developing a publishing service that meets an external need; that you’re not publishing into the void for the sake of offering a service” (personal communication, January 30, 2017).
Though lightweight workflows are one of the hallmarks of library publishing, libraries should thoughtfully consider which aspects of traditional publishing they adopt and which they discard. What may at first appear lightweight can easily become haphazard. David Seaman of the Syracuse University Libraries cautions that libraries easily neglect the fundamental processes that make publishing successful. He explains, “Left to our own devices, what libraries do tends not to look like publishing. We tend not to do marketing or design. Library publications are often substandard in their design and [have] no sense of active promotion. We should take a moment to understand what are the skills that make up publishing, beyond the mechanics of dissemination” (personal communication, February 17, 2017).
The library’s publishing niche will also be heavily informed by “what is already available or what is missing in their institutional environment, such as a university press or another department with overlapping interests” (Ivins & Luther, 2011, p. 13). Conversations with potential partners and complementary service providers can provide valuable contextual information and help form connections that can be deepened over time.
Recommended Reading and Resources
- Royster (2014) describes the process of building a coherent publishing portfolio at the UNL Libraries. His case study provides a thoughtful examination of how a library publisher can infuse its program with library values and play to the campus’s strengths.
- Richard Carlin (2016), executive editor at Oxford University Press, gives a useful overview of the process of building a list in an article for Against the Grain.
- Vinopal’s (2012) article on project portfolio management offers an excellent framework for thinking programmatically about publishing rather than focusing solely on individual publications.
Library publishing initiatives often emerge organically as a result of unmet needs. The level and flavor of these needs will vary by institution, making needs assessment a crucial first step in establishing a publishing program. Gilman urges librarians to “make sure there’s someone other than you in your community who wants this to happen. There’s something to be said for being a visionary and being out in front, but I think it would be hard to build a publishing service if there wasn’t some recognition from within your community that it was valuable or necessary” (Gilman, personal communication, January 30, 2017). Thoughtful environmental scanning, needs assessment, and advocacy can supplement anecdotal observations and individual requests for support and help establish a solid footing for growing a full-fledged publishing initiative. This section provides brief guidance on the first steps to launching a library publishing program that is informed by and responds to constituent needs.
Undertake a campus publishing audit. Libraries may be surprised to find that journal publishing is already under way on their campus, whether it’s the passion projects of individual faculty members or student organizations or the products of research institutes, centers, and departments. An inventory of the publications that could benefit from a centralized, professional publishing partner can be a convincing tool when advocating for resources. It also helps you identify those partners on campus who might be most eager to work with your library. Productive approaches to identifying faculty publications include perusing faculty and departmental web pages, conducting a web survey, and working directly with liaison librarians, who often have intimate knowledge of their faculty’s research.
If the results of this audit reveal little publishing activity or a lack of obvious interest, Green, the UIUC librarian, advises taking a slower route, such as “supporting basic instruction and training related to publishing, providing hosting through Omeka, Scalar, and other basic platforms, rather than becoming a full-fledged publisher” (personal communication, January 31, 2017). UIUC elected to take this slower route, gradually establishing the library as a resource. Over time, they saw interest in publishing with the library blossom, and “now people are coming out of the woodwork.” This process can also establish the library as a trusted resource for author and editor advising services, from helping scholars negotiate author agreements to referring aspiring journal editors to external publishing services. Green observes, “Even if you’re not publishing on your campus, sometimes what students and faculty need is guidance. Build up the knowledge and capacity to advise on scholarly communication and OA issues or offer referral services to other library publishers who are willing to work with external authors” (personal communication, January 31, 2017).
Talk to faculty (and students) about their publishing needs and pain points. A robust needs assessment may also include a survey of or interviews with faculty and students to better understand their needs. These conversations help establish a rationale for the university to support publishing and may help library publishers identify the specific particular services, tools, or platforms they should support. Citing specific, documented needs from faculty and students can be a powerful advocacy tool. Decision makers who may be reluctant to invest in a new, experimental service may be swayed by evidence of its potential impact. David Seaman, dean of libraries at Syracuse University, observes, “You tend to get better results when you have a clear, thoughtful statement of what success looks like. If you’re looking to sway your administration, faculty and student voices count for a lot. If you can demonstrate that their scholarship would be greatly enhanced if you could publish their data sets, that can be a convincing argument” (personal communication, February 17, 2017).
Run a pilot. Developing a publishing program cannot occur in a vacuum. It is difficult to anticipate every necessary resource, develop comprehensive policies, and gain experience without concrete projects to put your ideas to the test. Pilot projects “provide the groundwork to define a publishing service strategy . . . answering the questions of how the library can publish original materials and later on assessing next steps” (Furlough, 2011, p. 14). In many cases, pilot projects come in the form of faculty or student requests for support. David Seaman of the Syracuse University Libraries recommends this learning-by-doing approach for libraries building a publishing program. He advises selecting pilot projects that “get you thinking about what publishing means in a practical way and move you beyond the logistics of making something digital and sticking it on the web.” When expectations are clearly defined, these endeavors represent a learning opportunity for the library and the author or editor and may result in a publication that makes all parties proud. Ideal pilot projects, according to Seaman, have a manageable scope and level of commitment. They are also inexpensive. Seaman notes, “If you can do the project on your own dime, it’s not held hostage by needing a grant or three new positions to achieve success” (personal communication, February 17, 2017).
Scale up. Libraries typically adopt a staged approach to building their program rather than launching a full-fledged publishing initiative all at once. The Pacific University Libraries, for example, began experimenting with one-off projects six years ago and “added publications organically as opportunities arose” (Gilman, personal communication, January 30, 2017). During this start-up phase, the library did not request direct financial support, only the staff time needed to run these ad hoc ventures. Gilman notes that this approach gave the library an “opportunity to prove ourselves and the value of what we were doing” (personal communication, January 30, 2017). Once they could demonstrate the value of the initiative, the library had a strong case for additional support to build on its success. At the end of this process, Pacific University found its administration receptive. Administrators, Gilman says, saw the opportunity to “extend the brand and impact of the institution in core areas” through a publishing program and were interested in supporting the common good through OA publishing. They also saw the potential value of providing students and faculty with opportunities to participate in scholarly communication.
In order to scale up, library publishers need to build both capacity and demand. Increasing capacity may require new staffing lines or reallocated staff time or additional funding to hire vendors and freelancers to do work that cannot be completed in house. Building demand for services does not mean manufacturing a need; rather, it means conducting campus outreach, cultivating an image as a trustworthy and reputable partner, and demonstrating the impact of your work. Finally, scaling up involves taking a hard look at the direct and indirect costs of publishing and assessing the value of your publishing program as it relates to the institutional mission, the library’s strategic goals, and the success of faculty and students. Costs and business models are discussed in more detail in a subsequent section.
Recommended Reading and Resources
- LaRose and Kahn (2016) describe the process of conducting a “comprehensive survey of publishing activity” at the University of Michigan.
- Furlough (2011) provides a narrative account of four library publishing programs’ start-up phases, which may provide a useful template for other libraries.
- Welzenbach and Colman (2015) describe the process of scaling up at Michigan Publishing Services by implementing fee-based publishing services.
- Werner (2015) describes a so-called incubator model for journal publishing that allowed the University of Utrecht library to scale up its OA publishing operation.
Platforms and Technology
The most widely implemented library publishing platforms include bepress’s Digital Commons and the Public Knowledge Project’s (PKP) family of software, including Open Journal Systems (OJS), Open Conference Systems (OCS), and Open Monograph Publishing (OMP). Libraries also employ a range of other purpose-built, customized, and homegrown applications. Modern publishing platforms typically facilitate a variety of publishing processes, including manuscript submission, peer review, editing, XML markup, format conversion, and content hosting, either through built-in functionality or through integration with third-party applications or plug-ins.
The choice of publishing platform may be informed by the infrastructure already in place—for example, if your library already maintains an institutional repository platform that can accommodate publishing workflows. Libraries face a fundamental choice between open source systems that must be installed and maintained on library servers and proprietary software maintained and administered by a third-party service provider. Open source platforms offer excellent flexibility, extensibility, and interoperability and are friendly to a wide variety of media (Corbett, Ghaphery, Work, & Byrd, 2016). However, they also require significant technical expertise to install, customize, and maintain. Hosted solutions offer rapid implementation and robust technical support and training supplied by the vendor. On the other hand, they entail significant ongoing costs and offer limited options for customization. Several of the most popular publishing platforms are briefly profiled below. Each platform has its own advantages and shortcomings. Selecting a publishing platform ultimately rests on your library’s philosophy, technical infrastructure and staffing, and desired functionality.
Bepress Digital Commons. Originally designed as an institutional repository platform, Digital Commons has gained increasing popularity as a journal publishing platform. It is the most popular publishing platform among libraries (LPC Directory Committee, 2016). As a hosted platform, Digital Commons offers limited flexibility and options for customization. It is optimized for PDF and other file hosting and would not be a robust choice for library publishers who wish to focus on multimedia publications or new media. Despite these drawbacks, Digital Commons is fully hosted, well supported, and frequently updated based on user community feedback.
Open Journal Systems (OJS). The second most popular publishing platform among libraries (LPC Directory Committee, 2016), OJS provides a straightforward, open source solution for e-journal publishing. It supports editorial and production workflows and can be customized with a journal’s branding and other display preferences. The basic publication homepages are fairly simple but can be easily customized with the journal’s branding. For an example of a basic journal setup, see the McGill Journal of Education (http://mje.mcgill.ca/). More sophisticated customization is possible, as evidenced by PLAID (http://theplaidjournal.com/), a project of the Florida State University College of Medicine and the Charlotte Edwards Maguire Medical Library. OJS is optimized for PDF and HTML content but does support integration of images and media.
DSpace. Many libraries employ DSpace, developed by Cornell University, as an institutional repository solution. Like all open source software, DSpace requires significant up-front investment in installation as well as ongoing maintenance by library staff. While it provides robust content organization and hosting, it lacks support for workflows such as manuscript submission and review and format conversion and therefore may not be ideal for libraries that intend to undertake journal and monograph publishing.
WordPress. Ambitious library publishers with considerable technical expertise or a budget for development may consider customizing WordPress as a publishing platform. The library-published journal Southern Spaces (https://southernspaces.org/) transitioned in 2016 from Drupal to WordPress and remains an exemplary demonstration of the potential of a content management system to publish dynamic, multimedia content. WordPress can also facilitate monograph publishing via the PressBooks plug-in, which creates publication-ready print-on-demand and e-book files.
Drupal. Like WordPress, Drupal is a content management system. It is open source and highly flexible and offers extremely powerful tools for dynamic display of content. It is supported by an active developer community and an array of well-documented modules that can work together to create a robust publishing platform. E-Journal, a module designed specifically for journal publishing, is no longer supported but demonstrates the aptitude of Drupal as a journal publishing platform. McHale (2011) cites Drupal’s flexibility, its powerful content management functionality, and the array of customizable modules as its primary advantages. However, the steep learning curve and the technical expertise required for the initial installation and configuration may deter many libraries from adopting this system.
Full-service solutions. A variety of new start-ups are offering publishing platforms and services designed specifically for OA and university-based publishing. Ubiquity Press was founded as an OA publisher in 2012. In addition to publishing its own content, it also offers its publishing platform to its network of partner presses. The University of Cologne’s Modern Academic Publishing (MAP) service, for example, utilizes the platform for their open monograph series (http://www.humanities-map.net/). Ubiquity Press’s platform offers a more modern in-browser reading experience than many of its competitors and supports a full range of editorial and production workflows. The full-service journal publishing start-up Scholastica has found a growing niche with academic law reviews like the Arizona State Law Journal (http://arizonastatelawjournal.org/). Reasonable author fees fund the service, which offers an excellent manuscript submission and peer-review interface as well as a journal hosting service. Scholastica is a compelling option for libraries that choose not to host journals themselves.
Next-generation digital publishing. In addition to the many robust solutions for journal and monograph publishing, a fleet of emerging open source platforms explores the connections between publishing and digital humanities, following in the tradition of pioneering digital storytelling platform Scalar (http://scalar.usc.edu/). Notable examples include Vega, a forthcoming multimedia publishing platform being developed by Cheryl Ball and colleagues at West Virginia University (http://vegapublish.com/); Manifold, a new digital monograph publishing platform from the University of Minnesota Press (http://manifold.umn.edu/); and Fulcrum, a platform under development at the University of Michigan that will allow flexible digital publishing and robust integration of digital objects (https://www.fulcrum.org/).
Recommended Reading and Resources
- Though some of the technical specifics may be out of date, the Columbia Guide to Digital Publishing (Kasdorf, 2003) provides a comprehensive and detailed primer on digital publishing technology, addressing topics such as XML markup, metadata, document structure, and more.
- Publishing start-up Scholastica has produced a helpful guide to the mechanics of digital journal publishing, including topics such as developing a journal’s web presence, format considerations (PDF, HTML, or both), and tips for enhancing search engine discovery of the journal’s content (https://scholasticahq.com/definitive-guide-to-journal-publishing).
Organization, Staffing, and Partnerships
Library publishing programs frequently take advantage of existing technological and human resources. Many begin as low-investment experiments that use the library’s institutional repository—which often already hosts faculty preprints, ETDs, and other content—to host more formal publications such as e-journals and monographs. As early as 2007, Paul Royster at UNL noted the disproportionate popularity of the original content archived in the library’s institutional repository. “This suggests,” Royster (2007) concluded, “a role for the IRs [institutional repositories] beyond that of archival storage and accessibility enhancement: in fact, they are well suited to become online publishers giving voice to a wide range of authors normally excluded, put off, or ill-served by the vagaries, idiosyncrasies, delays, obligations, and hoops-jumping of the conventional publication routes” (p. 2).
The range of units and departments in which publishing takes place (including Scholarly Communications, Digital Initiatives, and Library Technology) indicates the experimental and highly context-dependent nature of publishing in libraries. Other libraries have a dedicated Digital Publishing, Digital Scholarship, or Publishing and Data Services unit (LPC Directory Committee, 2016). In some cases, the library establishes an imprint or a full-fledged press to carry out its publishing ambitions. The United Kingdom, Germany, and Australia in particular have witnessed the revitalization of university presses as an integral part of the university library. This phenomenon is less common, though not unheard of, in the United States. Other presses that have been newly founded by libraries include the Amherst College Press and the Lever Press initiative. Other libraries have established imprints, such as Zea E-Books at UNL, or more commonly, an existing press has been reorganized as part of the library, as in the case of Purdue University Libraries and Press. As of 2016, nearly 30 percent of university presses in the United States reported to a library (Watkinson, 2016). In some cases, this manifests as a purely administrative relationship; in others, active collaboration and cooperation have been fostered (Lippincott, 2016; Watkinson, 2016).
Staffing for library publishing programs is lean and often relies on reallocated staff time rather than new, dedicated positions. Libraries report an average of around two full-time equivalents in professional staffing (LPC Directory Committee, 2016). Many libraries supplement their staffing with paraprofessional staff and with graduate and undergraduate student assistants and may outsource some work to freelancers or vendors. Library publishers may find it challenging to find vendors who will take on clients with such small portfolios, but a growing number of services are recognizing libraries as potential customers for publication management systems, conversion services, and copyediting, among other tools and services.
Though library publishing staffing is often lean, a large, formal initiative will require more than a skeleton crew. Roh observes, “Libraries want to hire one person to do all these roles that in the publishing world require a team of people. The result is that work gets distributed back to authors and editors. Managing that is something I had to learn” (personal communication, February 1, 2017). Libraries that wish to produce professional-looking publications and build high-impact portfolios of content may need additional positions related to graphic design and typesetting, marketing and outreach, acquisition and editing, and coding and web design. Creating professional-looking content—publications that are well designed, copy-edited, and readable—is essential, says David Seaman of Syracuse University Libraries. He notes, “Production values are important in any industry; a badly put together page reflects on the content” (personal communication, February 17, 2017). Skinner, Lippincott, Speer, and Walters (2014) recommend cultivating and hiring for soft skills such as relationship management, openness to experimentation, and a keen grasp of scholarship, as many of the more technical skills such as layout and copyediting can be increasingly outsourced or automated. They also advise that publishers will increasingly rely on staff with strong technology skills as dynamic, multimedia publications gain in popularity.
Creating professional-looking content...is essential.
To compensate for skills, time, and expertise their staff may lack, library publishers take advantage of their relationships with a range of campus partners. At UIUC, Green works regularly with the copyright unit, the institutional repository, metadata librarians, instruction librarians, the research data services unit, and the campus’s digital scholarship center (personal communication, January 31, 2017). A partnership with the university press can be particularly valuable for libraries with the luxury of having one on their campus. Seaman observes, “Librarians often have the technical skills and equipment to publish, but we generally lack staff with any direct experience in academic publishing. We lack the industry sense of what it means to publish from the insider’s perspective” (personal communication, February 17, 2017). University press and library collaborations have garnered increasing attention recently, especially as a growing number of presses now report to their library. Seaman advises taking full advantage of their expertise and perspective. He explains, “Having a relationship with the press doesn’t mean you have to emulate them entirely. We may not be looking to sell content, but we’re certainly looking for it to be discovered, reviewed, impactful, and reflect well on the institution, which is also what [the] press wants” (personal communication, February 17, 2017).
Recommended Reading and Resources
- The Library Publishing Coalition (LPC) maintains a job board (https://librarypublishing.org/resources/jobs) where library publishers can post openings or glean ideas about the types of positions they might need and the skills and qualifications they require.
- The LPC also maintains an inventory of professional development, training, and certification opportunities for library publishers at http://librarypublishing.org/resources/professionaldevelopment.
- Furlough (2011) provides a thoughtful analysis of the skills library publishers must cultivate in a variety of areas, including strategy development, content production and management, and distribution and marketing. Librarians may find particularly enlightening Furlough’s discussion of how nascent publishing programs can reallocate staffing to support start-up efforts.
- Skinner, Lippincott, Speer, and Walters (2014) forecast the skills and training that will be required of the next generation of publishing professionals.
- Watkinson (2016) and Roh (2014) provide compelling state-of-the-field reports and explorations of the advantages of library and university press collaboration.
Policies and Procedures
Though it may be impossible to plan for every eventuality, savvy library publishers understand that developing thoughtful, university-counsel-vetted policies, contracts, and documentation saves time and prevents headaches. Publishing programs require high-level policies that address both what kinds of authors the library will work with and the services they will provide, as well as publication-specific contracts or memoranda of understanding that specifically elaborate the rights and responsibilities of the publisher and author or editor of each publication.
Selecting and Acquiring Content
Traditionally, scholarly publishers acquire work based on its compatibility with their disciplinary strengths, its scholarly merit, the prestige of the author, and its potential market, among other considerations. Library publishers may be guided by markedly different criteria. David Seaman, dean of libraries and university librarian at Syracuse University Libraries, explains, “Librarians have a strong service ethic. When we’re approached, our inclination isn’t to say no. If there’s a need, we are willing partners” (personal communication, February 17, 2017). This tendency makes it all the more important for libraries to establish thoughtful parameters for projects that they take on in order to avoid overcommitting and overpromising. Clear policies ensure that the library makes strategic, fair, and transparent decisions about its investments of time and resources. Determining selection or eligibility criteria is therefore a paramount concern for new and growing library publishers.
The fundamental questions concern the type of author and the type of content your library will work with. Will your library publish any author or only those affiliated with your campus? Will you work with graduate and undergraduate students? Will you have a specific editorial focus or publish work on any topic? Policies on these issues vary widely depending on an individual library’s capacity and mission.
Many libraries will work only with faculty and students who have an affiliation with their campus. This approach may seem anathema, particularly to those in university press publishing, who assiduously avoid publishing their own faculty’s work. However, it aligns with libraries’ mandate to serve their campus community and steward its research outputs. A publishing program designed in this way can become an effective marketing tool for the university, showcasing the variety of intellectual work of faculty and students. Other library publishers have explicitly embraced working with faculty members from any university. The University of Pittsburgh, for example, will consider publishing any faculty-run journal, regardless of institutional affiliation, as long as the editors are amenable to OA publication (Perry, Borchert, Deliyannides, Kosavic, & Kennison, 2011, p. 200). Many libraries also choose to work with graduate students and even undergraduates (usually supervised by a faculty advisor) to produce student research journals or other publications. Whether you choose to publish only faculty affiliated with your campus or all comers, or anything in between, clearly determining and advertising who is eligible to publish with you can help your program grow sustainably and coherently.
Library publishers must also consider their editorial focus. Commercial publishers and university presses typically build lists or portfolios of publications in a certain discipline. A strong list establishes a publisher’s reputation in a given area, generating prestige and attracting new authors and readers. Because of their unique business model, many libraries choose not to specialize, accepting any scholarly or creative content that meets their eligibility criteria. Others choose to focus on specific disciplines (e.g., existing research strengths of their institution) or on topics of local or regional interest. Libraries report specializing in disciplines as diverse as geology, disability studies, and education (LPC Directory Committee, 2016). Xia (2009) proposes disrupting the discipline-based publishing model altogether, suggesting that North American libraries should consider publishing discipline-agnostic megajournals of faculty work, a model common among Chinese universities.
In addition to institutional affiliation and subject matter, library publishers may consider establishing a range of additional overarching parameters that apply to all publications in their portfolio. Such criteria might include only publishing content that uses Creative Commons licenses, expecting journals to publish a minimum number of articles per calendar year, or requiring that all publications undergo peer review. Some library publishers have an editorial board that oversees the program and approves works for publications, but this may not always be possible for small or growing publishers. For the purposes of ensuring academic rigor, some libraries require authors or editors to identify their method of quality control up front (whether peer review or otherwise) and include letters of endorsement from other faculty at the institution. These steps help address potential concerns about publishing unsuitable content.
Defining a Service Model
Library publishers provide a range of services related to editing, production, marketing and discovery, assessment, and preservation of scholarly and creative works. Core services often build on libraries’ traditional strengths in access, discovery, and preservation, but libraries are also providing support for the editorial, production, and business management processes. In addition to maintaining a publishing platform, libraries often manage the peer-review workflow, provide or arrange copyediting for manuscripts, and prepare contracts and licenses. Production services include activities such as graphic design and typesetting, compiling indexes, and facilitating print-on-demand services (either in-house or through a third-party vendor). Libraries support marketing and discovery by providing cataloging and metadata services, notifying relevant abstracting and indexing services and aggregators, assigning DOIs or other permanent identifiers, registering ISSNs and ISBNs, and monitoring analytics. Given their experience as educators, librarians also frequently provide training and guidance to authors and editors on everything from using the publishing platform to crafting a copyright policy. Finally, libraries offer a range of support for multimedia and other supplemental content. For example, they may offer dataset management, audio/video streaming, or digitization services.
Many libraries offer tiered or à la carte services. Kennison (2011) describes the tiered service model at Columbia University Libraries’ Center for Digital Research and Scholarship, which ranges from “free bare-bones service . . . offering only installation of the software and ongoing hosting” to a premium service that offers “comprehensive set up, configuration, training, and design support, including logo design . . . multiple layout options, and incorporation of complex graphical elements, such as inclusion of an embedded video player” (pp. 202–203).
From the first interaction with authors and editors, library publishers should make clear the extent and nature of the services they provide. Authors and editors may be accustomed to an entirely different relationship with their publisher and may come in with unrealistic or incorrect expectations. Roh finds that authors often come in wanting “beautiful, copy-edited, print publications, even though that’s not what they value as readers. I’ve had to learn how to tell them that’s not what we do, but in a way that’s not discouraging” (personal communication, February 1, 2017). Xia (2009) notes that surveys and anecdotal evidence support the notion that, in general, “scholars have a positive attitude toward cooperating with librarians and are willing to take the responsibility of organizing an editorial process for the quality control of publications” (p. 372). Green of UIUC argues that even mainstream scholarly publishers have always relied on considerable faculty participation (e.g., as volunteer reviewers) and have increasingly shifted responsibilities for rights clearance and even copyediting to their authors and editors (personal communication, January 30, 2017).
Formalizing Roles and Responsibilities
After roles and responsibilities have been negotiated, they are ideally elaborated and formalized in a memorandum of understanding (MOU) or a hosting agreement. The MOU should clearly define the specific roles and responsibilities of the publisher and author or editor(s) and may also include details about the publication and its policies. At the Claremont Colleges Library, for example, the library explicitly takes responsibility for the functional aspects of publishing, committing to “maintain the publishing platform; assist with initial journal/article design; establish basic editorial standards; assist with policy development; register ISSN and DOIs; assist with article publication; assist with indexing applications/contracts; deliver content to indexers/databases; and preservation” (Swift, n.d., p. 6). Authors and editors are broadly responsible for content and are charged with “oversight of content development (working with authors and making publication decisions); management of peer review process; [an] awareness/enforcement of relevant legal and ethical policies (for authors, reviewers, editors); ensuring sustained publication on a regular schedule; communicat[ing] with editorial board on a regular basis; [and] maintain[ing] collaboration and communication with publisher” (Swift, n.d., p. 7).
Libraries, as the stewards of the publication, should also consider addressing questions of sustainability, continuity, and preservation. For how long (and under what conditions) will you commit to actively supporting a publication? For how long will you commit to simply hosting the content? What happens if the journal editor leaves your campus or when a new editor is appointed? The extensive list of questions to consider may seem daunting, but Seaman encourages libraries to fully appreciate the intensive nature of journal publishing. He finds widespread “naivete early on about [the] burden of journal publishing with its complex series of deadlines with various authors” as opposed to monograph publishing, which tends to deal with one author and is done once the book is published (personal communication, February 17, 2017).
Developing Publication-Specific Policies
In consultation with the library, each author or editor must also consider a laundry list of questions that vary based on the type of publication. For journals, editors face a litany of decisions, from determining who will own copyright on published articles to selecting a preferred citation style (Ho, 2013). Eve (2012) recommends, at a minimum, that editors must establish the “journal name(!), scope and remit; OA policy (I’d recommend Creative Commons Attribution) and copyright stance (let your authors keep their copyright); publishing mode (issues or rolling? Do issues always make sense in an online environment, or should you just publish as submissions arrive?); initial CFP [call for papers]; [and] timing (don’t time it so that all your first submissions arrive in the Christmas break, when nobody can review them, for example).”
Each publication requires an author agreement that may consist largely of boilerplate text but also may require tailoring to the policies and practices of each publication. Schlosser (2014) recommends developing a flexible, modular author agreement that ensures some standardization between publications but can be easily modified to suit the needs of individual authors or editors. A standard agreement she helped develop at Ohio State University is designed to be modular, “with sections that can be added or removed to support various licensing arrangements (like Creative Commons) and submission procedures,” and supports modifications on a case-by-case basis. For example, the agreement was modified at the request of a student journal to require acceptance by both the student author and the student’s advisor. Another modification added a provision “for an author who wanted to exempt the images in her submission from the Creative Commons license that was applied to the text” (Schlosser, 2014).
Working through pages of decisions and arcane policy questions with authors and editors can be one of the most time-consuming aspects of publishing, according to Allegra Swift of the Claremont Colleges Library. She explains, “Many faculty editors are new to the publishing process. They have published articles in journals, but have never been on the other side. Spending time working with editors on their policies, and making sure policies and other information is up-to-date on the journal’s website takes a lot of time” (personal communication, February 20, 2017).
Recommended Reading and Resources
- The University of Michigan (http://wiki.publishing.umich.edu/Publishing_Agreements) and the Ohio State University (https://library.osu.edu/blogs/digitalscholarship/2014/10/03/standard-author-agreement-for-journal-publishing/) have publicly posted author agreements that may serve as useful models. Legal documents such as author agreements should always be vetted by university counsel to ensure compliance with and suitability to your institution’s individual policies.
- Emory University has also spearheaded the Mellon-funded initiative to develop a modular publishing agreement tailored to the specific challenges of publishing digital scholarship. The model agreements are available at https://www.modelpublishingcontract.org/.
- The University of Texas at Austin (https://uta-ir.tdl.org/uta-ir/handle/10106/25649) and the University of South Florida (http://scholarcommons.usf.edu/tlar/10/) have publicly posted journal hosting agreements/MOUs. Legal documents such as MOUs should be vetted by university counsel to ensure compliance with and suitability to your institution’s individual policies.
- Ho (2013) offers an excellent checklist of issues for library publishers and journal editors. The questions in his checklist serve as a practical starting point for developing service agreements and memoranda of understanding between libraries and their partners.
- The PKP School has developed a platform-agnostic, modular curriculum to train new journal editors: http://pkpschool.sfu.ca/becoming-an-editor/.
Discovery and Marketing
Okerson and Holzman (2015) observe, “Today, anybody with a website can publish in the sense of organizing and presenting (meticulously or casually) a body of information and ideas. It is harder to find the metaphorical shop window where readers will discover it” (p. 19). University press and commercial scholarly publishers have a significant advantage in this regard. Their well-established brands, reputations, and networks get the attention of potential buyers and readers. They spend considerable time and resources promoting their publications through the appropriate channels and connecting them with the right readers. The questions for libraries, according to Green of UIUC are, “How do we give our authors the same impact? How do we make library publishing viable not simply because it’s lightweight and flexible, but because it is a way to get your work out there powerfully?” (personal communication, January 30, 2017). Simply storing content, whether print or digital, is no longer enough. Libraries have increasingly embraced a mandate to promote access, discovery, use, and creation. Library publishing should be no exception.
Library publishers frequently report difficulty getting their own libraries to produce catalog records for their publications.
Most library publishers lack the staffing and resources to undertake many traditional marketing activities, such as advertising, having a booth at disciplinary conferences, or even running e-mail marketing campaigns. They may have insufficient time and expertise to ensure that their publications are listed in the proper subject indexes and promoted to the appropriate disciplinary organization. Even getting listed in the most obvious discovery channels can prove elusive. Library publishers frequently report difficulty getting their own libraries to produce catalog records for their publications. The Directory of Open Access Journals (DOAJ), ostensibly a natural fit, routinely rejects library-published journals based on extensive and intensive journal quality requirements that set a bar that many library publishers cannot reach. Beyond the technical and resource issues, libraries may struggle to establish a marketable identity. A single library publishing program may publish indiscriminately in a range of disciplines and often disseminates a range of publication types, from gray literature to peer-reviewed journals. Given this lack of editorial focus, Rapple (2015) asks, “Is it possible to create a focused brand identity when one core expression of brand, your products, may be so diverse as to defy easy unification, however consistent your visual expression, cultural characteristics, etc.?” Library publishers rarely benefit from the same economies of scale or well-curated lists that allow commercial publishers to expertly target their audiences.
Library publishers frequently undertake informal (e.g., hosting gray literature and undergraduate journals) and formal (e.g., peer-reviewed faculty journals and monographs) publishing efforts side by side. Differentiating the products of each distinct activity presents an additional challenge. At Pacific University, where a self-publishing imprint that publishes content without peer review coexists with a formal university press with traditional editorial processes, Isaac Gilman finds it challenging but critical to make sure potential authors and readers don’t conflate the two (personal communication, January 30, 2017). The press’s mission is, in part, to raise the profile and prestige of the institution, while the self-publishing services respond to the faculty’s need to disseminate nontraditional and informal publications. With two distinct identities, these services risk undermining one another without careful communication and positioning.
Marketing remains underresearched and underutilized among library publishers. However, a few approaches and examples are worth highlighting here. Okerson and Holzman (2015) recommend that libraries “learn how to construct metadata so as to enhance a work’s chances of appearing prominently on a search in its subject” (p. 20). They suggest that productive partnerships could be forged with metadata and cataloging librarians to study best practices. Okerson and Holzman (2015) further recommend that libraries leverage social media to broadly promote their work in addition to honing in on the often extremely specific audiences who might be interested in niche publishing. They also contend that the flipped business model of OA publishing, in which the library publisher “elicits sustaining commitments” from institutional funders rather than “recruiting subscribers” to pay for content, demands an increasing focus on internal marketing and advocacy. Word-of-mouth and in-person networking remain popular, even in a digital world. Library publishers may consider joining a journal editor at a disciplinary conference to present or simply network. Working with liaison librarians, who may have intimate knowledge of the appropriate professional associations, publications, e-mail lists, and other promotional venues, can also be a productive strategy that leverages the library’s existing expertise.
Recommended Reading and Resources
- As part of its journal editor training curriculum, the PKP School details a variety of strategies for promoting OA journals through a range of channels, from word of mouth to social media. See http://pkpschool.sfu.ca/becoming-an-editor/module-9/unit-4-developing-promotional-strategies/.
- Taylor & Francis regularly blogs about marketing strategies for journal editors. Despite the differences in scale and strategy, much of the advice can translate to the library publishing context. See http://editorresources.taylorandfrancisgroup.com/tag/marketing/.
Business Models and Sustainability
Determining appropriate funding models for scholarly publishing remains a significant topic of debate within and beyond the library publishing community. The OA movement has empowered the academy to devise new, and some argue more efficient, funding models that ensure the continued viability of academic publishing in an evolving marketplace.
Who Should Pay?
Isaac Gilman of Pacific University Libraries explains, “One of the biggest questions for library publishing is sustainability, and part of that is deciding who should pay and convincing them to do so” (personal communication, January 30, 2017). The central question comes down to who should bear the cost burden for publishing. Should the university cover all the costs through subsidies? Should individual authors contribute through article processing charges? Should broader consortia or coalitions of libraries band together to fund publishing at scale? Should private foundations or technology start-ups play a role? Are there still instances when readers or subscribers should pay? There are examples of business models that engage each of the above funding strategies and others. Among the majority of library publishers in North America, institutional subsidies provide the vast majority of funding. Nearly half of library publishers rely exclusively on the library’s operating budget for their funding, while the majority draw at least some of their funding from this source (LPC Directory Committee, 2016). Seven percent draw at least some funding from the library’s materials budget, redirecting resources from purchasing content to producing it (LPC Directory Committee, 2016). By contrast, only 17 of the more than 100 institutions inventoried in the Library Publishing Directory 2017 generate revenue from sales or licensing, while 7 institutions charge users for their services (LPC Directory Committee, 2016).
Unlike most other scholarly publishers, the majority of libraries are not expected to generate any revenue, let alone break even or make a profit. This financial independence allows library publishers to pursue OA publishing without relying on an author fee model. It also allows libraries to take on projects that other publishers would consider cost prohibitive or unprofitable. Consider, for example, The Ethics of Suicide Digital Archive (https://ethicsofsuicide.lib.utah.edu/about/), a project of the University of Utah and Oxford University Press (OUP), which comprises a redacted 750-page print volume published by OUP and a web version of the full manuscript hosted by the University of Utah (Anderson, 2015). The entire 1,200-page volume would have been prohibitively expensive to produce and distribute in print but was an excellent candidate for digital publication. Running on an entirely subsidized model entails convincing university decision makers of the inherent value of the enterprise. Charlotte Roh of the University of San Francisco explains, “There’s a big leap in perception from cost recovery to a service model. We don’t have any plan to ever generate revenue. What that means is you have to commit money upfront and you’re not going to get it back” (personal communication, February 1, 2017).
Institutional subsidies allow many library publishers to adopt fully OA publication models, a practice that also aligns with library values. As previously noted, creating a more open and equitable scholarly communication system is a strong motivator and an underlying principle for many library publishers. However, library publishers also cite more practical reasons for going OA. Gilman explains, “As soon as you start selling things, there’s a whole other slate of legal and financial issues you have to consider” (personal communication, January 30, 2017). From assessing APCs or subscription fees to protecting content from piracy, generating revenue entails myriad considerations that may be more trouble than they are worth, especially at the small scale of most library publishing programs.
There are, however, many examples of library publishers (or their journals) successfully covering costs by selling subscriptions. Busher and Kamotsky (2016) recount the example of the Journal of Outdoor Recreation, Education, and Leadership, which found a home in the institutional repository at Western Kentucky University after the journal’s editors balked at the high publishing fees commercial scholarly publishers had quoted. The journal covers its costs by selling subscriptions and, as of 2016, has published six volumes. Early publishing efforts at Columbia University also experimented with revenue generation. “Columbia Earthscape: an Online Resource on the Global Environment” employed a subscription model predicated on offering the resource at the “lowest possible price that will allow for sustainability” (Wittenberg, 2001, p. 30).
Libraries that choose to pursue cost recovery often opt for hybrid models. For example, a library may make a publication openly available online but charge for a print or print-on-demand version. Alternatively, a library might make a basic version of a publication free but restrict supplemental or premium content to paying customers. Some library publishers charge modest fees for their services to individual authors or to an author or editor’s center or department. Tiered service models, which allow authors and editors to select the specific level of support they require, show particular promise. The University of North Texas (UNT) Libraries’ Eagle Editions, for example, offers a variable fee structure for all its publications (Hawkins, 2015). A small flat fee covers basic online publication (light proofreading, hosting in UNT’s repository, DOI assignment, and cataloging). Additional paid services such as custom cover design and rights management can be added at the author’s or editor’s discretion.
Libraries are also exploring a range of other funding models that cover the costs of publication up front rather than passing the burden along to consumers, such as fundraising through alumni networks or friends of the library groups. David Seaman of Syracuse University Libraries explains, “When you put your mind to it, there are considerable fundraising opportunities for libraries to explore through their alumni networks” (personal communication, February 20, 2017). Seaman observes that university presses have successfully recruited individual donors to sponsor content, underwriting the cost of publication because they are interested in scholarly dissemination in general or convinced of the importance of the publication. The key, Seaman argues, is selling content rather than infrastructure. Donors can more easily see the value of sponsoring a publication and can assess the impact of their contribution by looking at download counts, citation rates, and reviews. Investment in infrastructure, such as funding the development of an institutional repository, is less glamorous and harder to value.
What Does It Cost?
Library publishing programs rarely launch with a full-fledged budget or a fleet of new staff. Rather, they often begin by reallocating staff time and repurposing existing infrastructure and scale up slowly over time. This approach not only allows time to develop proficiency in the variety of publishing workflows; it can be a useful way of gauging costs and capacity before making a significant investment. Royster (2014) commends this approach, advising libraries to control costs at the outset, as “nothing attracts supervision as fast as funding” (p. 105). According to Royster (2014), it is advantageous to “start small and build up; it is much easier to grow than to scale down” (p. 105).
Whether or not libraries intend to recoup their investments, estimating the basic cost of running a publishing program may be useful in planning for sustainability. Given that many library publishing programs are embedded within and blended with other library operations, determining the exact costs of supporting a publishing program may prove difficult. Publishing programs often rely largely on existing library staff and infrastructure, which may not exclusively support publishing initiatives. However, headway has been made in recent years to estimate the direct and indirect costs of producing certain types of publications. Walters and Hilton (2015, p. 49) identified an average cost of $27,000 to publish a monograph at two presses: Indiana University Press and Michigan Publishing Services. This cost includes acquisitions, editorial work, and intensive marketing, some of the most time-consuming and expensive processes that scholarly publishers engage in. Most library publishers eschew these activities and therefore assume only direct production costs in addition to their overhead, meaning total costs may be significantly lower. An Ithaka S+R study of a larger cohort of university presses similarly identified a minimum cost of around $16,000 to publish a monograph (Maron, Mulhern, Rossman, & Schmelzinger, 2016). Luminos OA, the open access imprint of the University of California Press estimates a baseline cost of $15,000 (Lockett & Speicher, 2016). Open Book Publishers, a born-digital OA publisher based in the United Kingdom, estimates that it costs around $8,000 to produce the first copy of a book—in other words, the costs associated with acquiring, editing, and producing the monograph, but not printing or distributing it (Gatti & Mierowsky, 2016).
Publishing journals, conference proceedings, and gray literature is generally significantly less expensive. At its most basic, this type of publication requires little more than a repository and a workflow for ingesting content. Much of the labor costs in OA journal publishing (e.g., editing, peer review, submission management, and marketing) are shouldered by the editors of the publication, not by the publisher. OA journal publishers have become increasingly transparent about their costs, largely in the interest of justifying article processing charges, providing a helpful baseline for library publishers. Van Noorden (2013, p. 427) reported that the large OA publisher Hindawi cites a cost of $290 per article, while the researcher-led Ubiquity Press estimates its average per-article cost at $300. Martin Eve (2017) of the Open Library of the Humanities (OLH) estimated their cost per article at £101.50 (US$126.56) and the total fixed costs of operating the OLH at £182,079.60 (US$227,036.87).
Recommended Reading and Resources
- In 2016, a team at Ithaka S+R, led by Nancy Maron (Maron, Mulhern, Rossman, & Schmelzinger, 2016), published the results of a study that aimed to estimate direct and in-kind costs of publishing monographs. The results of their study serve as a useful guide.
- Martin Paul Eve’s (2017) breakdown of the costs of running the Open Library of the Humanities, which resembles in many ways a library publishing program, provides an excellent budgeting primer for future journal publishers.
- Gatti and Mierowsky’s (2016) report on the operating cost of Open Book Publishers (OBP) may be particularly useful for estimating monograph publishing costs. Much like many library publishers, OBP was born digital, is open access, and emphasizes lightweight workflows.