/ Nothing New Under the Sun: Library Publishing and the Concordia University Press

This is the article length version of the author’s presentation given at IFLA 2016. View the video recording of the author’s presentation. The presentation begins at 1:13:31.

The author of Ecclesiastes tells us that there is nothing new under the sun.[1] In their excellent 2015 report The Once and Future Publishing Library, Ann Okerson and Alex Holzman remind readers that library publishing has a venerable history. Indeed, many of the oldest North American university presses like those at Johns Hopkins, North Carolina, and Toronto were set up by librarians or based in the university library system.[2] Since 2013 we have been working on a project at Concordia University in Montreal to establish a university press that will be based in our library and that will publish peer-reviewed monographs in the humanities, social sciences, and fine arts. Digital editions will be available open access under a creative commons licence, while print books will be simultaneously published where and when appropriate and available for purchase by individual readers and libraries. Authors will be published irrespective of their institutional affiliation. This paper is a brief description of our project that includes an overview of our processes and planning, lessons learned, and next steps in the short and long terms. If the theme of this morning’s session of the Libraries as Publishers IFLA 2016 Satellite Meeting is “Understanding the Vision,” then this is a presentation on how and why the vision materialized in our part of the world.

Planning the Concordia University Press

We had several interrelated and interconnected reasons for creating a press at Concordia. First, we want to promote open knowledge. Universities share knowledge with their communities in a number of ways, but for many of us the monograph is at the heart of what we do as scholars. Books shape disciplines and fields, influence teaching, support graduate work, and have the potential to inform local, national, or international communities. Meanwhile, book buying and reading patterns have changed and we are challenged to meet new reader expectations and behaviours for accessing scholarly content. Authors are increasing keen to experiment with formats and technologies. For its part the open access monograph is no longer an unknown quantity and the benefits of an open rather than a closed ecosystem have been articulated in many forums. At Concordia we are conscious that access to a library in many parts of the world is a luxury and that a significant amount of information is behind paywalls. The impact of the open monograph in the developing world or in information poor societies could be significant.

Second, the 2014 Association of American Universities-Association of Research Libraries Prospectus for an Institutionally Funded First-Book Subvention described an undersupply of monographs in the United States.[3] There is evidence that the same is true in Canada. Apart from the creation of Athabasca University Press in 2007 and the 2013 transformation of the Canadian Plains Research Center Press into the University of Regina Press, the number of university presses in Canada has not changed since 1981. Meanwhile, during the same period the size and number of doctoral and post-doctoral programs in Canada has increased significantly. If we do not publish titles of importance to Canadian scholars and readers, who will?

Third, we want to be part of the evolution of the scholarly book. Projects and initiatives underway at California, Michigan, Amherst, Lever, Minnesota, Stanford, and elsewhere are moving the monograph in exciting directions. New models and funding formulas are emerging. We believe in the book and want to be involved in the conversations and in the experimentation.

Finally, the creation of a press attests to Concordia’s history an institution that has made education and scholarship accessible to a wide range of students and researchers. We are a young university, created in 1974 by the merger of Sir George Williams University (est. 1926) originally a YMCA school for non-traditional students, and Loyola College (est. 1896), which offered a rigorous Jesuit education to young men and women. The creation of a press is part of this legacy and future.

The Concordia University Press emerged as a point in the university’s 2012-2016 Academic Plan, a document designed to help the university realize its vision of becoming a top-ranked Canadian comprehensive school. One point of several dozen was “Develop a proposal for creating innovative knowledge dissemination platforms, like an electronic press at Concordia.”[4] Many such documents are strangled in their cribs or gather dust on administers’ shelves, but this one point generated a significant amount of enthusiasm, in large part because one of our Associate University Librarians, now our University Librarian, had recently joined us after spending a number of years in academic journal publishing. In 2013 a small group of librarians, each of us with experience in scholarly publishing, was assembled to undertake a feasibility study to help us figure out if this was possible and to ask ourselves what problems we felt we could help solve. We also had to ask ourselves what kind of staffing a press would require, what kind of institutional support was needed, and what kinds of information technology and financial considerations came into play. (Answer: complex ones.)

Our feasibility study was approved by the library administration and by the Provost and Vice-President for Research and Graduate Studies and we were tasked with writing a business case. Again, could we do this? We knew what problems we wanted to help solve, or rather we had articulated them, but how were we going to do it? Books do not simply conjure themselves. Our business case was also for administrators and funders who had to be convinced, through data as well as through persuasion and pretty words, that this was a good idea for the university. Finally, we had to come up with some money and two foundational seed grants were received from a foundation and an alumnus donor and his wife. In early 2016 our business case was approved by the President and his cabinet and what had been a slightly covert operation became a real thing and in the winter and spring we took the Press to various committees and bodies culminating in May with Senate and the Board of Governors.

From the beginning, Concordia University Press was envisioned as library-based, although it will be incorporated as not-for-profit, arms’ length entity affiliated with the university. This library relationship makes sense for many of the reasons that James Hilton described in his opening remarks at the Michigan Union. In our case it also makes sense because many of the resources we need or the partnerships we have built are already in the library. Our institutional repository is based in the library and supported by our information technology team. Our administrative and financial services staff can lend support. My salary is paid by the university and general and administrative costs like telephones, server space, heat, postage, and more, are also being paid by the university. Resource can be shifted and strategically deployed more easily in the library than it can in almost any other unit on campus. I suspect this is true at many other university libraries, especially where the University Librarian, Provost, and Vice-President for Research and Graduate Studies are of the same mind.

The late Sophie Tucker, Last of the Red Hot Mamas, has been quoted as saying “I’ve been rich and I’ve been poor. Believe me, rich is better.” “Open” does not mean “free,” nor can any university press be assured of a guaranteed revenue stream from print book sales. Our five-year budget model includes a line from the university and the library system, as well as the start-up funds we received from our three donors. It also includes modest subventions that we will ask an author to help us find from her or his institution or from a grant, as well as government funding, and donations through university fundraising. The availability of a subvention will not influence the editorial decision to publish a title, but it will impact how a book is designed, illustrated, and if it will appear in print and at what price. Our budget can be scaled up or down as funding materializes or does not.

We imagine publishing four books in Year 1, five in Year 2, seven in Year 3, nine in Year 4, and ten in Year 5 and we estimate that we can produce a book for around $22,000 CAD. This is certainly not publishing on a grand scale; indeed, Concordia be the smallest university press in Canada for the foreseeable future, but it is what we can afford and what makes sense in a local context.

I briefly mentioned government funding. Scholarly book publishing in Canada is supported by the federal government through two programs, the Awards to Scholarly Publishing Program or ASPP, a competitive title-by-title program, and the Canada Book Fund, which is managed by the Department of Canadian Heritage. In 2014 the ASPP promulgated a new policy stating that it would support OA monographs, although there are no financial supports besides pre-existing grant monies. Our press will be eligible for government funding in Year 4 after we have published the requisite number of titles.

At the same time the Press was going through the approvals process we had to undertake a significant amount of intellectual heavy lifting, including convening an editorial board of Concordia faculty from History, Art History, Anthropology, and English Literature. This group will be responsible for the imprint of the Press, but it has also helped establish editorial review policies, including peer review policies and workflows. Our areas of subject specialization will gradually emerge, but our board has decided that in its first few years the Press wants to see manuscripts that engage with the study of Life, Knowledge, and Creation. My job for what remains of summer 2016 is to populate this broad landscape with fields and disciplines that have been discussed by the board so that authors can see themselves and their works. For example, Life, as defined by the board, includes disability studies, migration and diaspora studies, gender and sexuality studies, and studies of sense, emotion, and affect. One might say that this is a tall order in terms of focus, but why not try to market ourselves in a way that sets us apart from our colleagues?

The decision to get into the print monograph business did not come about immediately. Our first concept was that we would be a totally digital press, much like Lever Press and the press being created at the University of Cincinnati. Conservations with librarians, authors, and other publishers began to sway us towards print. There is still no optimum viewing platform for digital books. Indeed, some of the ones we have are pretty disappointing. Many readers value and buy print. Accordingly, our budget model can accommodate a print equivalent when appropriate. Some projects may not be ideal for print or a print edition may be ruled out because of cost. Print sales may also be used to subsidize free digital books, although that assumes a suspiciously healthy profit margin and we are under no illusions that print will pay for itself.

Given our size and scale, we are working with another university press in Canada on outsourcing production and distribution for print books. This means that we can turn over a completed manuscript that has gone through peer review, editorial board review, and copyediting and get it into another firm’s production schedule and warehouse. Meanwhile, the distribution system for OA monographs is murky and one one has yet figured out how to best get books in the hands—or on the screens—of readers, especially those who access books via their libraries. Many projects are trying to solve that problem, although we should be mindful that so much research now begins and ends on Google. For a number of years we have been talking with Project Muse about partnering with it on its MUSE Open platform, which recently received an implementation grant from the Mellon Foundation.[5] In the meantime, we plan, like our colleagues at the presses at Calgary and Athabasca or like Luminos, to make books available on our web site as well as through our institutional repository, ensuring that MARC records are available for libraries. Titles will be assigned DOIs and we’re keen to see if we can include Altmetric data in our reporting for authors and administrators as well as readers.

Lessons Learned

What are some of the lessons we have learned along the way?

Ask for help. People are keen to give advice, review draft budgets, share documentation, and remind you to talk to obvious individuals you have totally forgotten about, like the person who manages the university’s insurance policies. The communities around the Association of American University Presses (the AAUP) and the Association of Canadian University Presses (ACUP) have been immensely supportive. Our editorial board has become a group of champions and advisors.

Listen and learn. Recognize what you do well but also when you need to look to others. Librarians are great at advocacy and information acquisition and curation. This does not mean we are also all natural publishers, however, and we need to recognize the history of academic publishing and the skillset of individuals in the publishing sector, both profit and non-profit. Librarians know how to reach academic audiences, but we also have to make sure we speak the same language as our authors, many of whom have tenure and promotion concerns that are often underappreciated by librarians who sometimes see the world through OA-or-bust blinders.

Pay attention to marketing, which you likely do not have the capacity or skills to undertake in-house.

Engage your community including faculty but also students. We are working on a graduate student internship program, which ties in with the university’s desire to better support this constituency. My hope is that we can use the internship to attract underrepresented constituencies to academic publishing, including members of our First Nations communities.

Next Steps

At this moment we are in the process of registering with the federal government as a non-profit entity. We have had a web site and all important Twitter account (@ConcordiaPress) since May, we have a marketing plan, and we formally launch on October 27. Between now and then we have to finalize an agreement with our partner press for production and distribution of print books and continue discussions with potential authors as well as with Project MUSE. In early 2017 we will have an editorial and production coordinator in place. Finally, we anticipate having titles available for readers at a point in early 2018.

Within the past decade, university presses have faced a number of challenges and some, like Northern Illinois and Wilfrid Laurier, have been threatened with closure. When telling people that I am helping to create a new university press, I am often met with blank stares or incredulity. More often than not my conversation partner will generously remind me that most information is available online or will simply ask “why?” Would that it were so simple. Challenges can, however, also afford opportunities and we are excited to begin our work.


    1. Ecc. 1:9.return to text

    2. Ann Okerson and Alex Holzman, The Once and Future Publishing Library, https://www.clir.org/pubs/reports/pub166/pub166-pdf, accessed 12 December 2016. return to text

    3. Association of American Universities-Association of Research Libraries Prospectus for an Institutionally Funded First-Book Subvention, http://www.arl.org/storage/documents/publications/aau-arl-prospectus-for-institutionally-funded-first-book-subvention-june2014.pdf, accessed 14 December 2016. return to text

    4. Item 1.4.3, “Concordia University’s Academic Plan, 2012-2016,” https://www.concordia.ca/content/dam/concordia/docs/academic-plan.pdf, accessed 14 December 2016. return to text

    5. Johns Hopkins University Press, “The Mellon Foundation to Fund Muse OPEN, A New OA Platform,” https://www.press.jhu.edu/news/announcements/mellon-foundation-fund-muse-open-new-oa-platform, accessed 14 December 2016. return to text