Publarians and Lublishers: Role Bending in the New Scholarly Communications Ecosystem

by | Nov 8, 2013 | 0 comments

Publarians and Lublishers Panel

(L-R) Nancy Maron, Ithaka S+R (moderator); Charles Watkinson, Purdue University; Sylvia Miller, Duke University; Anne Kenney, Cornell University

Libraries and publishers are moving into each other’s territory with enthusiasm, and may well merge in the future.  In a question and answer format, this panel examined some of the relevant trends and issues.

In what ways have you seen your institutions move into publishing activities or (for publishers) library activities?

Anne:  Libraries have a much broader engagement with the scholarly cycle of publishing, and are shifting from being the receiver of scholarly materials.  The Cornell library got involved in publishing through its institutional repository and has published single issue journals for departments.  They are interested in alternative models produced by others.

Charles:  A huge amount of publishing was not happening because of constraints under which university presses operated.  Presses publish materials which must be peer reviewed, formal, and written by faculty members.  They want to be able to experiment with formats beyond the book and journal.  In 2009, the Purdue press was moved into the library, and its director was put in charge of the institutional repository.  This expands the types of services that can be offered.

Sylvia:  At UNC, the press has an online collection with a commenting feature, multimedia books with archives, and has digitized 4,000 oral histories.  The press saw the library as more technologically advanced and hoped that a joint venture would bring it into the digital age.  The library was interested in producing digital collections.  At Duke, I am coordinating projects involving scholarly communication.  How will teams share work and what kinds of outcomes will result?

In practice, what have been the benefits and challenges of the scenario you are engaged in?

Charles: Benefits include

  1. Economic support of the libraries allows experimentation.  Presses are generally not regarded as innovative.
  2. Digital capacity.  Ability to be able to collaborate the digital environment.
  3. Closer connection to the campus.  Libraries have moved to a prime location at the center of the campus.


  1. Staying business-like.  Presses keep losing money and continue to apologize for it.  It is important to look at the market and lose as little as possible.
  2. Maintaining ground.  We are playing in a delicate balancing act.
  3. Drinking from the fire hose.  There are many subjects and all knowledge is available in a variety of formats.  Where do we start?
  4. Not getting respect that publishers deserve for the information and marketing skills they have.

Sylvia:  What publishers and editors do is often not understood or is under-appreciated.  Benefits:  Learning new skills and developing new processes.  The library had to translate marketing metadata into Dublin Core, and the press learned XML. The library learned the process that book proposals go through and appreciated requests to digitize and connections to make their materials more discoverable.  Challenges:  An experimental shared press-library position was created, but the library never figured out what to do with it.  (It wound up being a permanent press position.)  Lots of money was spent on programming new tools.  The business model remains a challenge for the press.  There is lots of red tape when you are collaborating. (Scientists frequently collaborate, but humanists have never operated this way.)

Anne:  We are bound together by a common mission of retaining more of the scholarship.  It is getting harder for a small community to find outlets for a full length treatise.  The library and School of Arts & Science provided venture capital.  The cost of production of each monograph is coming down.   11 monographs have been produced so far; 8 of which are by non-tenured faculty.  Collaboration allows leveraging of strengths for finances and administrative support.  Challenge:  It is easier to collaborate if you are not competing for the same administrative resources.  Economic viability is key.

What can these stakeholders learn from each other?

Sylvia:  I am glad I have publishing skills and wish I had library skills.  It would be useful to understand both.  Metadata needs to become library metadata and be categorized in Dublin Core format.  I would like to see scholars look at their work in a more integrated way.  It is not an either-or proposition but an integrated one.  We need to design publishing more broadly and work in a more integrated way to allow us to devise new models.

Anne:  See the Ithaka Report on university publishing in a digital age, which lists strengths and weaknesses of libraries and presses.  Weaknesses include a lack of commercial and financial discipline.  Libraries do not understand the publishing process.  Much of the publishing industry is going into a digital production process.  Skills of libraries include metadata and digital capabilities.  We need a broader understanding of factors impacting scholarly process.

Charles:  We can learn a lot from each other.  We are basically in a synergy situation and are coming into alignment, but we still have different traditions and skills.  Presses can learn:  1. Lightweight workflows.  They have staff committed to the old ways and are hard people to argue with.  2.  Educational integrity.  3.  Openness to experimentation.  We could learn humility and be honest about what we do not know and be willing to take risks.  Working in a library gives a new excitement about possibilities.  Libraries can learn:  1. How to work with authors. They don’t know how to say no.  Presses are good at author management.  2. Libraries must understand disciplinary differences and logistics of the market.  3. How to make money.  It is OK to bring in revenue.

As librarians start to engage in publishing, they start to think like publishers.  We do not need copyright transfer agreements any more because the author retains the rights to the work.  We should all get together and push the boundaries of fair use.


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