ATG NewsChannel Original: University Presses & Libraries, Part 2: A Troubled Landscape?

by | Aug 28, 2015 | 0 comments

Nancy HertherBy Nancy K. Herther

(Part 2 of a 3 part series – read part 1 here. Part 3 will be posted next week so stay tuned)

Libraries and university presses both have deep and strong roots throughout academe. Libraries have perhaps had a clearer relationship due to their direct connections to both the teaching and research goals of their institutions. As Peter Givler notes on the AAUP website, “the relationship between universities and their presses has not always been easy. The capital requirements and financial ebbs and flows of the publishing business may seem unruly and unpredictable within the context of the more stable and settled financial structure of a university budget.” This statement, originally published in 2002, might well have been written a hundred years ago. Today, due to corporatization of academic administrations and long-term funding trends, support of academe itself has become rather unruly and unpredictable. With the rise of library publishing and repository activity, sometimes the relationship between these allies can become strained.

“Right now,” Sarah Pritchard, Northwestern University Librarian and dean of Northwestern University Press noted in a 2010 interview, “a lot of universities are articulating a set of linkages between their presses and host institutions. This is set within the rhetoric of defining a mission that is focused on disseminating scholarship, and then seeking to coordinate all the activities that take place across the university that engage in scholarly dissemination.”

“With both the library and the press,” Pritchard continued, “we are investing in the dissemination of scholarly information. We do it by creating information, we do it by publishing information, and we do it by having a library. The university is in the business of scholarly research and information, and the press is one of the mechanisms we use to fulfill that larger mission.”

Sarah Pritchard

Sarah Pritchard

Can’t We Just Be Friends?

However, not everyone appears to be onboard with this new vision of library/press relationships. Many of the university press directors contacted for this article series preferred not to be quoted. In a 2013 posting on the Scholarly Kitchen, Joe Esposito noted how “it’s quite fashionable nowadays to talk of collaboration between university presses and libraries. Indeed, an increasing number of presses now report into the library. Oddly, as far as I know the situation is never reversed—that is, no library reports into a press even when the press is as large or larger than the library (Oxford, Cambridge, and perhaps Chicago and Johns Hopkins). It’s taken for granted that publishers, at least academic ones, and libraries have a great deal in common and that putting them together organizationally will yield multiple benefits—cost savings, say, or new products and services or even an entirely new business model. The question I have is what exactly are such collaborations supposed to accomplish and whether cooperation between a library and a press is the best way to achieve that goal.”

“Every way you look at the relationship between a press and a library, you come away with little or nothing to support an organizational marriage,” Esposito asserts. “Presses are great things, libraries are great things, but they are not better things by virtue of having been put into the same organization. So much of what each entity does is of no use to the other. What, for example, is a library to make of a press’s internal management report that lists all trading accounts in terms of the days outstanding for receivables? Does a library even have to know what a receivable is? Libraries can advise presses on library markets, metadata development, and the latest developments in identifiers (e.g., ISTC)—but here we must quickly ask, Are libraries the best advisors for these tasks? Both libraries and presses are better off pursuing their own aims, cooperating when it is useful, working separately when it is not. Surely it is not out of line to ask: Why can’t we just be friends?” However it appears that libraries and presses—through their own choices or through administrative actions—are already moving forward in this direction without this type of broad-based discussion.

Issues & Opportunities Abound

Greg Britton

Greg Britton

“The AAUP membership—it is a membership of presses, not of people—is a remarkable diverse group composed of very large and very small presses,” explains Johns Hopkins U Press Director Greg Britton. “Some are truly trade publishers while others focus their efforts on deeply scholarly work. Some have great degrees of independence from their universities, while others hew closely to their institution’s strengths and mission. Some are tiny regional programs, while others are enormous and complicated organizations with international offices. I sometimes think there is really very little they have in common except for an abiding commitment to publishing excellent peer-reviewed scholarship. All of that is to say that university presses aren’t pursuing a common future as much as they are pursuing many futures. What sets them apart from their commercial or for-profit cousins, however, is a sense of cooperation they share in looking at those futures realistically.”

“The disconnect in conversations between libraries and publisher has its roots in the difference in their business models,” Britton continues. “Traditionally publishers produced work that could be monetized in the marketplace. Libraries, following a service model, build collections and offered a variety of other services funded by their own institutions, grants, and gifts. Publishers measured success by how much they could sell, where libraries measured success by how many they could serve. It’s no doubt that collaborations between the two need to start with a shared understanding of how we can best deliver impact for scholars while easing the flow of scholarly information.”

Library-Press Relationships Changing Over Time

The early years of the 21st century were pivotal for the relationships between academic libraries and presses. “Faced with declining library markets and other economic pressures, university presses have substantially decreased the extent to which they produce specialized scholarly monographs,” noted a report from the Scholarly Communication Committee of the Association of College and Research Libraries (“Principles and strategies for the reform of scholarly communication: Issues related to the formal system of scholarly communication,” College & Research Libraries News 64(8): 526-7, September 2003). According to Lynne Withey, then director of the University of California Press in 2003, “monograph sales to academic libraries had represented 80% of the university press market, but that number had dropped to under twenty percent. This change has dire implications for junior faculty’s ability to publish and, in so doing, build a scholarly record to support their bid for promotion and tenure. The critical nature of this transformation, not to mention ever–present economic pressures, drives much of the dialogue regarding scholarly communication.”

These changes to library collection priorities and practices—along with the growth of the Internet—added increasing pressure on university presses as independent used booksellers and giants like Amazon were able to chip away at existing and potential new markets. “This change,” noted Mary Alice Ball in a 2004 article, had “dire implications for junior faculty’s ability to publish and, in so doing, build a scholarly record to support their bid for promotion and tenure. The critical nature of this transformation, not to mention ever–present economic pressures, drives much of the dialogue regarding scholarly communication.”

Another sore point for library/university press relations was the 2008 Cambridge v. Patton case, which pitted Cambridge University Press, Oxford University Press, Association of American Publishers, and Sage Publications (with financial support from the Copyright Clearance Center) against Georgia State University Libraries, over that university’s practice of duplicating book material in order to make it available to certain students freely through the universities’ electronic reserve system. The judge ruled generally in favor of the university, causing much frustration by the plaintiffs, with Inside Higher Ed noting that “collective disdain for the judge’s reasoning in her decision eventually gave way to a general agreement among the attendees that, in order to make the outcome workable, university presses need to mend fences with another key player on their campuses—librarians.” Of course, the move to consolidate library/university press organizations in many universities had already begun to take place.

Project MUSEOn the plus side, Project MUSE was created in 1995 as a collaboration between academic presses and research libraries, and it is one of the earliest online distribution platforms for academic content. Today, subscribing libraries have access to more than 580 titles from more than 200 worldwide academic publishers. In January 2012, MUSE partnered with the University Press ebook Consortium to launch the University Press Content Consortium, which provides a similar distribution model for ebooks. By the end of 2013, 91 presses were participating with the service. “MUSE is the trusted provider of distinguished social sciences and humanities publications from more than 200 of the world’s leading university presses and scholarly societies. Since 1995 the MUSE journal collections have supported a wide array of research needs at academic, public, special, and school libraries. UPCC Books on Project MUSE, launched in January 2012, is a collaboration between Project MUSE and university presses designed to provide university press publishers with a robust channel for growing digital revenues, offer flexible access options to libraries, and drive usage and discoverability of ebook content.”

In 1995, following a pilot launched under the direction of the University of Michigan, JSTOR was established as an independent not-for-profit organization. JSTOR was conceived by William G. Bowen, then-President of The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, to help university and college libraries challenged to provide adequate space for an ever-growing amount of published scholarship.jstor_logo Bowen’s solution was to convert printed scholarly journals into electronic formats and store them in a centralized digital archive that could be easily shared, accessed, and relied upon by libraries and their users. Participating libraries and their institutions could reduce shelving “space, reduce capital and other costs associated with collection storage, and vastly improve access to scholarly papers and other content. There would also be other benefits: Material would never be lost or checked-out, small institutions could have access to large collections, and ultimately trust in digital preservation could help to bring about acceptance of electronic publication.” (quoted in JSTOR: A History by Roger C. Schonfeld, Chapter 1, Princeton University Press, 2003)

As explained on their website, “JSTOR was founded to be a shared digital archive serving the scholarly community. We understand the value of the scholarship and other material on the platform and that the future accessibility of this content is essential.” Beyond these clear examples, understanding digital scholarship has become a new shared priority with both libraries and presses.

A Shared Mission

In a 2013 article in Johns Hopkins Magazine, Brett McCabe noted that “one reason it’s so difficult to change the focus of the discussion around scholarly communication from economics to content is the sheer size and scope. Scholarly communication is academia’s constantly purring engine. It might not be the first thing that springs to mind when prospective students visit colleges, or when emerging scholars are considering graduate schools and adjunct teaching opportunities, but without a vast communications network, the whole enterprise lurches and grinds its gears. Academia, according to the Oxford English Dictionary, is “the environment or community concerned with the pursuit of research, education, and scholarship.” Those pursuits require scholars being able to communicate efficiently.”

“Publications created a system,” McCabe continued. “Researchers and scholars investigate and experiment and then publish their findings in academic journals, monographs, or books. Publishers, which may be university or private presses, then distribute that information to the interested parties, which are predominantly the libraries of research institutions. Libraries preserve and archive that information so that the scholars of today and tomorrow can access it and teach, discuss, build upon, re-evaluate, and dispute it. It’s a system rooted in information existing as an object (book, journal, monograph) that communicates information linearly and requires physical archival storage. By eliminating some of the costs of traditional journals and involving communities already invested in their subject matter, open access publishing appears to provide a possible way out of the financial burden of the traditional model. That’s why a good deal of open access advocacy has come from campuses, including from faculty, students, researchers, and librarians.”

Working to Find the Best Fit

James Polk book“The University of Tennessee Press administratively reports up through the University of Tennessee System, whereas the University Libraries is part of the UT Knoxville campus,” explains Holly Mercer, Associate Dean for Research & Scholarly Communication and Director, Newfound Press at the University of Tennessee Libraries. “However, that does not prevent UT Press and UT Libraries and Newfound Press from collaborating. A great example of this collaboration is our partnership in support of The Correspondence of James K. Polk. The volumes are edited by faculty at UT Knoxville and published by UT Press. Volumes 10-12 are available open access from Newfound Press, and the final volume, vol. 13, will be published by Newfound Press exclusively as a digital edition.”

“WUSTL is trying to provide alternatives—so far exclusively digital—to traditional publishing where it can make a difference,” explains Andrew Rouner, Digital Library Director at Washington University in St. Louis. “We don’t expect to duplicate the traditional publishing model, and especially we do not expect to deliver print, since a digital workflow is the basis of much of the cost-savings in library vs. traditional academic publishing. What the wider market might support may or may not reflect local conditions. We are trying to make known that these services are available locally, and see what the response will be as we go forward, and we will be assessing, especially local demand, as we proceed, and base possible expansion in the future in that response.”

Regardless of the actual organizational structure, projects such as these are flourishing. “From a traditional publishing perspective,” JHU Press Director Greg Britton observes, “I absolutely welcome library publishing initiatives. One of the frustrations of being in scholarly publishing is the amazing work I see every day that we have to pass over, scholarship that is remarkable in many ways, but doesn’t have a large enough audience to make it commercially viable. Publishers are forced to turn away work like this all the time. If a library can publish this in a non-commercial way, we all benefit from that. It is good for scholars and authors, but it also takes pressure off of traditional presses who simply can’t afford to publish these projects.”

“Aside from curating this scholarship,” Britton continues, “another thing traditional publishers do is to promote books, and in doing so help deliver impact for their authors. This impact comes in the form of recognition, citation, and reputation. So far, library publishing hasn’t been able to deliver that for its authors—not in the same way that a commercial press does. I would like to see the library publishing community address this.”

Different Perspectives From Europe & Australia

Gottingen University Library

Gottingen University Library

“Unlike in the Anglo-American sphere, university presses in Germany have been founded almost entirely with the advent of the internet and by universities as a conscious and strategic decision,” reports Margo Friedrike Bargheer of the State and University Library Göttingen in Germany. “Most of these presses are part of a library or report to high levels of the university. Traditional university presses in Germany going back to the age of enlightenment have usually maintained the names of the respective printers, such as Herder, Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht or others. So the vast majority of ‘university press’ called ‘presses’ belong to a library anyway.”

“In Germany,” Bargheer continues, “we do discuss these topics, especially via our European league LIBER. I wish we had a Mellon project that would enable European research libraries to engage in such a wonderful process like the one ARL went through. Note that the president of ARL was among the panel discussants at the last LIBER conference and gave insights how to shape such a strategic process. We see our press as part of this movement towards a partnership-like relation with researchers. In our library, the Digital Humanities are an important subject in our research and development department. The press is well aware about these developments and has started to join into first projects that will lead to new forms of publishing. Among our working group of German university presses, we discuss the new forms of research, the new roles for the libraries and how this will roll out on the work of the presses. AEUP, our European association is currently running a survey on the role for university presses in the future.”

Trends in German Library Material Usage

Trends in German Library Material Usage (click to enlarge)

“Frankly,” Bargheer believes, “I think that the press will gain in importance. Researchers are becoming more and more aware that the commercial market is more or less dysfunctional and that having a publishing partner right within the same institution they do their research in gives them the opportunity to develop their publishing projects according to their scholarly needs instead of having to respond to the publisher’s constraints or requirements.”

Lorena Kanellopoulos, Manager of the Australian National University’s ANU Press reports that “we are very lucky in Australia that all the University Librarian and Directors/Managers of the Presses get along really well. The University Press Directors/Managers willingly share information regularly and try to meet up at least once a year. CAUL has established a sub-committee: CAUL Library Publishing Advisory Committee, the group has been operational since 2012, with representatives from four Australian University Presses.”

Collaboration Grows in the U.S.

Erich van Rijn, Director of Publishing Operations for the University of California Press explains that “at the University of California, UC Press and the California Digital Library both share a reporting line into the Vice Provost for Academic Personnel and Programs; however, the press does not report into the library. The Press and the CDL have worked closely on several initiatives over the years where there have been opportunities for collaboration, and we are in regular communication about advancing our respective programs. We saw a potential fit early on in this grant application process, with a shared need for infrastructure to better support our publishing operations, so we decided to collaborate on the grant proposal and build the finished product. Throughout the process both organizations have been contributing the resources that they are best suited to contribute to the project. As my colleague, Catherine Mitchell, pointed out in her talk at the 2015 Library Publishing Forum, efficient publishing infrastructure is critical to the success of both library publishers and university presses. There’s no reason why our two organizations shouldn’t work together on initiatives like these. I value my relationships with my CDL colleagues, and I find that our current relationship within the university allows us to contribute to each others’ organizations in very fruitful ways.”

“The same continuum of publishing exists at many universities like ours that have both presses and library publishing units,” van Rijn continues. “I think there’s a growing recognition that, particularly as publishing becomes an increasingly digital enterprise and as models like open access publication of primary research start to break down barriers between presses and libraries, that there are ways that we could and should collaborate to deliver the best publishing experience to our stakeholders. Libraries and publishers both have different strengths. Finding a space where collaboration is possible so that each organization can bring its strengths to the table to move their respective missions and initiatives forward is the key.”

Amy Brand

Amy Brand

Amy Brand, Director of the MIT Press notes that “MIT Press has reported to the Director of Institute Libraries for several years, so this is not new for us. Nor is it a cause for concern. Rather it presents tremendous opportunities to partner. With the new Library leadership and new Press leadership at MIT this year, the commitment to that partnership is significantly strengthened. As we see it, we’re stronger together than apart, as a voice for scholarly communication needs on campus and as a source of needed services for our community.”

“At MIT we envision a direct Press-Library relationship,” Brand continues, “with some shared staff, shared resources, and shared services. It is way too early to go into more detail as relevant discussions are just getting underway.”

Charles Watkinson, Associate University Librarian for Publishing and Director, University of Michigan Press sees great opportunities and synergies. “Yes, around 25% of university presses now report to libraries, although the degree of integration varies quite a bit. I know that both press staff and librarians are somewhat wary, but the examples of where the relationship is working (like Michigan, Indiana, Temple, Georgia, Northwestern, West Virginia, Purdue to name a few) show that the secret to strong press/library collaboration is mutual respect. This means that the library and press folk recognize each other as information professionals with particular knowledge and skills in serving faculty at different stages of the research life cycle and/or publish different sorts of work on a continuum from formal (press) to informal (library).”

Charles Watkinson-web

Charles Watkinson

“Where the opportunities to be complementary rather than competitive are recognized the results are very mutually rewarding,” Watkinson continues. “At University of Michigan we are discovering new complementarities every day, even if we sometimes have to storm and norm before forming around them. Michigan Publishing is another name for the publishing division of University of Michigan Library and I serve a dual role as Associate University Librarian for Publishing and Director of University of Michigan Press. Michigan Publishing consists of three public-facing entities; University of Michigan Press (formal, peer-reviewed books, disciplinary focus), Michigan Publishing Services (less formal, assisted self-publishing, internal campus focus), Deep Blue (institutional repository supporting self-deposit of original and previously-published materials by faculty).”

“Library publishing complements, rather than competes with, university press publishing,” AAUP Director Peter Berkery believes. Because library publishers and university presses can learn from each other, AAUP has been a strong supporter of the Library Publishing Coalition. (The LPC directory sits on my desk right next to our own!) AAUP’s 2014 Library Press Collaboration Survey contains numerous examples of how presses and libraries are working together. A number of recent Mellon grants have fostered library/press cooperative ventures, such as UNC’s Long Civil Rights Movement and University of Michigan/Minnesota joint monograph platform initiative. Scholarly publishing is evolving all the time and everywhere; whereas in an earlier time this uncertainty may have led to suspicion, now it gives rise to a spirit of cooperation and the pursuit of mutual benefit.”

Peter Berkery

Peter Berkery

Berkery sees a strong future for university presses, one which include change and innovation: “While each member press has to chart a course that makes the most sense in its individual institutional context, AAUP’s own strategic plan envisions: Deeper engagement by individual presses within their individual institutions and by the association within the academy writ large; Embracing technology to ensure our continued centrality in an era of increasingly digital scholarship; Fostering collaborations to achieve greater scale and synergy; and Staying true to our roots, to our obligation to ensure authoritative scholarship, and to our mission to ensure academic excellence and cultivate knowledge.” Last October, the AAUP approved their own Strategic Plan which includes more detail on the goals and direction that these presses see for the future, a future that will be discussed in greater detail in Part 3 of this series.


Nancy K. Herther is Librarian for American Studies, Anthropology, Asian American Studies & Sociology at the University of Minnesota, Twin Cities campus.

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