Intersections

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May 4, 2021

Intersections: Not Quite a Librarian, Not Quite a Publisher: What It’s Like to Work for a Library and a University Press

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Intersections is an occasional series where community members reflect on what they are seeing in other parts of their professional world and what library publishers can learn from it. 


By Annie Johnson, Assistant Director of Open Publishing Initiatives and Scholarly Communications, @anniekjohn

For the past five years, I have worked for both Temple University Libraries and Temple University Press. Library colleagues at other institutions tend to assume I work for the Press. Press colleagues tend to assume I work for the Libraries. The truth is a bit more nuanced: much of my work involves leading what might be considered typical scholarly communication initiatives within the Libraries. However, my supervisor is the Director of the Press, Mary Rose Muccie, and I support the Press in important ways, particularly when it comes to open access and born-digital projects. That work has involved publishing the Press’s first digital companion to a print book, serving as the primary investigator for an NEH grant to digitize and make openly available out-of-print Press books in labor studies, and launching Temple’s instance of the digital publishing platform Manifold, which the Press now uses as a portal for its open access books. Most recently, we started a joint Libraries/Press imprint, North Broad Press, that publishes open textbooks written by Temple faculty. 

Temple University Press is one of a number of presses that reports to its library. This is an increasingly common situation, which has resulted in the creation of positions like mine that try to bridge the two organizations. Despite its prevalence, some in scholarly publishing still worry about presses reporting to libraries, and question whether such a relationship actually benefits university presses. I understand the concerns, especially when these changes happen during moments when the larger university is in crisis. But I was not hired to dismantle or replace the work of the Press. Quite the opposite: I help the Press experiment with new publishing models in ways that they would simply not have the capacity to do otherwise. My involvement does not take away from the excellent work the Press staff are doing, it enhances it. I help get Temple University Press books out to more people around the globe while strengthening the Press’s relationship with the larger university.

Working for a university press has had a significant impact on my approach to library publishing. My natural inclination is to say “yes” to every publishing project that comes our way. My boss Mary Rose, who has worked in scholarly publishing for her entire career, has taught me the importance of saying “no.” This is a particularly salient lesson for library publishers worried about the sustainability of their programs. Additionally, Mary Rose has helped me realize that I need to believe in my own expertise as a publishing professional, instead of catering to an author’s every demand.

My involvement with the Press has also shifted my perspective on open access. I’m less dogmatic than some of my library colleagues, and I understand that university presses are not the same as large for-profit scholarly publishers. I see first hand all the time, care, and effort that goes into publishing a scholarly monograph–that labor is real, and should not be discounted.

Libraries and university presses are very different organizations with different priorities. But they also share some common values, including a desire for a more diverse and inclusive scholarly publishing landscape. If we’re serious about working towards this goal, we need more cooperation and collaboration among library publishers and university press staff. Library publishers should view press staff as allied workers–not the old guard. And we should see our work as complementary, rather than competitive. Whether you’re a librarian, a publisher, or something in between, we all have a role to play in helping to change scholarly publishing for the better.