The Fellows Journal is a forum for the current Library Publishing Coalition fellows to share their experiences and raise topics for discussion within the community. Learn more about the Fellowship Program. Charlotte Roh is the Scholarly Communications Librarian at the University of San Francisco and recipient of the 2017 LPC Award for Outstanding Scholarship in Library Publishing. Charlotte is one of two inaugural fellows in the Library Publishing Coalition Fellowship Program, and her goals for the fellowship include advancing social justice and diversity in library publishing.
At the start of this fall semester, one of the professors on my campus asked me to come talk to his copyediting class about academic publishing as a career. My usual audience is librarians and faculty, so I always welcome a chance to talk with undergraduates. It’s an entirely different conversation, and an opportunity to essentially indulge in nostalgia and my own hard-won knowledge about the New York publishing industry.
So on Monday, in advance of the class, I pulled a stack of books about typography, design, and the publishing business from the library shelves. Amongst the dusty print collection (our ebook selection for this topic is better), I found this surprise (see image):
This chronologically organized book includes chapters with titles like “Proud Protectors and Vindicators of the Race: Black Secular Institutional Book Publishers, 1900-1959”and “Reactors to a Revolution: Black Book Publishers, 1960-1974” and “Vendors or Victims of the American Book Publishing Industry: Problems Encountered by Black Book Publishers, 1960-1974.” Who was the author of this book? Who was the scholar who had put this history together?
As it happens, the author, Donald Franklin Joyce, is a librarian. He published several similar bibliographies on black publishing, including, to my delight and surprise, a book chapter entitled “Unique gatekeepers of Black culture: three Black librarians as book publishers” in the book Untold stories: civil rights, libraries, and Black librarianship, edited by John Mark Tucker. Black librarians as publishers! I was electrified.
But also, I was abashed. I have been speaking and writing for the past two years on the topic of representation in academic publishing. As I told my class of undergraduates on Monday, publishing is a place of privilege, and like any place of privilege, it is very educated, white, gender-normative, able bodied, and-like any feminized profession-men make up a disproportionate percentage of the higher ranks. But in my own privilege, as someone who worked at high-prestige publishers and academic universities, I had neglected to consider the brilliance and agency of African American librarians and publishers who have historically been engaging in this work for decades. They are the original library publishers, working toward civil rights and ensuring that authors would be heard and read.
This feeling of both delight and shame echoed how I felt when I learned that, rather than beginning with the Budapest Open Access Initiative in 2002, open access in Latin America has always been the default, as academic publishing is supported by the state. My ignorance is not just personal, but structural – the top five major publishers in the world, companies that only continue to grow in the percentage of the published output they control, are all based in North America and Europe.
How then, to correct for these structural inequities and personal biases? At the University of San Francisco, I am fortunate to work for an institution where social justice is front and center in the vision and mission. This allows me to be bold as an educator at the intersection of scholarly communication and social justice, to talk about power and privilege explicitly when I talk about publishing. As a 2017-18 fellow with the Library Publishing Coalition, I am working on the LPC Ethical Framework for Library Publishing Task Force. Our goal is to go beyond existing publishing ethics statements to look into issues such as disability access, race, poverty, and privacy rights. It is early days yet on this task force, but already I am so proud and pleased to be a part of a library publishing community that cares about these issues. We are educating ourselves and also attempting to set new standards that will change the profession for the better. As a member of the task force, I invite your comments and suggestions on these and any other topics – because, as I learned this past Monday from the scholar librarian Donald Franklin Joyce, we still have a lot to learn about library publishing.
1 Donald Franklin Joyce was the first African American director of the Felix G. Woodard Library at Austin Peay State University, and his papers are available at Fisk University at https://www.fisk.edu/assets/files/cq/joyce-donaldcollection1982.pdf