Editor’s note: This is a guest post in our Library Publishing Workflow Evolution series, featuring reflections from our Library Publishing Workflows partners on how journal publishing workflows at their libraries have evolved over time. You can see the full documentation on the Library Publishing Workflows page.
By Isaac Gilman, writing about his experiences at Pacific University Libraries
Over the two years of the Library Publishing Workflows project, our documented journal publishing workflow for Pacific University Libraries has become much leaner. This is not because we’ve learned to do the work more efficiently—rather, it reflects the fact that we are doing less journal publishing overall now. For someone who, over six years ago, proclaimed that publishing should be considered a core service for academic libraries, and even said (insert wry smile here) that “Journal publishing has a [low] threshold to entry,” this feels sadly ironic to admit. So, what has changed for Pacific?
While I still believe that small-p publishing (in the small-c catholic sense) should be a core service for libraries, what has become clear to me over the last several years is that “low threshold to entry” has the corollary of “high threshold for maintenance”: it’s easy to start publishing journals, but to do it well, continuously, requires a significant investment of time and resources (primarily people). Pacific’s involvement in this project has reminded me just how well many of our colleagues—at institutions small and large—are doing this work, and of the necessity of committed, ongoing stewardship to ensure that a journal remains a vibrant and visible home for a community of scholars and learners. And as we have tried to keep doing more with less (or the same) within the University Libraries in general over the past five years, I have been forced to admit that we don’t have the capacity to provide that type of ongoing stewardship for the journals that we were hosting and publishing, and that they would be better served at other institutions. With that in mind, we have migrated the majority of our journals to new homes at other libraries or non-profit publishers, keeping only two with close ties to academic programs at Pacific that require relatively low levels of support from the Libraries.
Shifting focus to monographs
As we have effectively wound down the journal publishing program, we have—perhaps counterintuitively—continued to invest time and resources in publishing work that could be perceived as having a higher threshold to entry: monograph publishing. While publishing books is in some ways more complex than publishing journals, and the scope of individual book projects can occasionally be daunting, each book is a finite project that doesn’t require the type of ongoing stewardship, year after year, that a journal requires. Books can be individually budgeted for and scheduled; if we don’t have resources or capacity to publish a book in a given year, we can decide not to—with no detrimental impact on the books that we’ve published before or the books that we will publish after. This is not to say that books don’t require some ongoing obligation; among other things, permissions may need to be renewed after several years “in print,” and author royalties for any revenue need to be tracked and paid. But in general, our book publishing program is able to roll with any financial or staffing interruptions we experience; it’s our publishing version of an earthquake-proofed building…it may shake a bit when things get rough, but it returns to its original shape and position.
There are tradeoffs, of course, to focusing our publishing program almost entirely on books. Our overall publishing output is lower—which means we aren’t creating as many opportunities for as many different authors to share their ideas and knowledge as we were before, and we aren’t contributing to the body of openly available scholarship as extensively as we were before. But my hope is that the quality of our engagement with each work we publish will be better—that we are able to take the time to focus on helping each book take its ideal shape in the eyes of its author(s) and its intended audience(s). And, while this is currently an aspiration and not a reality, I also hope that our focus on monograph publishing will directly support the creation of more free, open textbooks by Pacific’s faculty—ultimately benefiting both Pacific students and others across many institutions. As the Libraries increase our focus on affordability and open educational resources initiatives, I see greater opportunity for us to have a positive impact on student costs and student success through open book publishing than we did through our limited journal publishing program (if only for the perhaps simplistic reason that it is currently far easier for students to get free articles through library subscriptions or interlibrary loan than it is for us to license an unlimited user copy of a required textbook or otherwise provide access to similar required monographic course readings for every student).
What library publishing looks like
When the question of whether libraries should be publishers was beginning to be more broadly discussed a decade ago, common questions were about what ‘library publishing’ should look like and whether libraries in general were equipped to (or should even aspire to) maintain the same processes and standards as traditional publishers. It was within that context that Pacific started our journal publishing program—with the goal not only of contributing to the fight against the increasing commodification of scholarship but of creating publishing venues and publications marked by the quality that authors and readers expected. As we sunset our journal program and turn our focus more fully to books, I am proud to be able to say that our goals remain that same, and that those former questions have been definitively answered. The participants in this workflows project are prime examples of the extent to which libraries have been able to meet the standards established by our publishing peers and forebears, and Pacific is one of many examples of what ‘library publishing’ should look like: whatever we want it to (or, less succinctly: whatever we determine will best meet the needs of our communities and allow us to be responsible stewards of our authors’ work).