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 Amanda Hurford, Private Academic Library Network of Indiana (PALNI)
A conference icebreaker recently posed the question: How do you describe your job to someone who has no idea what it is that you do? For me, this can be a difficult question to answer since working for a library consortium falls outside the boundaries of traditional librarianship. So, when I describe what I do to someone who knows nothing of the world of library consortia, I typically say something like: “I work for a non-profit organization that connects people and works together to develop services at private college libraries across Indiana.”
My actual job title is Scholarly Communications Director for the Private Academic Library Network of Indiana (PALNI). For the last four years, I’ve been working to develop a scholarly communications community of practice by connecting with a group of engaged librarians across the 24 PALNI-supported institutions. We created a Schol Comm advisory group, led by a steering committee, and driven with the efforts of several work-focused teams administering programs for the consortium. Some specific projects have been developing an open source consortial institutional repository (Hyku for Consortia), establishing our group affordable learning program (PALSave), statewide digitization of scarcely held resources (PALNI Last Copies), and finally, operationalizing publishing services for the PALNI Press.
When I started this position, I was excited for a change of pace and to work at a statewide scale. As a former metadata and digital collections librarian, the concepts of consortia and scholarly communication were generally familiar to me. But it’s been a whirlwind of learning about the growing consortial involvement in that space, and a significant shift, for me, working so collaboratively in every phase of a project.
For library publishers, here are some important things to know about consortia:
The role of library consortia is evolving. Consortia are doing more to support scholarly communication and to advocate for open access and community-owned infrastructure. The journal Collaborative Librarianship cites several recent examples (e.g., Arch & Gilman, 2017; Bendo & Evans, 2019; Grogg & Rosen, 2020; Morris & Leonard, 2020) of consortia branching out into initiatives beyond the typical consortial realm of group purchasing and resource sharing. The type of projects I am encouraged to pursue, like open access publishing, really illustrates this evolution.
Library consortia are involved in library publishing, and LPC! At the last in-person Forum in 2019, I collaborated with Christine Fruin (Atla) and Justin Gonder (California Digital Library) along with Olivia MacIsaac (Butler University — a PALNI school) to present a panel session with LPC consortial library publishers about our member and mission driven programs. (Minitex is another active consortial LPC member.) It’s interesting to share what common challenges we face supporting collaborative scholarly publishing.
We talk to each other. The International Consortium of Library Consortia (ICOLC) is an organization that enables networking, communication and collaboration among consortia. Although we rarely see each other face to face (even within our own organizations), we talk with our sister consortia often to hear how they’ve tackled a particular issue. We also identify shared problems and opportunities for cross-consortial work. These collaborations help us share not only resources and expertise, but also the uncertainty and risk involved in pursuing a new service area. Hyku for Consortia (PALNI and PALCI) is a good example of that kind of collaboration.
A lot of what I’ve learned from consortia-land is applicable to library publishing work, and will come as no surprise to members of the LPC!
First, we can do more together. In establishing shared priorities and working together as a team, PALNI created a publishing services program that strives to meet the needs of many without duplicating efforts. A major takeaway has been that whether collaborating within the library, across institutions, or cross-consortially it’s important to acknowledge the need for communication and the fact that many of us (if not all) wear several hats, and capacity is always limited.
Next, starting small and scaling efforts is a good approach. At PALNI, we started exploring library publishing with a task force to affirm the need for a publishing program and to outline a project plan determining where to start. Only after that point was a full team assembled to begin creating policies with community input and to work with a handful of projects to feel out procedures. Working at the statewide scale has absolutely driven home for me the importance of piloting initiatives and iterating processes before diving in with both feet. We’re still pretty new at this, but proceeding in this manner has allowed us to collaborate on focused service development with a clear picture of what we are working towards.
I urge you to check with your library consortium/consortia to see what opportunities exist that might support your publishing efforts, or to start a conversation about exploring new collaborative services in library publishing.