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 Robert Browder, writing about his experiences at University Libraries at Virginia Tech
The opportunity to take a step back from one’s own work and get perspective on it with the help of others in the field is an experience of incredible value. This can certainly be true for those involved in publishing open access journals from within a library. The LPC created just such an opportunity with the Library Publishing Workflows Project. The opportunity to participate in the project alongside other library publishers large and small has expanded my view of what is possible in the field. The opportunity to document, compare, and contrast workflows across institutions is invaluable and has helped me dial up my understanding of what works and why. It’s a privilege to be able to share the outcomes of this project with the world.
So, what is the best workflow for libraries who wish to publish journals? It depends. While our documented workflows provide a progression of steps that describe the production work performed by publishers, the greater context within which a particular workflow succeeds is much tougher to represent. The LPC’s Library Publishing Directory is probably the best resource available for gathering context. For best results, I recommend using these workflow documents in combination with the Library Publishing Directory entry for each institution. Together, these documents form a clearer picture than either of them do on their own. However, even with both of these documents in hand the picture may still not be completely clear.
While both the workflows documents and the Library Publishing Directory entries hint at it, neither of them address in depth the values of the communities that library publishers serve. I believe understanding and interfacing with those values to be key in shaping successful workflows. While a commitment to open access brings with it a fairly predictable set of shared values, the values conversation does not stop there. Beyond open access, those in library publishing may encounter another set of values that apply to the control of editorial and production processes. We can broach the topic with a simple question: who should be in control of editorial and production processes, publishers or scholars?
Editorial and production process control can be seen as existing on a continuum. Let’s imagine that scholars exist at one end of the continuum and publishers exist at the other. Who holds control of publishing processes determines how the productive capacity of publishing departments is spent.
The less control publishing departments have, the more of their productive capacity is spent in supporting the choices of scholars who do have control. This grants scholars more freedom to experiment and make choices about editorial and production processes. In this paradigm the act of producing a publication is a learning experience for the scholar. Facilitating this experience is a valid way for a library publisher to create value for one’s community.
At the other end of the continuum, the more control publishing departments have, the more they are able to standardize their production processes, thereby creating the ability to publish higher volumes of scholarship. In this paradigm the act of publishing is more about sharing scholarship, ideas, and research. This too is a valid way to create value for one’s community.
In the context of a publishing department that does not exert control over publishing processes, productive capacity is initiated through budget and staffing, but capacity is ultimately determined by the scholars the department chooses to support. The productive capacity of such departments is subject to the skills, experience, and time that scholars bring with them to the collaboration. Thus, partners must be chosen carefully and they should be helped to understand the levels of responsibility and stewardship they are taking on as a collaborator with the publishing department.
In the context of a publishing department that does exert control over publishing processes, productive capacity is initiated through budget and staffing, but maintained through carefully chosen workflows and a commitment to strictly adhere to those workflows. When publishers hold control and enforce a systematic process, opportunities for creativity and experimentation in the publication process are diminished for scholars. However, opportunities for producing and sharing a greater volume of scholarship may be increased.
In practice, scholars and library publishers are interdependent and, though it may not be explicitly addressed, share control of editorial and production processes based on what is feasible given available resources. The balance of control may be tilted to either side based on the values of the community of scholars which the publisher serves. The balance of control in either direction may also shift over time with the capacities of those involved or with changes in budget and staffing. The balance of control has profound impacts on the type of work that library publishers do and the workflows they use to achieve results.
Viewing control of productive capacity in this way begs the question: do library publishers exist to facilitate experiential learning in the field of publishing or do they exist for the purpose of producing publications? In many cases, I believe it’s some of both, and that is just fine. But, making conscious decisions about how the capacity of a publishing department is spent is essential to being able to predictably deliver services. It’s fine and dandy to publish scholarship and/or facilitate the publishing experience for scholars. But, it’s important to know the difference between these two facets of library publishing and the capacity implications that come along with them.