Editor’s note: This is a guest post in our Library Publishing Pain Points series, featuring reflections from our Library Publishing Workflows partners on the challenges they face in implementing, running, and sustaining their library publishing workflows.
In my contribution to a series of social media posts on pain points for the Library Publishing Workflows project, I wrote that “the sheer volume of articles is a significant challenge for our team” (https://twitter.com/LibPubCoalition/status/1280511836744495108
). Upon reflection it strikes me that I’m really describing the discomfort that any successful project brings, as demand begins to grow in response to that success. A new library publishing program can often feel like a start-up: a scrappy entrepreneur in the library has a bright idea, access to the tools for production and a platform for dissemination, and a generalist’s competence in many of the skills and tasks necessary to effect library publishing (LPCPDC 2020). But the entrepreneurial energy involved in an early start-up, which can often be maintained by a few highly motivated individuals, eventually either dissipates or becomes insufficient to the work of producing a successful stable of titles. Even if a library publishing program doesn’t grow substantially in output, the production work that felt exciting at volume 1 issue 1 may start to feel insurmountable by volume 6 issue 4.
Some of this may have to do with the temperament of the library publisher. Lacey and Parlette-Stewart (2017) write about the incidence of imposter syndrome (IS) in the profession, and theorize that the need to appear intelligent about a range of poorly defined responsibilities may lead librarians to overwork a program. The failure to properly delegate tasks, commonly associated with IS, can saddle a small library publisher with an unmanageable workload. Delegation requires identifying what we can’t do well, which can be difficult for academic librarians, who are constantly being asked both to do more with less and to justify our value to the academy.
In my own publishing program, which fits most of the above bill, the entrepreneurial energy with which I began publishing journals is matched in some truly driven faculty editors. Their output can be prodigous, and while I remain committed to the success of their journals, my team struggles at times to meet their production needs given the volume of scholarship they review and publish. Identifying, sourcing, and training the labor necessary to do the technical, tailored and often tedious work of turning manuscripts into published articles is itself a demanding process, which can feel at odds with the imperative to produce. Recruiting volunteer labor or attracting graduate student interest means enhancing the learning and project opportunities of a role in the digital publishing unit, often at the expense of the sometimes monotonous work of production. But the unique skills and detailed requirements of production also often preclude using un- or underskilled labor to prepare manuscripts for publication. And we are very aware of the tendency for academic work-study opportunities to be exploitative and inequitable, and hesitant to continue those practices simply to meet our production schedule.
We have experimented with outsourcing production work to a third party contractor. While this has yielded some possibilities to ease our backlog, it also requires additional manuscript preparation and quality control labor which reduces the total net gain in capacity (not to mention chasing funding). We have worked to increase the quality of the editorial processes and policies in our journals, which results in a more selective acceptance rate and helps create a more sustainable production slate. And as our program grows, so does my commitment to designing a sufficient policy and procedure infrastructure around our publishing activities. Our participation in the Library Publishing Workflows project is part of that commitment, to help create a body of standards that can in turn inform our own practice.
My digital publishing program was the pilot interview of the Workflow project, and the resulting flowchart is one of the two test cases being used to fine-tune the process that will be used to document the remaining data. To be honest, I felt slightly naked seeing our own workflow outlined so starkly in directional arrows and decision diamonds. I recognize my anxiety is really about seeing our process evaluated against other publishing programs’ processes. Will we end up on our own, looking foolish? But again and again, collaborating with other institutions in the Library Publishing Coalition on capacity-building projects like this helps reveal the extent to which our pain is shared, and not an indication of failure. Jason Coleman at the University of Michigan related in another social media post that XML conversion of incoming content can be intensely frustrating (he called it “just a bear”). Knowing something about Michigan’s platform and process, thanks in part to our work in the Coalition, helps me picture that pain clearly, and creating XML from tricky input myself for aspects of our publishing program helps me identify with it. As a small shop in comparison to Michigan, it’s a good reminder that I work in a community of practice with affinities across vastly different publishing programs. That’s something worth sustaining.
Lacey, S., & Parlette-Stewart, M. (2017). Jumping Into The Deep: Imposter Syndrome, Defining Success and the New Librarian. Partnership: The Canadian Journal of Library and Information Practice and Research, 12(1). https://doi.org/10.21083/partnership.v12i1.3979