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 .
“The lesson that we are all learning, myself included, is that to simply do our jobs as we’ve been doing them is not enough. We must not only examine our publishing lists, but our editorial boards, reviewers, and ourselves, to learn and improve to move toward a more equitable profession. LPC, SSP, and AUP are three organizations that are very much a part of the same scholarly ecosystem, and we can all work together toward the goal of intersectional diversity and accessibility.”
Previous to my career librarianship, I worked in academic publishing, and therefore had experience in the world of academic conferences as a vendor and editor. In all my time in academic publishing, however, I never attended a conference that was for my own professional development. In contrast, as a librarian, this year I attended the Library Publishing Forum, the Association of University Presses Annual Meeting, and the Society for Scholarly Publishing Annual Meeting.
Library Publishing Forum
I’ll be frank that I’m very biased toward the Library Publishing Forum, and not just because I’m one of the Library Publishing Coalition (LPC) Fellows. A first-time attendee at the conference asked me, “Are people always so friendly?” I was able to answer Yes: I’ve attended four out of the five forums, and it’s always been a warm community. My personal theory is this is because so many of us library publishers are departments of one or very few within our institutions, so coming to the Library Publishing Forum is an opportunity to be amongst colleagues with similar roles. But it’s also a very collaborative community, and this conference was just another example of how we are cooperatively engaged with each other to improve software platforms and create new processes for publishing more effectively. The sessions are frequently practical and full of helpful examples, while still honest about difficulties and limitations in execution. I feel that every year, we as a community move forward together, regardless of the resources at each institution, simply because we share knowledge with each other so well.
One of the hallmark collaborative efforts of the library publishing community is its engagement with social justice and scholarly communication. Harrison Inefuku, Emily Drabinski, and I were asked to present as plenary speakers on social justice in library publishing in 2016, before Trump was elected. This year’s forum built on the work of previous years and committees, with a keynote on accessibility from Dr. Catherine Kudlick from San Francisco State University, a working session on the new Ethical Framework for Library Publishing, and an LPC Fellows panel featuring myself and Reggie Raju, who talked about library publishing in the Global South and the importance of self-determination. The urgency of today’s political climate has without a doubt informed how we all think about the injustices that are embedded in our publishing systems.
Society for Scholarly Publishing Annual Meeting
This year was my third year on the planning committee for the Society for Scholarly Publishing meeting and my third year attending the conference. In that short time, I’ve seen a lot of changes. Everyone is still wearing suits, and most people are still thinking about how technology, publishing, and profit intersect. However, the sense that traditional society publishing is under threat because of the open access movement has dissipated (since APCs have been so profitable for publishers) and there are more librarians at the meeting every year. There is also, in contrast to my first year in attendance, the acknowledgement that SSP might want to acknowledge its problems around minority representation. There was a preconference on diversity and inclusion (which I didn’t attend but was standing room only), and I sat on a panel titled “SSP at 50: Envisioning a Diverse and Thriving Organization.” Dr. Safiya Noble’s keynote on how academic publishing can be a tool against racial oppression was a standout, and was an interesting contrast with Steve Mirsky’s keynote, which concluded with a nod to the authority of traditional academic publishing, illustrated by Einstein’s work on an old cover of Scientific American. I’ve found this duality between traditional values and contemporary issues to be common at SSP. I’ll be taking a break from the SSP meeting in the coming year, but I hope to see continued change and growth, particularly in the areas of ethics and social justice. For example, the Scholarly Kitchen has featured several posts on diversity and gender parity in the past year. But it’s important to note that, without actual professional development around these topics for SSP members, the many sad stories can very quickly become a spectacle of performative pain and trauma, subject to the gaze of a majority-white profession.
Association of University Presses Annual Meeting
In my days in university publishing, I worked under the impression that the Association of University Presses meeting was for directors only. This year, I attended the meeting for the first time as a panelist for the “Ask a Librarian” session, simply by virtue of the fact that I was a local librarian. The conference was held at the historic Fairmont San Francisco, where the United Nations was created in 1945.
I was surprised and pleased to see both a range of topics and people with diverse job descriptions. In general, the sessions seemed to overlap more with the concerns of library publishers rather than society publishers: How to assign metadata appropriately? How to market books and authors in this political climate? How to be more inclusive in the publishing process?
This last topic was difficult to miss. The AUP is in its third cohort of a diversity fellowship sponsored the Mellon Foundation, and it has for the most part been successful, in that fellows are being hired into permanent positions at presses. The program was touted throughout the conference, to the point where some fellows did quietly admit to me that it was a little awkward. It was also strange to engage in conversations about the importance of recruiting for “the pipeline” and how webinars might be a way to do outreach. From my perspective as a woman of color who left university press publishing mid-career, these conversations seemed naïve and inadequate in addressing the very real problem of systemic racism within the profession, but I am glad that the AUP is not only having these conversations, but dedicating time and money to action.
Three publishing conferences with a common theme of diversity and whiteness
In this blog post, I’ve focused on diversity at these three conferences partly because it’s on brand for my research, but also because the prominence of the topic, along with the acceptance of open access publishing, is one of the biggest changes that I’ve seen in publishing over the past three years. “Diversity” has become a buzzword in academic publishing, much as it has in higher education in general, and there are some questions about how much of it is simply language and marketing.[i] I pose this question because the conferences shared one other thing in common, which is the predominance of white speakers and attendees. Nobody remarked on the many, many all white panels. The language of diversity felt like a cover for the reality of whiteness, just as “open access publishing” can be a sleight of hand for a different kind of paywall for authors.
This is not to say that the efforts that I’ve seen around diversity are inadequate or useless, merely that they’re first steps in a journey. Library publishers, society publishers, and university presses are all valuable and powerful gatekeepers that are already doing the work of making work from a range of scholars and perspectives available to the world. The lesson that we are all learning, myself included, is that to simply do our jobs as we’ve been doing them is not enough. We must not only examine our publishing lists, but our editorial boards, reviewers, and ourselves, to learn and improve to move toward a more equitable profession. LPC, SSP, and AUP are three organizations that are very much a part of the same scholarly ecosystem, and we can all work together toward the goal of intersectional diversity and accessibility.
[i] As an aside, I was also shocked at the lack of knowledge regarding the Coalition of Publishing Ethics (COPE) and problematic incidents in publishing over the past two years that were widely reported in higher education outlets, at both SSP and AUP. It occurs to me that this lack of broad contextual knowledge of the field is due in part to the specialization that occurs in traditional publishing, whereas in the emerging field of library publishing one person might wear many hats. It also points to a need for professional development more broadly, which might be addressed by events like these conferences and resources like the Library Publishing Curriculum, a collaborative effort by library and university press publishers that provides a clear and systematic overview of many aspects of the publishing profession.