Transitions is an occasional series where community members reflect on the things they have learned while moving from one institution to another or one role to another.
By Johanna Meetz, The Ohio State University
I worked as the Scholarly Communication and Publishing Services Librarian as well as the Associate Director of Pacific University Press at Pacific University, a small, liberal arts institution near Portland, OR, from 2016-2020. My job was split between institutional repository administration, which I had previous experience with, and the tasks associated with publishing, which were unfamiliar to me when I started. Pacific offers a more full-service set of publishing services than many publishing programs, including copyediting and typesetting, which added to the complexity of the job. In addition, the year before I started in the position, Pacific Libraries had recently founded Pacific University Press, a hybrid open access publisher that offers OA digital editions as well as print copies of books for purchase. As a result, while there I published both books and journals. I learned by doing, and it was an adventure to solve stylistic and technical problems as well as to become familiar with typical publishing standards and practices. Since I was the only faculty or staff member in my area, I grew comfortable relying largely on myself, as well as with reaching out to the LPC community when I needed assistance.
I started my new position as the Publishing and Repository Services Librarian at Ohio State University in 2020. I currently administer Ohio State’s institutional repository and oversee the publishing program. Though the high-level responsibilities are the same, the biggest difference in the two positions is that I now work with others; I supervise three full-time staff members who also work on the IR and with our publications. As a result, I am now a little more removed from the day-to-day tasks associated with production work in general, which enables me to spend more time and energy concentrating on the bigger picture: improving workflows and considering sustainability and scalability, particularly for our publishing program as it grows.
Before I began work in my current position, there were some things I assumed about what working at a larger institution might be like, and, while I would say most of them are true, some things still surprised me.
I imagined it would be enjoyable to collaborate with others, and that has been true. It’s a pleasure to work with the staff I supervise, and it’s also been wonderful to work with our in-house Libraries faculty and staff—particularly in our IT department. I have enjoyed building relationships with colleagues, and I look forward to continuing to do so.
On the flip side, though I’ve had a chance to work with many colleagues in the Libraries, since there are so many library faculty and staff who work in many different physical locations both on and off campus, it is more of a challenge to meet and learn a little about the work everyone is doing. Though I imagined this would be the case at a larger library, I didn’t foresee COVID-19. The pandemic has exacerbated this issue, since I started to work remotely about 3 months after I started work in my position—though I think this would still be a challenge even if COVID-19 had not had such a large impact on the way we work with staff in our own Libraries.
Struggles of Library Publishing
My participation in the Library Publishing Workflows IMLS grant gave me a glimpse of this, but it still surprised me a bit how many of the struggles in library publishing are shared despite the size of the institution. It turns out we’re all grappling with optimizing workflows, scalability, and sustainability—among other challenges. I have also found that stretched resources are stretched resources, no matter where you’re working. Even though it is not my responsibility to take on all tasks related to publishing single-handedly anymore, it feels remarkably similar to be responsible for a unit that includes multiple people taking on this work.
Transforming the Scholarly Economy
Though I was aware that Ohio State University Libraries had a strategic initiative in place to work toward transforming the scholarly economy, seeing what goes into that work outside of journal publishing has been eye-opening. I have also taken on the responsibility of working on Toward an Open Monograph Ecosystem (TOME) at Ohio State, and seeing the amount of financial resources the Libraries has been able to invest in this initiative is staggering after having worked at a smaller institution. In general, the amount of resources, both financial and in terms of staff time, that are available to be experimental is remarkable. I can’t help but feel more connected to the bigger picture work being done in our field.
Reflections on Library Publishing
As mentioned, my current position has afforded me more time to carefully consider and plan more strategically in the context of the publishing program. There are also opportunities to be involved with bigger picture initiatives like TOME. That being said, I think it can still be difficult for library publishing practitioners to maintain a connection to the larger purpose and mission and to get lost in the multitude of daily tasks that come with the production work of publishing. Moreover, I think many of us face the similar challenge: the pressure to continue to expand our publishing programs—however that might be defined—without being able to hire additional staff to support the work. We can’t continue to do more with the same amount—or even fewer—resources forever. I think we will see more of this tension as library publishing as a practice continues to mature.