By Kate McCready & Melanie Schlosser
“It’s one of the strengths of the field that its aspirational reach is grounded by the day-to-day work of publishing, and that its day-to-day activities are clearly linked to such transformative goals. The field’s combination of the two threads, vision and practicality, creates the potential for success.”
The Library Publishing Coalition (LPC) Membership Meeting isn’t a typical business meeting. It is held annually at the Library Publishing Forum, but instead of sharing information about the Coalition’s work or conducting organizational business, we gather as a community to discuss timely, relevant topics. All conference attendees—both members and nonmembers—are invited and encouraged to participate, giving voice to different perspectives.
On May 10, 2019, Forum attendees took advantage of this unique framework to explore a fundamental, and timely, question about the field of library publishing: “What’s our end game?” We explored why we engage in this work. As expected, our deeper dive below the surface of library publishing identified a wide variety of motivations and goals for our work as scholarly publishers and got us thinking about what that means for our organization and for our field.
It was a transformative year for the broader scholarly communications landscape. Individual institutions and consortia made news with collection development negotiations that produced transformative agreements or big deal cancellations (e.g., University of California’s termination of negotiations with Elsevier, and the “read and publish” deal between MIT and the Royal Society of Chemistry). Funders proposed bold requirements in Plan S to make content openly available. Many organizations focused on scholarly communications, such as SPARC, set agendas and spoke out about the need for change. Faculty and campus administrators turned out in record numbers to debate the sustainability of the current scholarly communications model, and the higher ed media was paying attention. Those activities inspired conversations throughout academia and library publishing emerged as a possible (though nascent) alternative to current models.
Against this backdrop, it felt more important than ever to articulate the motivations for, and ultimate purposes of, our shared work.
Why do we publish?
Through a mix of table and full-group discussion, we heard that libraries publish in order to:
- transform scholarly communication models and educate about open access;
- showcase the research and scholarship of our institutions;
- respond to an individual faculty member’s unmet needs;
- produce Open Educational Resources and etextbooks to save students money;
- and to create and support partnerships on campus.
One last category of “I don’t know” was also expressed multiple times. That response may indicate that there isn’t a programmatic plan or coordinated thinking around the purpose of the activity at some institutions, but it was also expressed by folks who were new to the field and their institutions. (Either way, it’s likely that the Forum conversation inspired some additional conversations at those institutions!) While the discussion officially revolved around the library’s reasons for publishing, attendees also shared some of their personal motivations for getting into and sticking with this work. It was clear that the people who are doing the work are energized by the mission of library publishing and are passionate about the field.
Aspiration and practicality
It’s worth digging a bit into the first two responses on the list, because they were the most frequently cited by participants. We heard over and over that library publishers are engaging in the work both to transform the scholarly publishing landscape and to serve a local need to showcase their institution’s scholarship.
Transforming the landscape
A wide variety of ideas were grouped into the first response, “transform scholarly communication models and and educate about open access,” but they share a common theme of working locally to move the needle on big issues. Attendees shared that they are working to:
- educate their campus communities about copyright and fair use;
- explore new models for publishing and redefine publishing for sustainability;
- provide alternatives to commercial publishers;
- create transparency in publishing operations and costs;
- and to improve existing metrics for evaluating scholarship.
In the words of one attendee, “We are looking for an alternative model that will disrupt the economic model.” Another shared, “We publish because we see it as a way to create a more equitable scholarly communication system.” A third participant noted that they “provide the opportunity for faculty to see the actual cost of journal publishing, from APC to subscription fees (i.e., to demonstrate the inner workings of publishing).” One attendee tied their work to campus-level efforts, saying, “The library had a strategic initiative to move the university forward on open access. We saw publishing as an opportunity to meet this initiative and as a way to move the needle on campus in regards to open access. The library wanted to be a part of the conversation as the faculty and the university grapple with open access and an open access mandate.”
Making local scholarship available globally
The next prevalent theme, “showcasing the works of the institution,” is not in conflict with the first, but it is strikingly different. Libraries are leveraging their publishing programs to bring the institution’s scholarship to the world. Attendees remarked, “We publish to support researchers and get their word out. To empower them to do that” and also, “We’re trying to capture the intellectual output of the university.” One attendee relayed that their program started with a single request: “Our faculty had a journal that was print-only and they wanted to gain a wider audience. They asked the library director if the library could help transition their journal from print to online. Our library director said ‘yes’ and our team then needed to figure out how to help. Through this project we developed our library publishing services.”
Tying the knot
This dual purpose—bringing the world to the university (or other local context) and sharing the university with the world—has been a fundamental aspect of library publishing since the field’s beginnings. As an innovative reaction to the serials crisis and the open access movement, library publishing strives to be both a viable option to commercial scholarly publishing, as well as a concrete response to some very real needs on campus. It was fascinating to hear participants so clearly articulate the continued importance of both missions. It’s one of the strengths of the field that its aspirational reach is grounded by the day-to-day work of publishing, and that its day-to-day activities are clearly linked to such transformative goals. The field’s combination of the two threads, vision and practicality, creates the potential for success.
Though the title of this year’s Membership Meeting was “Library Publishing: What’s Our End Game?” we never expected the participants to agree on a single goal for their work. Instead, our aim was to shed some light on the complexity under the surface of our collective work. Through passionate community engagement we know that conference attendees agree on the principles advanced in the vision, mission and strategic plan of the Library Publishing Coalition. But, when each library publisher puts those principles into action, the tree branches spread out. The answers that were shared illustrate not just different motivations for doing the work, but also different strategies for implementation, and different goals that are being achieved.
In many ways, it was another iteration of the discussion started last February in a blog post by Catherine Mitchell and Melanie Schlosser, titled “Academy-owned? Academic-led? Community-led? What’s at stake in the words we use to describe new publishing paradigms.” In it, they wrote: “The real risk here is that we think we know what we mean when we talk about community-led publishing, but we might all mean something different. And this lack of precision leaves us with some very practical questions about what defines community membership, how governance is structured, what the funding model looks like, and who supplies the publishing infrastructure.”
Just as we need to have continued conversations about what each of the terms around “community led” means, we need to continue to talk about why we’re engaging in library publishing.
This discussion isn’t theoretical for the Library Publishing Coalition. Assumptions about shared motivations can become real stumbling blocks to collective action, and enabling collective action within the field of library publishing is one of the fundamental roles of the LPC. The 2019 LPC Membership Meeting discussion will inform the ongoing conversation that we, as individuals and as a collective, will continue to have as we define our field and advance both the success of individual publications and the transformation of scholarly publishing.
A special thank you to Vanessa Gabler for her work in planning and editing this post.