Editor’s note: This is a guest post by Korey Jackson from Anvil Academic. I participated in one of the meetings Korey describes last December, and not only was it an excellent conversation in its own right, but it convinced me that Korey and Lisa were gaining a unique perspective on library publishing efforts. I asked Korey if he would be willing to write about the experience here on The Lib Pub, and he was kind enough to agree. This is the first of two posts on the subject.

In December 2012-January 2013 Lisa Spiro and I met with representatives from ten different library publishing and scholarly communications programs (see the list of institutions at the end of this post). Our hope was to better understand emerging needs in library-based digital scholarship groups and, doing so, to develop Anvil Academic’s own strategies and services in a way that is directly (rather than remotely) responsive to these needs.

One product of these conversations is this report (as well as the white paper to come)—a space for representing and synthesizing the specific needs that academic libraries have expressed as they move into the realm of scholarly production. In many ways, this post represents a supplement to needs and operations discussed in the recent Library Publishing Services: Strategies for Success report (available here from Purdue e-Pubs). That report, which canvassed both established library publishing service units and newcomers to the field, concluded with the following best practice recommendations:

  • Develop meaningful impact metrics for library publishing services to demonstrate the effectiveness and value of library-based publishing programs and inform resource allocations.
  • Establish editorial quality and performance criteria to increase the value and longevity of the publications that library programs support.
  • Promote sustainability best practices to improve the long-term strength and stability of library publishing programs.
  • Develop return-on-investment justifications for funding library publishing programs to support increased library budget allocations in support of such programs.[1]

Our conversations attempted to flesh-out some of these recommendations, thinking through the “how-to” of implementation. We hoped to fill in details about how libraries are interacting with scholars on the publishing front and to address questions of intake (how librarians select particular projects for development), review (how projects are vetted during or after production), and distribution (how projects are accessioned, marketed, and made discoverable). Our questions included the following:

  • What kinds of publishing activities does your library already undertake? What collaborations have you engaged in with your university/college press (if applicable)?
  • What demand have you seen from scholars looking to produce web-based work? What kind of support have they needed? What kind of publication venues are they targeting?
  • For work that you’ve already produced or that is underway, what kinds of outreach or communication strategies do you have? (Or: where and how do you broadcast information about local projects?)
  • How do you vet and review incoming projects?
  • Given answers to these questions, what are the most pressing areas of need that Anvil might help with?

In what follows, I’ll attempt to represent the diversity of perspectives from each institution. Obviously, answers to these questions differ depending on factors like funding, personnel, and time that a publishing division has been operational. Despite structural differences from institution to institution, however, there are macro (and, at the same time, modular) approaches that can help library publishers address challenges throughout the publication timeline, from first submission to production, distribution, and preservation of content and form.

While Anvil Academic hopes to lend expertise to the creation of a sustainable, library-based scholarly publishing ecology, my primary intention here is not organizational promotion but simply to surface persistent challenges and potential solutions.

In this first post, I’m going to offer a general understanding of current library publishing activities. While some of this has been covered in the Library Publishing Services report, it’s worth revisiting in detail as a way of setting the backdrop for responsive services.

Part 1 – Publishing Activities

As mentioned, the range of publishing activities taking place within the academic library is broad and depends on how “publishing” is defined within a particular context. Activities range from more traditional journal development and support to assisting with production and hosting of digital collections, interactive websites and projects, and online books.

Journal Publishing
Journal publishing represents a predominant library production activity, and journal content comes largely (but not exclusively) from local campus-based academic groups. This is the case for a number of reasons. For one, helping campus faculty and students fulfill their own research aims falls squarely within the service mission of most scholarly communications divisions. And, for another, these divisions can take advantage of in-house storage and hosting platforms (especially institutional repositories) or inexpensive, open source solutions (the Public Knowledge Project’s Open Journal Systems is a popular choice). It’s also the case that journals typically take care of their own peer and editorial review, so the library’s role tends toward more scalable hosting and distribution rather than the “boutique” job of ensuring quality of original content.

Many libraries are working with IRs to enable more formal publishing procedures. This is the case at Florida State University, where, according to Scholarly Communications Librarian Micah Vandegrift, the library has begun publishing a number of journals directly into the IR (one example includesThe Owl: The Florida State University Undergraduate Research Journal). Daniel Chamberlain, director of the Center for Digital Learning and Research mentioned similar journal projects at Occidental College, including Décalages: An Althusser Studies Journal and Critical Theory and Social Justice (hosted on bepress’s Digital Commons).

As Paul Royster of University of Nebraska Libraries argues, IRs “are well suited to become online publishers giving voice to a wide range of authors normally excluded, put off, or ill-served by the vagaries, idiosyncrasies, delays, obligations, and hoops-jumping of the conventional publication routes.” While Royster is talking mostly about IR capacity to host larger format work, the point still stands that platforms designed as storage and access points for already-published or pre-published content can, with minimal interfacing, take shape as a space for original publications carrying a library imprimatur.

Supplemental Websites
The supplemental website is a broad category that’s easier to define by what it does than what it is. Rather than representing original scholarship in its own right, these sites are often more about promotion–a space for presenting research and writing, c.v.’s, course materials and/or student work, and any number of other auxiliary products associated with the work of scholarly research and the research institution. They can take the form of personal websites and blogs, book promotion sites, spaces for course-specific resources, etc.

Unlike the journal, which offers a fairly immediate service payoff to aggregated faculty, students, and wider disciplinary communities, website construction and administration has been harder to justify as a library commitment. In some ways, journals just scale better—providing space for several stakeholders to contribute content and editorial structure, and taking advantage of embedded technological infrastructure.

Some efforts are underway to begin finding at-scale solutions to the supplemental website challenge. One such solution is CUNY’s Commons in a Box: a WordPress-based platform to offer easy-to-use website tools for participating in CUNY Academic Commons. Another response can be seen in Occidental College’s (among others’) use of the bepress platform SelectedWorks to host separate faculty profile sites. See Occidental’s SelectedWorks Author Gallery for examples.

There is, nonetheless, still outstanding need to address the challenge of providing scalable solutions to faculty and student academic websites. While such offerings are not necessarily the purview of publishers or library scholarly publishing divisions, the output these sites generate certainly can be.

Web-based Projects
While many web projects can be framed as supplementary to faculty research, the kinds of projects outlined below serve a core research purpose. Again, the overarching difference between research represented digitally and research conducted, created, and produced digitally is often more one of intent than of medium. As Monica McCormick and Jennifer Vinopal remark (see their article on the topic here), there is a wide (if sometimes fuzzy) divide between people who want to use the web to disseminate their work and those who want to rethink and remake scholarly communication using the web. In other words, not all web-based projects are looking to experiment with born-digital scholarship, new modes of research presentation, open review, or other formats opened up by digital tools and technologies.

Another major difference is the need for ongoing collaboration in the creation of such products. For this reason, the kind of work we’re calling the “web-based project” typically occurs at specific digital scholarship centers. Such centers can be housed within the library–like, for example, Columbia’s CDRS and UNL’s Center for Digital Research in the Humanities are–but are just as likely to exist elsewhere on campus. There is no hard and fast rule for where such work happens (just as there’s no standard for where the line is drawn between “project” and “publication”). There is equally no exhaustive list of project types that fall under this category. That said, as McCormick and Vinopal suggest, some examples include “high performance computing; geographic information systems; quantitative and qualitative data analysis; data finding and management; [and] the digitization, creation, manipulation, storage, and sharing of media content.” Examples from our interviews include: UNL’s Civil War Washington, Penn State’s The People’s Contest, Columbia’s Women Film Pioneers Project, and many others.

Monograph publishing has been more of a challenge at the academic library, in part because there simply isn’t the infrastructure or workflow for this kind of operation. Books have relied on presses because longform work like this requires so much external input (developmental and copy editing, layout and design, print production…not to mention all of the cultural infrastructure related to peer and executive board review).

One solution has been to team up with academic presses to produce monograph series that fit the mission of each division. This is no short order, and such collaborations frequently contend with competing mission: the amount of work that goes into book production makes the monograph a tough sell as an output of service; similarly it’s hard to justify the ethos of open access when so much expense can be involved in monograph development and production.

Solutions that thread this mission-vs-business-model needle are out there, however: Utah State University Press’s Computers and Composition Digital Press; University of Michigan’s Historical Reprints and Digital Culture Books; and projects like Columbia and Fordham University Press’s online version of Neni Panourgiá’s Dangerous Citizens.

More to come…

As I’ll be discussing in the follow-up to this post, this kind of work is in need of scalable (but still fairly “high-touch”) editorial and peer review, digital preservation, and a host of other services that tend to exceed capacities within the scholarly communication division. In the next post I’ll begin addressing responses to these activities that might help move the conversation from the realm of the wishful to that of the actual, earnestly possible.

List of institutional participants

  • Columbia University
  • Florida State University
  • Hamilton College
  • University of Illinois Urbana Champaign
  • University of Nebraska
  • New York University
  • Northwestern University
  • Occidental College
  • Ohio State University
  • Penn State University

[1] Mullins, J. L., Murray-Rust, C., Ogburn, J. L., Crow, R., Ivins, O., Mower, A., Nesdill, D., Newton, M. P., Speer, J., & Watkinson, C. 2012.Library Publishing Services: Strategies for Success: Final Research Report. Washington, DC: SPARC. 19.