Librarians are accustomed to taking on new roles in response to shifts in scholarship, the economy, the academic environment, and technology. Digital publishing is a relative newcomer to the new suite of roles that librarians are embracing–but not one that’s incompatible with librarians’ traditional strengths.

The Library Publishing Coalition (LPC) is starting to think about the professional development and training programs that will prepare current and future practitioners to provide digital publishing services through their libraries. At a recent meet-up at the UNT Futures of Academic Publishing Symposium, LPC representatives discussed the skills and experience that they look for in new hires, that they aspire to develop themselves, or that they wish they had gotten during their education (whether library school or other advanced degree programs).

Four themes emerged out of this discussion: business planning and management, context and history of scholarly publishing, digital publishing technologies, and workflows for producing and distributing content. The following is a recap of and brief commentary on this conversation–not an exhaustive list of the skills practitioners will need in each of these areas.

Business planning and management

This is a broad category that encompasses everything from writing a business plan to developing responsive services. Practitioners need training that gives them the knowledge and skills to:

  • plan for sustainability (e.g., identifying revenue streams, writing a business plan);

  • build effective partnerships (e.g., with campus units, faculty, vendors, scholarly societies);

  • write policies and contracts;

  • understand and manage intellectual property and copyright issues;

  • create effective marketing and promotional materials;

  • asses customer/user/client needs (whatever you want to call them, they’re the really important part of this equation).

Context and history of scholarly publishing

One participant in our May meet-up noted that “collection development is scholarly communication in disguise.” Library school students typically receive instruction in selecting resources, creating/interpreting collection development policies, and an overview of the complicated relationship between libraries and publishers. However, they may lack a sophisticated understanding of the:

  • range of existing publishers (commercial, society, etc.);

  • historical background of the field (i.e., how scholarly publishing got the way it is today);

  • arguments around Open Access;

  • reasons that libraries are beginning to engage in publishing services.

Workflows

Scholarly publishing frequently operates in a mentorship model, wherein new staff learn production workflows on the job. This can be problematic for librarians who may not have a more experienced colleague to turn to. Depending on the level of service provided, library publishers need a thorough understanding of workflows for things like:

  • layout and typesetting;

  • metadata and markup;

  • figures and tables, data;

  • preservation.

There’s no replacement for good hands-on (internship) experiences to teach these kinds of skills. Additionally, some of the more prevalent publishing platform providers offer training in workflows and processes, generally focused around their specific technologies. And that may continue to be the right venue for that kind of training, given the interdependency between workflow and platform.

Digital publishing technologies

This is a tough one. Technology changes so quickly that skills developed in library school may be quickly irrelevant if this type of training isn’t carefully planned. Students and practitioners need (among other skills):

  • a big-picture understanding of digital publishing technology (current slate of tools, what’s on the horizon, where are they appropriate);

  • a basic understanding (minimum) of software development (not necessarily coding, but design and usability).

As the LPC moves forward with its training and professional development programs, further research is needed to take stock of current offerings and practices, assess gaps, and anticipate future needs. We will also need to ensure that training takes into account all of the professionals (librarians, technologists, humanists, scientists, university administrators) who contribute to library and/or campus publishing.

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