West Virginia mountains, blue sky and clouds

West Virginia mountains. Image by flickr user arvisbest, licensed under CC BY.

Last week I attended an interesting seminar on digital publishing at West Virginia University. It was organized by Cheryl Ball, the long-time editor of Kairos: A Journal of Rhetoric, Technology, and Pedagogyand sponsored by the Department of English and the WVU Libraries. Among other things, the seminar was meant to inform work on the new Vega Academic Publishing System, an open source software platform that will support publication of media-rich scholarly work.There were about 20 attendees, including scholars of rhetoric and disability studies, publishers and librarians. Over four days, in a loose, unconference-y format, we pooled our collective knowledge about publishing, Open Access, access for individuals with disabilities, and digital preservation and sustainability. We shared projects and theories, taught each other practical skills, and identified areas where more attention is needed.

I wore a lot of hats during the seminar: librarian, open access advocate, digital publisher, and journal editor. The closest I came to ‘presenting’ something, however, was an overview of library publishing. I shared my understanding of how publishing in libraries came about, what its goals are, and what it tends to look like. Given the focus of the seminar, I also included my thoughts on the accessibility challenges of library-published content – namely that we often rely on open source and out-of-the-box publishing platforms and tend to publish in PDF. Library publishing is a very small subset of the scholarly publishing world, but I think it makes a nice case study, because it so closely resembles a lot of journal publishing in the humanities and social sciences – shoestring operations relying heavily on volunteer labor. I also chimed in periodically throughout the week on OA and archiving-related issues, and asked lots of pragmatic, librarian-style questions.

I’m still trying to assimilate what I learned into a set of useful takeaways that I can share. One thing I can say for sure is that, even within the constraints of platform and resources, there are things we can do to make the work we publish more accessible if we make it a priority. I will also say that I think that the library publishing community needs to take a closer look at accessibility as an issue that impacts everything we do. In two years of participating in the Library Publishing Coalition, I don’t recall seeing it brought up in any venue. The seminar group is putting together proposals for an edited volume and a handbook that should serve as resources for those working in this space. In the meantime, I will be thinking about ways to promote dialogue within the community of library publishers. I would like to see – for example – a workshop at next year’s Library Publishing Forum or an LPC webinar, so if you are interested in working on either of those things, let me know. Closer to home, I’ve invited the other librarians who attended the seminar to guest post on this blog with their reflections and takeaways, so stay tuned!