Editor’s note: This is the first in a series of guest posts by Kevin Hawkins, the Assistant Dean for Scholarly Communication at the University of North Texas Libraries. Kevin has many years of experience in library-based publishing, both at UNT and at the University of Michigan, and he has generously agreed to share some of his expertise with us. His first post is the latest entry in our new program development series. Welcome, Kevin!

Library publishing programs come in many shapes and sizes. If you feel that your library should have one (or you were asked to create one), how do you choose what sort of program to create?

As with so many other aspects of librarianship, you need to pause to consider what sort of information need are you trying to address. For example:

  • Are students, faculty, or administrators asking the library to support student publishing opportunities (a pedagogical need)?
  • Are researchers at the institution looking for the library to offer or create venues in which to publish their works (a research need)?
  • Does the institution want to “put a stake in the ground” in promoting a new model of scholarly publishing (a need to support the institution’s mission)?
  • Does the library want to raise awareness of its unique collections (a need to support the library)?

These each call for different kinds of services, with different ways of acquiring and certifying content, different levels of support for authors and editors, different genres of publication (book, journal, brochure, etc.), and different cost models.

The first question, it seems to me, is whether the institution has its own university press or contributes to a multi-campus university press. If so, it doesn’t matter much whether the press director reports to the head of the library or not: in either case, careful consideration needs to be made of whether and how a library publishing service should compete with another part of the institution. While competition and experimentation with different models can be good, duplication of services can lead to bad feelings and questioning by administrators.

The next consideration is whether the library will conduct some sort of review of content to be published. The Association of American University Presses requires that its member institutions “have a committee or board of the faculty that certifies the scholarly quality of the books published through peer review” involving outside reviewers. A library publisher might create its own committee of faculty—or of librarians—but this group alone won’t be qualified to review material in any discipline. External reviewers can help deal with specialized research, but it takes expertise to know who to approach to review a new submission. In my opinion, conducting review of content inevitably requires disciplinary specialization, so if the library wants publishing to be a service available to all its users, a publishing service open to any discipline will not be able to do that.

Therefore, I believe that if a library thinks of publishing primarily as a service, or if you don’t want to compete with your university press, it is better not to conduct any sort of peer review. Instead, the service could be available to all affiliated with the institution or possibly to all users of the library. If that sounds like you’d be creating a fake publisher, think of it this way: it takes a while for a publisher to cultivate its reputation, so are you really going to be able to create one known for rigor in peer review and high-quality production without recreating a conventional publishing operation?

Once you decide on what sorts of services to offer to authors or editors, you can estimate the costs of doing so—which likely involves a combination of staff time, technology costs, and possibly contracted services such as editing, design work, and infrastructure hosting. If the library is not willing to fully subsidize these expenses, you will need to come up with a model for recovering costs. Conventional publishers take on projects for free, invest in editing, design, and marketing, and sell copies or subscriptions to recover their investment, paying royalties to authors. Journal publishers in the sciences have long charged “article processing charges” in addition to selling subscriptions, and the APC model is one used in open-access publishing, both for articles and even for whole books, albeit without charging subscriptions. On the other hand, a vanity press charges the author up front to cover the initial investment but then usually provide the author with higher royalties than he or she would earn with a conventional publisher that needs to recover its investment.

I’ve touched on many factors to consider in scoping a library publishing service, expanding on those that I think need to be considered first:

  1. What need are you trying to address?
  2. If you have a university press, do you really want to compete with it?
  3. Do you want to conduct or facilitate peer review?
  4. What are your expected costs as a publisher, and how do plan to cover any not fully subsidized by the library?