Wednesday, October 12, 2016

Why Integrating a University Press into a Library (Usually) Make Sense

I've recently published an article in Learned Publishing with the slightly silly title of "Why marriage matters: A North American perspective on press/library partnerships." If you want to read the whole thing, it is available open access on the Learned Publishing site. The heart of the article is a discussion of the benefits that can accrue to both the press and the library if an integrated relationship is entered into. I say "can" because each circumstance is different and integration of the two entities does not make sense in every case. But I think the arguments for it are compelling.

While many press/library collaborations are initiated by anticipated “economic” benefits, the partners increasingly find “sociopolitical” advantage which is often closely linked to “technological” opportunity in an environment where the need to sustain digital scholarship is an increasing theme. These three themes are discussed below. The benefits realized are not only relevant to the two partners, of course, but also allow them together to better serve the scholarly communication needs of institutional faculty, staff, and students and to develop powerful solutions for particular disciplinary communities whose subject interests align with the strategic strengths of the parent university—an idea strongly focused on in the recommendations of the 2007 Ithaka S&R report on University Publishing in a Digital Age.

Economic: In the economic sphere, the reasons why a university press could benefit from closer relationships with the library may initially be clearer than the advantages for libraries. As described in a number of reports, university presses have long been suffering from the declining market for scholarly books and increased financial scrutiny from their institutions. Reducing expenses is a priority, and opportunities to share overhead costs with campus partners are beneficial. As libraries increasingly either de-accession or remove print materials to remote storage, subsidized or “free” physical space is becoming available that may be suitable for press occupancy, although presses interested in a central campus location will often have to wrestle with other priority needs (especially those focused on student learning) when lobbying for premium library space. Other opportunities for synergy frequently come in the areas of IT services, combined human resource and business office support, and shared legal counsel.

In a survey conducted by AAUP’s Library Relations Committee in 2012, 11% of libraries provided some form of cash subsidy to university presses, while 53% of libraries provided some other kinds of service. This included rent-free space but also support for basic office functions, digitization, metadata enrichment, and preservation services. Both libraries and presses share specific needs in these areas that would not be well accommodated by other campus partners. For example, IT specialists in the library tend to understand the metadata standards needed for bibliographic information and the demands of digital preservation, HR recruiters are often advertising in similar venues for library and press staff, and legal expertise in areas such as intellectual property is desirable for both partners (even if they may sometimes approach the law from different angles). While many of the business office functions needed by the partners are similar, some challenges can emerge in this area. These are mostly related to handling a revenue-generating unit whose income and expenditure fluctuate over a multiyear cycle (e.g., expenses incurred on a book in one financial year may not be recouped until the following financial year) rather than a library, which spends down an annually renewed budget over a single financial year, and having to track cash flow. Indeed, while many press/library collaborations have found synergies in back-office operations related to expenditure, it has been much harder to merge systems related to revenue, including the time-consuming demands of royalty tracking.

A less tangible area of economic opportunity for both presses and libraries is in developing a better mutual understanding of the economic challenges facing the scholarly communication ecosystem in order to develop more informed strategies for intervention. One example of this lies in the area of open-access publishing, where questions about the “real cost” of publishing both journal articles and, increasingly, books are at the center of library strategies to support this emerging field. University presses, over 50% of which publish journals, can help untangle the issues and inform an understanding of what might constitute a fair level of subsidy. With the growing interest in open-access monographs, questions of what constitutes a reasonable first copy cost are again coming to the fore, and the opportunities to work through cost components in an environment of mutual trust are invaluable. Where university press staff members are involved in discussions about collections development choices, presses gain insights into the processes by which libraries choose what and what not to buy. These are valuable for decision-making locally and may give a library-based university press a competitive advantage, but there are also ripple effects as informed press directors and staff spread an understanding of the constraints libraries are operating under within the publishing community more broadly.

Perhaps even more important than back-office efficiencies, there are perceptual advantages (especially for smaller presses) in having university press budgets incorporated into those of a larger parent organization on campus. Because they produce sales revenue, university presses generally are classified by their parent institutions as “auxiliary” operations alongside entities such as student housing, catering, and sometimes even athletics. Not only are academic publishing revenues dwarfed by those other sources of earned income, but the metrics of success for such units tend to primarily be financial rather than mission-related. Libraries, meanwhile, are classified as core academic units. Funds spent on the library and its subsidiary units are classified as “designated” for pursuit of the academic mission of the university. By changing its classification from “auxiliary” to “designated” in university accounts (the exact terms used will vary by institution), the press’s appearance under the library’s financial accounting umbrella can change the way in which the parent institution’s senior administrators understand the purpose of supporting an academic publishing unit – to the advantage of the university press. No more being called before the Provost to account for yet another year of deficit!

Sociopolitical: As libraries move from stewarding collections to providing services, academic librarians are eager to acquire expertise in serving the needs of faculty as “authors” rather than “users” of scholarly information. Even though the individuals may be the same, the attitudes and expectations of faculty as authors and as users of scholarly content are as different as “Dr. Jekyll and Dr. Hyde." The development of data management services and library publishing services are two manifestations of this change in emphasis, but it has become clear that libraries are struggling to gain acceptance by faculty members in these new “research support” roles, as reflected in the results of the latest Ithaka US faculty survey which suggests little advance in the library’s credibility as a research partner vs. increasing perception of its value in supporting students. While the credibility of the university press as a partner to authors may be greatest in humanities and social science disciplines, an association between a press and a library can advance the reputation of the library in this space and provide valuable access to knowledge about effective ways to solicit and work with authors.

A perennial challenge for university presses has been in demonstrating relevance to their parent institutions. Focused on the needs of specific disciplines across institutions rather than on a single institution, university presses provide a public good that is clear at the system level but is much less apparent to administrators evaluating the local benefits of their investments. Partnership with the library allows the press to create programs that demonstrate alignment with the needs of the institution, while also advancing the ambitions of the library in areas such as scholarly communication and information literacy instruction. These successes can be represented to senior administration by the dean or director of libraries who, unlike the press director, is a visible presence in institutional leadership meetings.

A particularly interesting opportunity for collaboration lies in finding ways for the university press and library to engage with students in new ways. A number of university presses are working with their parent libraries to create open and/or affordable textbooks (e.g., Indiana, Temple, Purdue, Oregon State). Meanwhile, under the banner of “publishing as pedagogy”, others are working to integrate the experience of publishing student work into the experiential learning opportunities that are increasing in number on North American campuses. The development of scholarly communication curricula involving the production of the graduate-produced Michigan Journal of Medicine ( or the undergraduate-run Journal of Purdue Undergraduate Research ( are examples. As well as completing the scholarly communication cycle and providing a tangible output that students can use in their future careers, involvement in a publishing process also involves the application of a number of high impact learning experiences that can be shown to have a positive impact on student success.

Technological: As faculty members increasingly apply digital tools to their research, their needs for support in publishing the full record of their work electronically is increasing. The evidence-based 2007 study by the Ithaka organization on “university publishing in the digital age” identified four emerging needs for scholars whose modes of information production and consumption are increasingly electronic. These are that everything must be electronic, that scholars will rely on deeply integrated electronic research/publishing environments, that multimedia and multi-format delivery will become increasingly important, and that new forms of content will enable different economic models . Almost a decade later, it is clear that university presses are seeing these needs expressed by almost every author, not just “digital humanists.”

Press/library collaborations have the capacity to effectively meet these needs by not only harnessing the complementary skills of publishers and librarians but also enabling university presses to connect peer-reviewed scholarship with less formally produced material, the idea of publishing “across the continuum” described by Daniel Greenstein. The inclination to experiment, which at many university presses has been suppressed by the need to constantly look to the bottom line, can be released by financial relief that being part of the library can offer to enable new opportunities to be explored. While a recent round of grants given by the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation to improve university press capacity to support digital scholarship in the humanities have gone to presses with a range of organizational structures, a disproportionate number of recipients represent library/press partnerships. The projects proposed by presses reporting to libraries have characteristics that leverage the relative strengths of each party and emphasize the logic of deep collaboration. For example, New York University’s Enhanced Network Monograph project focuses on issues of the discoverability of digital projects, especially open access publications, an area of joint concern to libraries and presses. The University of Michigan’s Fulcrum platform (, meanwhile, leverages library-based work to develop data repositories using the open source Hydra/Fedora framework to serve the needs of humanists for long-term digital preservation of the digital research outputs they wish to link to their monographs. Michigan is working on this project with three other presses strongly linked to their libraries (Indiana, Northwestern, and Penn State) and one that is not (Minnesota).

Why Not Just Good Friends?

Achieving some of the benefits of the sorts of collaboration described above does not absolutely require an integrated press/library structure. There are good examples of collaboration where the press and library have different reporting lines, or even are at different institutions, such as Duke University Press and Cornell University Libraries for Project Euclid or Oxford University Press and University of Utah Library in hosting supplemental content for a faculty member’s book. University of North Carolina Press especially has shown leadership in creating relationships with its system libraries to advance initiatives such as the creation of open educational resources through its Office of Scholarly Publishing Services. Some university presses that report to libraries continue to maintain self-conscious separation of functions: Stanford University Press has chosen to collaborate with the University of Richmond’s Digital Scholarship Lab rather than its parent library to create its Mellon-funded digital scholarship platform.

It is also important not to dismiss the real challenges that integrating two organizations with different cultures and traditions pose, especially since the historical relationship of client/vendor has built-in tensions. Cultural differences between librarians and publishers that make collaborating on joint projects challenging have sometimes been exemplified by the idea that “libraries are service organizations whose funding comes in part from their success in anticipating needs, they tend to say yes” while “publishers, working to break even in a highly competitive business, evaluating many potential projects, and with quantifiable limits on their productivity, tend to say no." Meanwhile, the need to pursue business strategies that cover most costs through earned revenue and the razor-thin margins most university presses operate on are often overlooked by libraries, and university press directors often feel unfairly picked upon when libraries accuse them of dragging their feet on open access or being “disconnected from the academic values of their parent institutions,” a common refrain in debate around the Georgia State University lawsuit.

However, as the above discussion has hopefully illustrated, the deep partnership required to truly unleash the power of the complementary skills and infrastructure that exist in university presses and academic libraries can only develop when press and library staff are collocated and share a common vision. Only in such “marriages” can resources be gifted and received, uncertain futures explored without risk, and the cultural differences between the partners truly appreciated and valued. Just good friends is not good enough.