Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Library Publishing Services: Strategies for Success?

The workshops have started for the "Library Publishing Services: Strategies for Success" project, supported by a collaborative planning grant from IMLS. Three workshops are being held in May 2011 at each of the collaborating institutions' campuses. The first took place last week (May 4-6) at Georgia Tech in Atlanta, the second will be this week (May 11-13) at the University of Utah in Salt Lake City, and the third will be at Purdue (May 18-20). Each workshop involves 40 invited participants, drawn from a sample of the institutions who replied to a web survey of ARL, Oberlin Group, and University Libraries Group deans and directors in fall 2010, and from an open application process also conducted last year. The central question of each workshop is: "how can we make library publishing services more professional and effective?"

I think the process got off to a good start in Atlanta. While my perspective is very partial, and the diversity of participants meant that many different viewpoints were reflected, here are some of my personal takeaways -- grouped into "things I learned and would be able to apply immediately", "challenges to library publishing service development that worry me", and "recommendations I would make to IMLS and other potential champions of library publishing services going forward." They are in no especial order.

What I learned that I could apply immediately:

  • Language matters. It has long been recognized that libraries prefer to talk about "sustainability plans" rather than "business plans." Rather than just being a result of an aversion to corporate-speak, the workshop convinced me that such nuances are strategically useful and can actually help library publishing staff differentiate themselves from more familiar, conventional publishing options when offering their services to faculty.
  • Written agreements with sponsors of publications are essential for sustainability, to clarify roles and responsibilities, and to indemnify programs. When library publishing services focused entirely within the university, issues of liability were largely irrelevant since both sponsor and provider were part of the same institution. However, as libraries also increasingly offer their services to societies and other loosely affiliated groups, language at least partially insulating the library from accusations of copyright infringement (for example) is necessary.
  • To overcome the reluctance of faculty to sign Memoranda of Understanding with the library (some participants spoke of resistance), I thought that the idea of retitling these Service Level Agreements and starting with the obligations of the libraries was clever. Framing an SLA as a guarantee to the sponsor of the services the library provides also encourages library publishing services to professionalize their operations so they can keep their promises. Again, language matters.
  • Electronic Theses and Dissertations (ETDs) are clearly an important challenge and opportunity to library publishing services. They are a vital part of the intellectual output of an institution and represent the substantial efforts of faculty as well as students. The perception within libraries that having to "purchase back" scholarship substantially funded by the university at unreasonable prices from publishers can be easily extended to ETDs, where Proquest has a dominant role in the US as a comprehensive re-publisher. It is interesting to think about what the "value add" could be to ETDs (reference linking? metadata enrichment?). One starts to explore the narrow line between a "dissertation" and a "monograph."
  • Mining Library special collections and archives for unique archival materials deserving of reprint is a "quick win" for library-university press collaborations. A "cherry picker" rather than a "wheelbarrow" approach appeals, where the expertise of librarians and interested faculty guides the selection of projects rather than uploading Google-digitized, pre-1923 materials to Amazon en masse. I liked the example of Penn State's Metalmark imprint.
  • In publishing e-journals in particular, a "bimodal" approach to pricing fulfills the library's desire to provide "free" alternative publishing venues for periodicals while allowing library publishing staff to offer the additional services that journal sponsors so often request. While the "base" provision of hosting can be free, a "premium" level can offer a service more akin to a regular publisher. Although Rebecca Kennison will present at a later workshop, I think the Columbia University CDRS model of "barebones" to "extended" services is the best example of this approach I have seen.
  • Business plans for library publishing services are desirable, articulating the value proposition to the university and library administration even if the financials may be lacking. There are several good examples to emulate on the web; notably Sam Kalb's excellent work at Queen's University.
  • In any organization, having a dedicated "champion" for library publishing services as a whole or a particular project is essential for success. Even if the champion is not a complete FTE staff member, the feeling of ownership is essential for sustainability.
Challenges to library publishing service development that worry me:
  • While supporting digital humanities scholarship is important, the assumption that this should be a special responsibility of library publishing services seems flawed. However one feels about the idea, the reality is that most libraries invested in offering publishing services originally hoping to provide an outlet to scholars that could be an alternative to expensive (for libraries) commercial STM journal publishers. To abandon any ambitions around STM publishing represents an abdication of this original goal and leads library publishing services down the same road that many university presses now regret they took. 
  • STM publishing may seem harder than HSS publishing for librarians who mostly earned their degrees in humanities and social sciences subjects, but the reality is that the systems, workflows, and conventions for publishing in most STM disciplines are so well established that publishing for this world may in fact be easier than designing the sort of bespoke products that digital humanities scholars demand. Working in STM publishing also seems to be a fairly logical extension of the conversations around data preservation that many librarians are increasingly having with faculty. And, while some fields of STM are certainly well "sewn up" by the disciplinary societies, there are areas in fields such as agriculture, technology, and health sciences especially where library publishing services may have a quick win and where the traditional library commitment to maximizing public access resonates.
  • How can we convince scholars that library publishing services are "serious"? While some of the traditional tools of branding (putting a dustjacket on a book, for example) are lacking in the digital environment, investment in the trappings of a professional publisher (proper agreements, good design, on-time publication, a reasonable level of copyediting) offers a starting point. However, reaching beyond the perception that publishing within one's own institution is "vanity" publishing will always be difficult -- at least in some fields.
  • How do library publishing services, naturally service-oriented, decide what not to publish? Taking all comers, as some admirable programs such as the D-Scribe Digital Publishing Program at the University of Pittsburgh seem to be doing, feels as if it may be unsustainable in the end. Too few library publishing programs seem to have a "collection development" or "list building" policy beyond a general inclination to publish just the work of their parent institution's scholars.
  • Library publishing services rely on collaboration; with university presses where available, with IT departments, with centers and departments, sometimes with societies. Some university systems and processes, especially those based around the concept of Responsibility Centered Management (RCM) seem to make this harder, especially when the processing of financial transactions is involved.
  • When talking about collaboration, or library publishing services in general, we need to be careful not to assume that a collaborative relationship has to be with a university press, or that a university press needs to be in the mix at all. While there are around 2,500 four year colleges in the USA, there are only 100 or so university presses, so many libraries will not have a nearby press to collaborate with. Even if there is a press, it may not be in a position (fiscally or emotionally) to want to collaborate or it may be a "system-wide" press that is difficult for a "campus-centered" library to work with (e.g., Binghampton University is just one part of the SUNY system, served by SUNY Press). To focus too much on press-library collaboration is to potentially disenfranchise a huge group of library-based publishers.
  • Can library publishing services really continue to differentiate between being a "publisher" and simply a "hosting solution"? The latter seems a half-hearted excuse for not operating in a professional way and a sure path to developing an unsustainable program. Just providing infrastructure and expecting scholars to then run their own publications may work in a minority of cases, but most sponsors (especially busy faculty members) require services and are willing to pay for project management, production assistance, marketing, etc.
Recommendations I would make to IMLS and other potential champions of library publishing services going forward:

  • There is a need for continued dialog and learning opportunities among the librarians involved in providing library publishing services. Unlike more established areas of library service provision, LPS lacks clear venues for information sharing and skills building. Shana Kimball from M Publishing raised the interesting idea of starting #pubcamp, organized along the lines of #thatcamp, an informal "unconference" format to promote sharing.
  • In skills building, whether in library schools or some less formal venue, LPS practitioners need to prioritize the development of project management expertise. Far beyond technical know-how, the ability to be a "wrangler" and keep the moving parts of a project operating to push it forward came through the workshop as being centrally important.
  • LPS needs some central support, and SPARC needs to reinvigorate its commitment to supporting alternative publishing models, rather overwhelmed by its advocacy activities in recent years. The recently rather moribund SPARC campus publishing resource center needs to meet the demand for "publishing in a box" tools such as template documents and best practice case studies.
  • It is essential that the statistics tools in the next generation of technological infrastructure used for LPS are as robust as possible. Stats are the currency with which LPS projects need to be able to pay their contributors. Most are too young or too irregular to yet have impact factors. Qualitative information (such as the mapping capabilities of Google Analytics) as well as quantitative, COUNTER-compliant, download counts both help Open Access publishers justify themselves to sponsors or authors.
  • Publishing systems used in LPS need to be able to restrict access to content and to offer subscription options. These are services that the sponsors of publications want and, even if Open Access is the end goal, there need to be options for transition to this state.
  • There is a demand for hosted OJS solutions in the US, as so successfully provided by Simon Fraser University Libraries in Canada. Would HathiTrust or Duraspace provide a logical home for such an option?
  • Library publishing services need to adopt "collection development" or "list building" policies. These needn't be complicated. Rutgers University Libraries, for example, have an LPS collection development policy that they will "add only in areas that reflect or enhance a significant special collection or a collection strength of RUL." Aligning LPS priorities with the mission of the parent institution (e.g., building capacity in signature areas) broadens support for the service, while emphasizing the creation of "unique" collections chimes well with current thought in other areas of librarianship in an era of electronic availability and efficient interlibrary loan for the "other stuff."
  • Templates and standardized workflows for common types of publication (such as e-journals) need to be shared. There is no need to recreate the wheel.
  • The opportunities to reallocate some of the collections budget to support library publishing services need to be further explored. There are clear obstacles to this, both in terms of the free-rider effect if a few libraries publisher Open Access resources for the good of many, and in working out whether it is a portion of the whole materials budget (including periodicals) or just the much smaller monographs budget one is talking about. However, there is a logic in the idea.
  • We need to better understand the campus-wide organization of publishing services and to inventory the sources of funds and pockets of skills available within many institutions. The work of the SLASIAC Task Force on the University as a Publisher at the University of California provides a model, and it would be so interesting to see a version of this report conducted at smaller, less complex institutions.
  • We need some common language to refer to in order to make the value proposition for library based publishing services. The description of "the value of university presses" is one of the most useful parts of the website of the Association of American University Presses.
  • We need more case studies of success. One particular area where this would be valuable would be in convincing potential library partners, both in university presses and societies, that libraries can help advance strategic needs. The question of "what's in it for us" is not only a common but a reasonable one, so the ability to showcase society-library collaborations around data management (such as the project underway between John Hopkins Libraries and the American Astronomical Society) or press-library collaborations (such as the Guantanamo lawyers project at NYU, where the libraries brings such extra richness to the Press's book project) is important.