Do you remember when you had that paper to write? You barely narrowed down your topic. You kept researching, keeping up with the news, and chatting with classmates. Your professor took some time and listened to you gibber a little, but he knew you would figure it out (or at least you did). Then he introduced you to an expert who said something that made all the light bulbs go off!

Photo taken by Kyle Cassidy

Kathryn Deiss (photo by Kyle Cassidy)

Recently, I had a conference call with Kathryn Deiss, Content Strategist at ACRL, about the topic of libraries as publishers. ACRL has just published “Getting the Word Out: Academic Libraries as Scholarly Publishers.” If you’re a student, you’ll definitely want to read chapter nine, “More Than Consumers: Students as Content Creators”–my personal favorite. Thank you Amy Buckland.

Here are highlights from that conversation.

CCH: How did libraries get started down the path of publishing?

KD: There was a need to form an alliance where we could open up scholarship and not be held by the neck by commercial publishers. This started libraries down the path ofsaying, we should take a more active role in the publishing world because we’re paying for these journals…and we need to figure out a different approach.

One dean of libraries, Kenneth Frazier, stood up and said, I’m tired of paying all these prices. He knew we still had to buy commercial journals, but he pushed for a new model. He was willing to put money into starting an initiative…[he and other directors] created the Scholarly Publishing and Academic Resources Coalition (SPARC). In the last year, it has become an independent organization–independent of the Association of Research Libraries (ARL).

The idea was they weren’t satisfied with the scholarly publishing world being fully in the hands of commercial publishers for two reasons. One, it was costing us a mint to buy back the scholarship of our very own scholars on campus. Two, it’s not open. There’s a turnstile every time we use one of these articles for eReserves.

Image by ACRL

Image by ACRL

What they wanted to do was not abolish commercial publishers, but to offer a different model. SPARC started to develop a platform for new online journals that were much more open and free in many cases. They started to develop some real successes with, I think it was an environmental science journal. There was a big effort to talk to faculty on campuses and say, look you’re giving away your copyright to these commercial publishers. This means that you, even as a faculty member, have to ask permission to use your own article. SPARC began a big education program with faculty members that led to some faculty member saying, let’s start our own journal that would be open. They started to really make some impact because people realized they actually did  have the power to create new journals.

There were some real models that came out of the early days of the SPARC program, and over time, that led to specific libraries thinking they could base some of these journals in their own library–so that maybe college and university libraries ought to be in the business of scholarly publishing. 

In some cases, they had to review the structure of their organization. For instance, in the bigger organizations the dean of libraries is often the head of the university press, so that allows them to have a different view of its goals. That’s not the case with every college library. On the other hand, the press is typically a revenue producing part of the organization, and so it’s not exactly focused on open access. Most university presses still sell books, but that’s still not where libraries want to go as publishers, although they might sustain that.

So there are three threads going on here. There’s the SPARC initiative. Then there’s libraries being in charge of the university press and keeping that going but also starting conversations within the press about how things should be published. And then the third thing is, libraries deciding they could actually publish some stuff, experiment with new journals and host those in their own library to support faculty. Not every organization, not every academic library has jumped into this pond because you have to have a whole set of skills and staff to do it. Libraries are still figuring out these new roles.

Image by SPARC

Image by SPARC

CCH: What are some of those skills and roles?

KD: Well I think some things that people ought to learn include how does publishing work? How does standard publishing work? How does commercial publishing work? What is the acquisition process? What is the editorial process? What are the budgetary or financial aspects of current publishing? They have to have the ability to think about what they need for open access publishing and find people who will be experimental. People who know how to create digital content and have HTML skills and all kinds of other skills.

It means more than creating a book. It means really making scholarship available. Even people who have created institutional repositories see them as is kind of a publishing activity, so it really requires some ability to understand a lot of different aspects of technologies and emerging technologies.

CCH: Can you talk a little more about what you do? You’re title, Content Strategist, is pretty cool.

KD: The main part of my job is to acquire content. I go talk to people like Meghan Oakleaf and David Lankes, and I sort of push them to maybe publishing with us. If David has an idea, like he did with The Atlas of New Librarianship, I talk with him about how we could publish in the way that he wants to see it. 

I look for good content. I look for good authors, and I try to put them together and bring them into ACRL to have us publish their work. Mostly my job is find the content, find the people who are doing interesting things who might want to publish with us. Then the other part of it is once they publish something, I try to convince them to do a webcast around the content of their book. Then we get some eLearning out of it.

CCH: Who is your competition?

KD: ALA Editions is one competitor. We’re a separate publisher even though we’re a part of ALA, so we in compete for authors. We have to be on our toes and looking for the best content and making our publishing operation more enticing than anybody else’s, including the commercial publishers.

CCH: How do you find people?

KD: I actually go to a lot of presentations at our conferences. I watch the Twitter feed, and I watch Facebook. I watch to see what people are interested in. If I see somebody write an article about something interesting that I think could be developed into a longer book, I write to them and say you know if you’re ever thinking about a book, we publish!

I have to explain that we publish separately from ALA all the time. People don’t get that because we’re part of ALA. I explain that ACRL is the only not-for-profit publisher for academic libraries. Not too many people know that.

The other way I make it interesting depends on the content–like with the libraries as publishers book. The content was obviously about open access–making scholarship open and how libraries are supporting that. I knew that the editors Maria Bonn, who used to be in charge of the library publishing activity at the University of Michigan, and Mike Furlough, who is the head of the HathiTrustwhich is very involved in making scholarship open, would ask me about open access. 

When I went to them to write this book, I said, you know it’s possible that we could do a print edition and an open access edition and that did it, that was the thing that sweeten the pot. That’s the thing that made them say yes. It’s when I said I would be willing to do a side by side print and open access edition and launch them at the same time that they said OK. Commercial publishers won’t do that. They don’t want to lose money; they’re worried that if they make it open nobody will buy the print. In our experience, depending on the content people still want to buy the print. They might want to preview the book or they might want to have the open access on their iPad but have the book on their shelf.

CCH: What are some ways graduates can develop a good track record?

KD: You have to take opportunities to present when they come up. You have to learn how to write, to go out there and find opportunities even if it’s just a little short piece and in College and Research Libraries News. Look for opportunities where you can start developing your voice. You have to deliver. If you say you’re going to do something, you really have to deliver on it.

CCH: Can you touch on anything I missed?

KD:  I think when it comes to publishing in general it’s really important to think about how to get better at writing, how to get feedback on your writing so that you can develop better and better skills to express yourself the way you want toBut that’s just for the person–for the individual librarian to think about.

For libraries, I think it’s important to think about how we play a role in keeping scholarship as open as possible. I think that’s a really important role for libraries and I know that everything costs money to produce and that’s the one problem with open access. It’s hard to find a business model for open access.

Those models still need to be worked out; I think that will be the contribution of people who come after us old folks.

+ Follow #MonksMoocs to keep up with “Publish or Perish: From Monks to Moocs” taught by R. David Lankes @iSchoolSU.

+ “Journals in emerging or niche fields have been especially poorly served by traditional commercial publishers, and these are the journals that readily find a better fit in the more flexible, lower-cost publishing model offered by libraries” (2015, p. 3). Busher and Kamotsky in Learned Publishing: “Stories and Statistics from Library-led Publishing

+ Library Journal and BiblioBoard® collaborate to put a new spin on the word Self-e.

+ Check out the Espresso Book Machine–imagine the opportunities this presents for members of your library.

+ Last but not least, you should bookmark the Library Publishing Directory.

In Bonn, M., & In Furlough, M. (2015). Getting the word out: Academic libraries as scholarly publishers.

What industry do you wish your library was a part of?