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Developing Business Cases for New Services in Research Libraries

Environmental Scan: Library Publishing

1 Leave a comment on paragraph 1 0 Library-based publishing activities in their current iteration (recognizing that the publishing role of libraries has long and varied history) are more widespread and perhaps more developed than data management and curation services. Like data services, library publishing is the subject of extensive documentation. Also, publishing is not isolated from data services; there are strong and desirable linkages to be made between data, publishing, and repository services (Hahn 2008). Like e-research, the current generation of library publishing is clearly a product of the Internet. Finally, publishing and data management and curation services may advance the same broader library goals.

2 Leave a comment on paragraph 2 0 Libraries report substantial demand for hosting, consulting, and publishing services (Hahn 2008), demand that has been growing since the beginning of the century. Within libraries, the focus has generally been on reducing the cost of scholarly literature and populating institutional repositories. Librarians are worried about the costs of scholarly publishing, the competition for library acquisitions dollars between nonprofit societal and commercial journal publishers, and the related impact on specialist monographic publishing. There is disagreement among faculty on publishing challenges. Those who see challenges may seek alternative publishing outlets. Concurrently, libraries have been building out their capacity to digitize and disseminate previously published and unpublished materials, raising their profile as potential providers of publishing services. “Consequently, expectations are rising that research libraries will take responsibility for current scholarship as well as legacy scholarship, especially for a wide range of locally produced works of scholarship. Evolving repository services, which house and disseminate institutional records, theses and dissertations, pre-prints, post-prints, learning objects, and research data, can inspire a range of inquiries about potential publishing services. It could be a short step to managing publication of works like journals and monographs, and faculty are approaching research libraries seeking publishing services” (Hahn 2008).

3 Leave a comment on paragraph 3 0 Strong collaborations between research libraries and campus computing services across the United States and Canada, coupled with a willingness to make their products open source, have resulted in the development and availability of a rich array of digital publishing infrastructure tools. These are easily augmented by low- or no-cost commercial applications that may enhance distribution and the reading experience. Libraries have been building out their digital capacities for decades and have highly competent staff. They also have extensive experience observing what publishers do. Unburdened by legacy print-publishing programs and practices and the revenue streams tied to them, current library publishing programs may rely on an increasingly capable digital infrastructure without the need to maintain large and costly access-control and marketing structures. It is as much a matter of pragmatism as principle to publish open access (Hahn 2008).

4 Leave a comment on paragraph 4 0 Publishing entails far more than hosting, however, and the challenges that libraries perceive and are attempting to address are multiple and complex. Demand for hosting, consulting, and publishing services is coming to libraries due to broader upheaval in scholarly publishing. University presses are under particular strain. Most operate under a cost-recovery model that may stifle the innovation that presses, scholars, and libraries all want (Brown, Griffiths, and Rascoff 2007). Not well understood in libraries is that the transition to real electronic publishing—as opposed to hosting—is costly. Presses may be in positions that run counter to other units in their universities. The Modern Language Association’s recent study on promotion and tenure practices (Modern Language Association 2007) is illustrative: more publications, on more specialized and recondite subjects, are being required for tenure at the same time that publishers are selling far fewer copies of monographs and are calling for more marketable titles. University subventions supporting monographic publications do not begin to make up the cost deficit not covered by sales (Crewe 2004). Yet there is a real expectation from all sides that university presses will meet these contradictory needs and obligations (Brown, Griffiths, and Rascoff 2007). Both success and failure may lead to danger.

5 Leave a comment on paragraph 5 0 Press directors are mostly aware of the problems described by provosts and librarians, but have struggled to formulate a new plan or lack the resources to implement one. They feel they are held to a different standard than all the cost centers on campus, that they are essentially penalized for pursuing a cost recovery model, which then becomes the basis for evaluating their performance. When they perform well (in financial terms), they are “rewarded” by having subsidies cut. When they run too large a deficit they are threatened with closure. Some have responded to these expectations by elevating cost-recovery in their selection criteria, publishing more trade books and shying away from the least marketable fields. This approach may improve their financial situation, while at the same time undermining the case for subsidies. (Brown, Griffiths, and Rascoff 2007)

6 Leave a comment on paragraph 6 0 Libraries are well advised to study the current plight of their institutional presses: if these units, which have skilled staff and access to revenue, are threatened, what is the likelihood that provosts will direct funding and patience to the library for these services?

7 Leave a comment on paragraph 7 0 Economic and cultural issues abound. Digital publishing provides wonderful opportunities for experimental and nontraditional types of publications. Librarians in particular are enthusiastic to support online, hybrid works (Brown, Griffiths, and Rascoff 2007). Tenure and promotion committees, however, may be hostile to these (Candee and Withey 2008), dampening junior scholars’ willingness to stretch the boundaries of publishing. Library journal publishing programs generally rely on established peer review mechanisms, employing extant rosters of readers when journals migrate from external publishers to the library (Hahn 2008). But monographic publishing capabilities are less well established. Libraries cannot afford to ignore the importance that scholars place on the imprimatur conferred by established presses (Brown, Griffiths, and Rascoff 2007). The editorial structures that provide such quality certification are the chief drivers of the high costs of book publishing (Crewe 2004), as libraries that partner with presses have discovered.

8 Leave a comment on paragraph 8 0 Library publishing programs are funded in most cases with central library operational funds, even when augmented by other financial streams (Hahn 2008). Librarians know readers and their habits very well, but they don’t know what will turn a reader into a customer (Jensen 2008). Attempts to move to external revenue streams have followed a variety of models, with varying degrees of success. Constrained funding and no access to revenue streams will keep most library publishing programs very limited in scope. University presses with access to revenue and strong track records have found it difficult to compete with commercial publishers, resulting in less competition and further concentration of profit and business models. If libraries are searching for transformation in scholarly publishing, small, individual efforts will not meet that goal. Collaborative efforts between institutions and with their presses may actually build a critical mass.

9 Leave a comment on paragraph 9 0 A far broader set of campus conversations will be needed to make publishing services—whether from libraries or presses or the two working together—sustainable. University administrations, which make funding decisions, must take a leadership role. Cooperation and infrastructure-building must be part of the conversation. Most importantly, each institution must articulate clearly what, whom, and how it publishes (Pochoda 2008). Those conversations are not yet sufficiently broad or deep, and not all of the actors are engaged. Until they are, it is difficult to know if library publishing programs, like the university presses with which they may work or against which they may compete, will find ongoing success. Or if, with entrenched opinions still in control, they will be cut loose as expensive and nonessential.

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Source: http://mcpress.media-commons.org/businesscases/environmental-scan-library-publishing/