Library as Publisher: Exploring Value Added

One of the phrases we hear often in the scholarly communications game is the “value added” that publishers provide. In the wake of traditional paper journals, I think it is fair to ask what Publishers are good for. Luckily, our colleagues at the Society for Scholarly Publishing’s Scholarly Kitchen blog have compiled the list for us.

In the past few weeks I’ve come across two or three reports or articles talking about the concept ofLibrary as Publisher; “the organized production and dissemination of scholarly works in any format as a service provided by the library.” (Hahn, 2008) As I’ve been slowly working to build understanding of my work around campus I’ve deliberately avoided the word “publishing,” for the reason that I think it dilutes the focus of open access and ends up creating unnecessary confusion about what it is and how it works.

That said, what if the Library as Publisher were actually able to offer the “value added” services that traditional publishers claim to provide? Scanning the list linked above quickly here’s what I see:

  • Audience/Field detection and cultivation – Subject Liaisons could provide this insight, depending of course on how embedded they are in the discipline. Also, the slew of marketing analysis tools that are readily available could fill this void (isn’t this where the obligatory “curation” reference would go?).
  • Create and establish a viable brand – Hmmm… Ever heard of Harvard University? Wake Forest? Florida State (!)? What would it look like if University Communications offices were partnered or embedded with Scholarly Communications offices? I’d argue strongly that the brand of any University far outweighs the branding that a publisher could provide.
  • Soliciting/Managing Submissions – Couldn’t/shouldn’t this easily be an essential role for a scholarly communications office, especially one with an active institutional repository, in partnership with the Department (Grad Students, Admin Staff)?
  • Copyright Registration and Protection – In the case of other University Sponsored Educational Materials, often the University claims these as works for hire. Scholarly works like articles and books are exempted. In the case of many (faculty supported) open access policies, the faculty assigns non-exclusive dissemination rights to the University. I’m nowhere near lawyerly, but it seems not too much of a stretch to propose that Counsel could be more productively involved in protecting and representing the rights of published works, eliminating the need for Publishers to handle this for faculty authors.
  • Content – I’m lumping in a lot here: XML, tagging, DOI registration, ISSN, SEO, art, multimedia. Is there any new librarian that you know of who doesn’t have at least nominal skills in a majority of the areas listed above? Managing content/info/data is what we do.

That’s just a small sample from the list of what the publishers do to add value, not to mention publishing the work, of course. What got me thinking about this was this recent Times Higher Ed article, which outlines a study looking at how academics feel about profits made off their work. Although this article is specifically focused on monographs, the following quote stood out:

“The two most highly rated services provided by publishers were distribution and marketing. There were also the services that the scholars surveyed – especially senior academics – would be least willing to perform themselves in an open-access environment, the study found.”

Great. Let the Library as Publisher do it. Let the ecosystem of the University – communications, counsel, research office – do it. I know this might be aiming a little high, and thinking to far out of the box, but hey… what if? What if the University Press was folded into the Library and research was supported throughout its entire life cycle by the instituion that believes in it and is already invested in it? What would be the potential economic impact on the library budget if resources could be shifted from the end of the research cycle (subscriptions) to the beginning and middle (production, dissemination/promotion)?

I obviously don’t have all the details figured out. But, I’m interested in the potential here, and I think the issues and questions are worth consideration. I’ll leave you with this:

An increasing number of potential competitors to libraries are developing who do not share the values of librarianship [or the academy, I’d argue]. These competitors often bring a culture of commercialization to new projects that are incompatible with the public good philosophies of academic libraries. They also lack the library’s strong focus on digital curation and preservation and interest in citability and the reuse and exchange of scholarly information presented online.

Even if content published by these competitors is made accessible at no cost or for a fair price at the moment, surrendering the creative output of the institution at its earlier stage of development to forces outside the academy exposes libraries to a recurrence of the situation they now face with commercially published materials. In short, if libraries do not meet faculty needs for new publishing solutions in the digital environment now, someone else will and this moment of opportunity will be lost. At that point, academic libraries will pay the price as they rent collections hosted by external entities – collections that libraries could (and should) have hosted and curated on behalf of their academic communities. – from Library Publishing Coalition (LPC): A Proposal.

*Post inspired by Library Publishing Coalition, an Educopia project. Contact Katherine Skinner with questions at 404-783-2534

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