P2L Summit: University Presses and Libraries: Partners in Digital Transformation

Catherine Cocks Discussion

P2L4, a conference sponsored by the Association of Research Libraries (ARL) and the Association of University Presses (AUPresses), brought together a group of publishers and librarians via Zoom on July 22 to talk about scholarly publishing. It operated under the Chatham House Rule, which allows people attending the event to use the information but not to share the names or affiliations of presenters and participants. The day’s panels featured multiple short presentations and small, well-structured breakout groups that reported back to the larger gathering. Below is a summary of the first two panels; Lisa Bayer, director of the University of Georgia Press, will provide a recap of the third, on what libraries and presses can do to advance racial equity, later this week.

The first panel, “Open Infrastructure Initiatives: The Role of Presses and Libraries,” included four presentations on a variety of efforts to create scholarly publishing infrastructure that is both open and community-governed. Collectively, the panelists underscored how critical infrastructure itself is to sustaining academic research in the future. Open access by itself is not enough to accelerate and democratize research, and it is not financially sustainable. Author-pays models and transformative agreements (shifting journals from subscription to open access) limit who can publish and where they can publish, and the shift to OA has not challenged commercial monopolies as intended. Addressing these problems means going back to the original vision of building a publishing infrastructure based on open-source systems in which university libraries and presses are central players.

Another speaker described efforts to survey and promote integration among the existing open publishing tools. As an earlier Elephant post on the Mind the Gap report showed, such tools have proliferated over the past two decades, raising issues of functionality, interoperability, and sustainability. One of the great advantages the big commercial publishers have enjoyed is their ability to create large-scale, seamless platforms for hosting, publishing, and distributing scholarship. The Next Generation Library Publishing project’s goal is to foster open, mission-aligned, community-governed, interoperable platforms that are even better. (It is sponsored by the Educopia Institute.) So far, Next Gen has issued a white paper and is now developing ScomCat, a Scholarly Communications Technology Catalog (due to be released in 2020), which will then enable it to prioritize projects for funding.

The third speaker reviewed efforts of the Transitioning Society Publications to OA (TSPOA) group, which helps society publishers switch their journals from subscription to open access by linking them with resources for restructuring their business models so that they can continue to fund society conferences, travel fellowships, and other initiatives traditionally financed by subscription revenue. By the end of summer 2020, the group aims to pilot a crowd-managed platform for OA investors with the aim of creating a marketplace for open publishing initiatives that would engage all stakeholders and generate a sustainable OA business model.

Financing OA publications was also the focus of a presentation on the Invest in Open Infrastructure organization. Beginning with 16 partners, it now (as of mid-2020) has 85; its “Future of Open Scholarship” listening tour is ongoing. Especially in light of the impact of the covid-19 pandemic on universities and public funding for research and education, the IOI hopes to provide a hedge against a collapse of the scholarly publishing system and a subsequent consolidation into even fewer commercial outlets. This speaker stressed the value of having a diversity of organizations and institutions supporting scholarly publishing. (In the breakout, another participant pointed to Project MUSE as a model, as it originated in a collaborative venture offering a platform for many university presses.) IOI is pushing back against systems that lock scholars and libraries into inflexible systems, instead echoing the NGLP’s call for modular, interoperable tools and platforms, and also against the commodification of data, with the goal of making the system overall more resilient.

Reporting out from breakouts yielded these ideas:

  • We need to ask universities to sign on to create an infrastructure we control despite the economic crisis.

  • We need to show that community-created and governed publishing infrastructure is cheaper and more efficient, as well as mission-aligned.

  • Publishers and libraries need to collaborate beyond just their own institutions.

  • We need to find ways to share services while maintaining the diversity of publishing options for scholars.

  • We need to make the connections among scholars, libraries, and presses visible so that we can all grasp how the system works and how to make it serve our needs better.

The second panel, “Editors and Librarians: Building Relationships to Support Digital Scholars,” looked at the way we can collaborate to support scholars building new forms of digital scholarship. The panel chair began by urging us to build ties between libraries and publishers, so that when a potential collaboration emerges we know who to reach out to on the other side. The chair also pointed out that subject librarians and acquisitions editors have similar backgrounds and jobs, and both focus on assisting scholars as producers of knowledge. The first speaker then examined the role of presses and libraries in sustaining digital projects. He distinguished between preservation (when a project is complete and no longer being developed) and sustainability (when a project continues to evolve). Some projects require press and library engagement, while others do not.

Then three pairs of presenters—each pair made up of one participant from a library, one from a press—described their collaborative projects. One partnership involved the press’s expertise in publishing workflows and the library’s expertise in digital tools and training people to use them, culminating in the development of a multi-level service model for helping faculty develop journals using Open Journal Systems (OJS). Another pair examined a project developed by an acquisitions editor and the library’s digital scholarship strategist to showcase humanists’ responses to the COVID-19 pandemic. While the librarian sits on the project’s editorial board alongside the scholars, the acquisitions editor does not; rather, she performs her usual role in managing the publishing workflow and providing developmental editing. The librarian’s role is to manage the technological challenges of incorporating diverse pieces into a single project. Stay tuned; this one is in process.

The final partnership brought together a publishing services manager at a university press and a librarian at a different university. The librarian, specifically tasked with moving academic knowledge into the public sphere, began by publishing books generated by his institution through the press’s publishing services unit. This relationship then enabled both parties to think more creatively, leading to the successful flipping of an electrical engineering textbook to open (with good print sales, too), and now to digital projects. The librarian emphasized the wide range of non-traditional research outputs his faculty were generating, including innovative digital publications, and called for tenure and promotion guidelines to change to accommodate them. Faculty need some kind of imprimatur proving that these projects have been peer reviewed, he noted, and he called for presses to be more transparent about what that entails. The publisher noted that presses are well positioned to be innovative in peer review.

In the second round of breakout groups, participants were asked to come up with recommendations for moving the P2L initiative forward. Here are some of the suggestions:

  • Provide more opportunities for publishers and librarians to learn from each other and build capacity, especially among people at smaller institutions and presses where there are not a lot of resources for this kind of innovation. If small presses can’t participate in the transformation of scholarly infrastructure, the goal of preserving diverse outlets for scholarship will be lost.

  • Build knowledge of where resources are and models for deciding whether presses need to develop staff expertise or draw on other partners and freelancers to provide specific skills.

  • Make sure we have this conversation about infrastructure and innovation across the organization (especially operational staff), not just among leadership.

  • Apply for funding to build projects and infrastructure together—scholars, libraries, and presses.

  • Create a toolkit for engagement to bring libraries and presses together.

  • Include scholars more in the conversation (this meeting, notably, involved only presses and libraries).

  • Continue to foster conversations like this one through exchanging papers, hosting Zoom sessions, and so on, especially offering opportunities to examine successes and failures.

  • Work to develop a common vocabulary and an understanding of the different cultures of libraries and presses.

  • Look for opportunities to support each other, as in a case when a small press has an idea but lacks the technical expertise or resources to develop it.

  • Provide a clearinghouse of information to enable presses and libraries to make connections and access tools and resources.

  • Embed expectations for collaboration and digital projects in job descriptions, so that there are incentives to pursue such projects.

  • Create informal opportunities for interaction and creativity.

  • Encourage libraries to work with presses (combining scarce resources) instead of creating independent OA publishing structures.

  • Recognize that scholars can be a connection between presses and libraries; have a joint editorial board for projects.

  • Reduce the competition between presses and libraries, especially in a time of budget cuts; if it’s true, as some say, that “the money’s already in the system,” let’s find ways to use it more efficiently and collaboratively.

  • Encourage libraries and presses to work together to shape innovative forms of peer review and broaden the networks we draw on.

  • Look for support from the provost for library-press collaborations on digital projects so that the project doesn’t weigh on press revenue.

  • Foster greater transparency in peer review (in the chat participants pointed toward the Peer Review Standards project, which the Elephant wrote about in 2019).

Have something to say on this topic? Reply to this post or email the Elephant about writing for us. We welcome submissions from stakeholders on all sides of scholarly publishing.

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A post from Feeding the Elephant: A Forum for Scholarly Communications.

Note: This was the third panel of the P2L conference held July 22. A recap of the first two panels can be found here
Lisa Bayer, Director, University of Georgia Press, sent us this summary.

This session moved from the conceptual framing of anti-racism, to the exploratory new focus of a funding agency, to the concrete work presses and libraries might undertake together. The first presenter addressed organizational development through a racial equity lens, encouraging participants to become aware of whiteness as an unacknowledged environment (“like water, we can’t see it, but we’re in it”) and recommending resources, including racialequityinstitute.com. The second presenter reviewed the new focus of the Mellon Foundation’s Public Knowledge program (formerly Scholarly Communications) on funding projects that explicitly close content gaps, build fields, de-center whiteness, and promote BIPOC publishing. The third presenter described the process undertaken by the University of Georgia Libraries and Press and the Georgia Review in creating a viable Committee on Equity and Inclusion with a charter and goals that addressed the diverse programs of an academic library, university press, and literary magazine.

Have something to say on this topic? Reply to this post or email the Elephant about writing for us. We welcome submissions from stakeholders on all sides of scholarly publishing.