Campus-based publishing partnerships: Introduction

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1.1 Context

Digital information technologies and ubiquitous networking have introduced a fundamental conceptual shift in scholarly and scientific communication. This changing environment has led university libraries to redefine their roles, and the services they provide, to better serve the research and teaching needs of their institutions. As a result, many university libraries have broadened their missions to launch online publishing programs that explore new models for scholarly communication.

The advent of digital publishing has also exerted pressure on university presses, traditionally the principal channels for campus-based publishing. As they have struggled in a difficult market, university presses have been criticized for failing to exploit the benefits of online publishing models. Yet such criticism often ignores the constraints under which the presses operate, including a financial model that typically requires them to recover almost 90% of their costs, and—more significantly—the expectations of their host institutions, indeed of the entire academy, that they continue to fulfill their traditional roles as publishers of original scholarly monographs.

As their roles continue to evolve, the boundaries separating the activities of the library and the press have become less distinct. It is not surprising then that the potential for libraries and university presses to cooperate in creating new digital publishing channels—aligned with the research and teaching missions of their host institutions and capable of contributing to a transinstitutional publishing system—is receiving increasing attention.

In June 2007, libraries and presses participated in a summit meeting to discuss how they might collaborate to forge new publishing structures that support existing and emerging forms of scholarly communication. A month later, Ithaka released its report University Publishing in a Digital Age, urging universities to develop comprehensive publishing strategies that combine the competencies and resources of relevant departments within the institution, including the library, the press, and the academic computing center.

In many institutions, the library and the press are taking the lead in developing collaborative publishing ventures intended to demonstrate the potential of integrated campus-based publishing strategies. However, despite their commitment to launching digital publishing partnerships, libraries and presses confront issues that limit the progress of such partnerships and slow their evolution.

These issues include:

Establishing governance and administrative structures that integrate the core competencies and resources of libraries and presses, without disrupting the broader objectives of either;
Identifying funding models that accommodate the disparate financial objectives, incentives, and missions of libraries and presses;
Defining a partnership’s objectives to align the vertical, institution-specific mission of the library with the horizontal, transinstitutional mission of the press;
Determining what services a partnership should provide, based on the current and future scholarly communication and publishing needs of an institution’s faculty and researchers; and
Demonstrating the value of a collaboration to university administrators in order to secure resources and long-term support.
As the number of publishing initiatives based on library-press partnerships continues to grow, addressing the issues above becomes increasingly important to advance the exploration of campus-based publishing models. Library-press partnerships can give the academy greater control over the intellectual products that it creates. However, to realize this potential, these partnerships will need to evolve from informal working alliances to long-term, programmatic collaborations that involve high levels of interdependence and shared strategic vision.

Balancing the differences—operational, financial, and mission-related—between a press, a library, and other university units can make establishing an effective publishing partnership complex. However, constructively addressing these differences as part of a collaborative process will contribute significantly to the strength, creativity, and value of such partnerships. Collaborative partnerships that include a press and a library hold promise largely because the partners have differing and diverse perspectives on a common problem.

For that reason, although this guide discusses campus-based publishing partnerships in general, it focuses on partnerships that include a press and a library. Other academic units—including academic computing, media centers, digital humanities and cultural heritage programs, and academic departments and research institutes—may play primary roles in partnerships or in partnership-sponsored projects. Each of these units will have its own mission and operating strategy that it seeks to advance through its participation in an alliance, and each will have a funding model that it needs to accommodate. Therefore, while this guide discusses partnership issues as they apply specifically to presses and libraries, most of the discussion applies as well to other academic units that may participate in campus-based publishing partnerships.

1.2 About This Guide

SPARC intends this guide to help university library, press, and academic computing staff charged with establishing a partnership by providing practical guidance on defining and structuring a collaborative partnership. The guide also promotes establishing explicit objectives, both strategic and financial, as a basis for the partnership and for monitoring progress against those objectives.

This guide is motivated by two assumptions: 1) that a well-conceived publishing partnership can deliver real benefits to a library, a press, and their host institution; and 2) that a library-press partnership may not always provide the most effective response to a university publishing need. In the former case, this guide will help libraries and presses realize the full potential of collaboration; in the latter, it should save institutions time and resources that might otherwise be expended on ill-defined, if well-intentioned, attempts to partner.

To help institutions through the issues relevant to building sound and balanced partnerships, this guide has several components:

• A review of past and current library-press initiatives.

Although previous library-press partnerships have been many and varied, there has been no systematic review of these alliances or of the lessons learned from their experiences. To fill this gap, Section 2 provides a typology of library-press partnerships and summary descriptions of current initiatives.

• A discussion of the potential benefits of library-press partnerships.

Libraries and presses can benefit from partnering in a variety of ways. Section 3 describes the types of benefits collaborative partnerships might deliver, and discusses how those benefits might relate to each partner’s operating strategy.

• An overview of the financial and organizational criteria for a successful partnership.

The different operating and funding models of libraries and university presses can complicate how partnerships between the organizations are conceived and structured. Section 4 reviews the issues relevant to creating and sustaining sound partnerships, and explores possible performance metrics by which a publishing collaboration can demonstrate its value and ensure its ongoing sustainability.

• A review of practical issues.

Section 5 discusses practical steps organizations need to take in order to launch and maintain a successful collaboration, including the importance of developing a strategy to guide the partnership and operating structures for partnerships.

For library-press collaborations to play a meaningful role in supporting campus-based publishing initiatives, they must represent genuine strategic partnerships. Such partnerships can be productive, lasting, and transformative. However, to succeed in the long-term, a partnership must effectively balance the interests of all the parties, and—even assuming an abundance of intramural collegiality—that balance requires considerable effort to establish and maintain. SPARC hopes that this guide will provide practical guidance to help libraries and presses achieve that balance and define robust partnerships capable of supporting innovative approaches to campus-based publishing.