Campus-based publishing partnerships: Overview of Existing Collaborations

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Although the application of digital publishing technologies to scholarly communication has increased interest in the potential of library-press partnerships, libraries, presses, academic computing centers, and academic departments have long collaborated.[6] Reviewing existing and recent collaborations provides perspective on the types of projects undertaken and the manner in which such partnerships have been structured and funded. At the same time, some of these pioneering collaborations offer insight into the challenges and opportunities that confront libraries, presses, and other academic units as they assess possible collaborative projects.


An analysis of current and recent publishing collaborations,[7] undertaken in the winter of 2007/2008, identified ongoing initiatives at 26 institutions, comprising approximately 40 individual projects. As this guide focuses on issues that confront partnering organizations with disparate operating requirements, the analysis of existing initiatives concentrates on partnerships in which both a university press and a library participated. As a result, we have necessarily excluded many campus-based publishing projects that do not include both a press and a library as a participant, including a number of e-presses,[8] online journal platforms,[9] reprint programs,[10] online journal aggregations, [11] and online critical editions.[12] About two-thirds of existing library-press collaborations involve just a university press and a library, while the remaining third include other partners, including academic departments, academic computing centers, or scholarly societies (Figure 1).

To gain the fullest understanding of the types of projects being undertaken, we have defined “partnership” and “collaboration” broadly to include virtually any press, library, or academic computing center participation in a project.[13] As a result, some of the projects discussed below are primarily initiatives of either a library or a press, with relatively modest participation by the other organization. Other initiatives began as more or less equal collaborations but, over time, have come to be dominated by one of the partnering organizations. We discuss the extent and intensity of a partner’s participation in Sections 3.1 and 5.7, which describe behavioral aspects of collaboration and partnership structures, respectively.

To provide an overview of the various existing publishing collaborations involving both libraries and university presses, we describe the initiatives below from three perspectives: by initiative type, by funding or business model, and by the collaboration’s structure. The collaborative project typology, presented in Appendix A, provides an overview of the initiatives described below.

2.1 Types of Initiatives

Current and previous publishing collaborations have been established with a variety of goals. Figure 2 summarizes, by broad category, the kinds of collaborations undertaken thus far. Although these projects do not exhaust the possible types of library-press collaborations, they do reflect actual experience to date.


In reviewing collaborations as they exist in practice, it is also important to note that the objectives motivating many of the partnerships are far broader than the immediate scope of a specific initiative. For example, many of the collaborations articulate their missions or program objectives in terms of exploring alternative scholarly communication models and channels. Indeed, most of the collaborative projects described below were launched with the express intent of serving as experimental pilot projects. Whether broadly or narrowly defined, these existing collaborations afford a better understanding of the opportunities that such partnerships offer, as well as the practical challenges they face.

Backfile Digitization Projects

Thus far, about one-fifth of the collaborations have involved digitizing a subset of a press’s backlist or out-of-print titles and making the texts available online via a library server. Further, a significant number of presses have indicated an intent to undertake such projects in the near future,[14] suggesting the potential for more collaborations of this type. Most of the existing projects provide access to out-of-print or low-sales backlist titles, with the remainder focusing on titles in a specific subject area or in support of a specific program or initiative. Examples of the former include:

  • University of Brussels (Digithèque des Editions de l’Université de Bruxelles);
  • University of California (eScholarship Editions);
  • Ohio State University (OSU Press Open Access Initiative);
  • University of Pittsburgh (University of Pittsburgh Digital Editions);
  • Purdue University (Online University Community Access to Press-controlled Titles);
  • Rutgers University (New Jersey Books Online); and
  • Texas Tech University (TTUP Backlist Titles Online).[15]

Subject-specific digital backlist programs include: 

  • Cornell University, Digital Commons@ILR;
  • Cornell University, Race and Religion Web Portal;
  • Georgetown University Roundtable on Languages and Linguistics (GURT), Digital Georgetown; and
  • the American Indians of the Pacific Northwest Collection, University of Washington.

Several of the projects above, including Georgetown’s GURT and Cornell’s Race and Religion Portal, also include selected front list titles.

Some of the projects provide open access to some or all of the backlist titles, while others restrict access to members of the university’s community.[16] All of the backfile digitization projects appear to have been subsidized by the library or the host institution, with no revenue-generating intent beyond potential print sales of included titles. In many cases, the library instigated the project and coordinated the digital conversion process, with the press providing rights clearance and permission to digitize the content.

Although the evidence is largely anecdotal, experience suggests that the free online provision of backlist books has little effect, positive or negative, on the print sales of the backlist titles.[17] For university press backlists, the extent to which this holds true may depend on the presentation and functionality of the digital edition, as well as the type of titles included. Where the risk of forgone revenue from backlist sales is negligible, such backfile digitization projects provide a press with a low risk way to work with the library. Limiting access to students and faculty at the university lowers the press’s risk even further, and creates a benefit specific to its host institution. Further, once standardized digital files have been created, it may be possible to use them to generate new revenue streams, such as print-on-demand sales and reprint services.[18]

Library Online Provision of Press Print Titles & Supplements

Another fifth of the library-press collaborations entail the library providing online access to versions of press print publications. Unlike the digital backlist projects described above, these initiatives provide online access to current titles and/or expand the coverage or functionality of the print volume. These initiatives fall into several broad types: expanded content, enhanced functionality, and print-online coproduction.

In several initiatives—including the University of Nebraska’s Journals of the Lewis and Clark Expedition Online and Pennsylvania State University’s Times of Sorrow and Hope—the library hosts an online version that augments the print volume with supplemental content, including primary source material, photographs, or audio and video files. Some of the print titles enhanced in this way represent projects that grew out of a library-based collection. For example, Times of Sorrow and Hope from the Pennsylvania State University Press, supplements the 150 photographs in the print edition with more than 6,000 online photographs from the library’s collection.

Other projects also provide online features that extend and enhance the functionality of the print edition. Such projects include the University of California’s digital critical edition of the writings of Mark Twain, The Willa Cather Archive at the University of Nebraska, and Charles Baudelaire: Une Micro-Historie, from Vanderbilt University, which converted a cumbersome 1,000-page print edition into a searchable database.

Several projects—including Penn State Romance Studies, the Global, Area, and International Archive (GAIA) at the University of California, and Cornell University’s Signale: Modern German Letters and Thought—publish online monographs, conference proceedings, or working paper series. The presses provide these peer reviewed series with editorial and production support, and also market print-on-demand or short-run digital printing (SRDP) editions of the online publications.

Besides the types of projects described above, Purdue University Press publishes five open access journals—CLCWeb: Comparative Literature and Culture, First OpinionsSecond Reactions, The Interdisciplinary Journal of Problem-based Learning, The Journal of Problem Solving, and The Journal of Terrestrial Observation—with support from the library, which hosts the journals online as part of its digital repository. Additionally, the University of Amsterdam Press markets and distributes print-on-demand versions of University of Amsterdam PhD dissertations, which are available free online via the university’s institutional repository.

All of these projects, save the Purdue University open-access journals, seek to combine library or institutional subsidies with earned revenue. The subsidy and revenue components for most of the projects operate in parallel, with the subsidy underwriting free online availability and with sales of the print edition generating earned revenue sufficient to cover the print production and sales costs. For some of the projects—including Penn State Romance Studies and GAIA[19]—the presses also incur some editorial and/or production costs. Again, evolving experience with the effect of online availability on print sales suggests that the potential upside to this approach might offset the potential risk.

Press Distribution of Library-sponsored Content

In another fifth of the collaborations, the press provides marketing and print distribution services for content created, sponsored, or controlled by the library. These initiatives include conventional distribution arrangements, such as the Louisiana State University Press’s distribution of print and CD-ROM titles created by divisions of the LSU Libraries,[20] the University of Southern Illinois Press’s publication of The Papers of Ulysses S. Grant, and the University of Arkansas Press’s distribution of the publications of the Butler Center. 

In some cases, the press works with the library to mine the library’s collection. One such initiative is the Fontanus Monograph Series (and the annual journal Fontanus), published by the McGill-Queen’s University Press, that explores the collections of the McGill University libraries, museums, and archives, including diaries and manuscript collections. Similar, albeit more limited, projects includeCountry Music Sources: A Biblio-Discography of Commercially Recorded Traditional Music from the University of North Carolina and Under Stately Oaks: A Pictorial History of LSU from the LSU Press.

A third type of distribution arrangement involves reprint series, where the press markets and sells titles mined from the library’s holdings. These reprint series typically focus on regional materials or other special collections in the library’s holdings. While some libraries work independently with Amazon’s BookSurge,[21]  or develop their own imprints for such print-on-demand programs,[22] others have partnered with their institution’s press, often under a new imprint. The Fontanus Monograph Series from the McGill-Queen’s University Press, Penn State University’s Metalmark Books, and the Butler Center publications of the University of Arkansas provide examples of such partnerships.[23]

Digital Research & Reference Services

Collaborations that create digital research or reference services represent another fifth of the existing collaborations. About half of such services are subscription based, while the other half are universally available without restrictions.

Most of these digital services represent thematic collections that bring together primary and secondary literature. These include Columbia International Affairs Online (CIAO) and Columbia Earthscape: An Online Resource on the Global Environment from the Center for Digital Research at Columbia University;[24] two multi-part series from the University of Virginia’s Rotunda, American Founding Era and Nineteenth-Century Literature and Culture;[25] The Lexicon of Early Modern English from the University of Toronto; The Middle English Compendium from the University of Michigan; the Bible in Dutch Culture Project from the University of Amsterdam; and the University of North Carolina’s Encyclopedia of North Carolina.

Online Publishing Platforms

Libraries and presses at several institutions have partnered to provide digital publishing platforms—in a couple of instances, with support for a print edition—for journals or books. These initiatives includeÉrudit—a collaboration of the Universities of Laval, Montreal, and Quebec—which supports the digital production of both books and journals. Érudit provides digital publishing services for approximately 40 Canadian and French publishers, covering a wide range of disciplines in the human, social, and natural sciences.

Two other prominent online journal publishing platforms are Johns Hopkins University’s Project Museand Project Euclid, now a partnership of the Cornell University Libraries and the Duke University Press. Both Muse, which provides access to 250 journals in the humanities and social sciences from over 40 publishers, and Euclid, which provides an online platform for 52 mathematics journals from some 30 publishers, also offer marketing and sales services to participating publishers.

Digitalculturebooks, a new imprint of the University of Michigan Press and the Scholarly Publishing Office of the University of Michigan Library, has published seven digital titles on the social, cultural, and political impact of new media. The library and press at the University of Pittsburgh have announced plans to partner to publish online journals, under both subscription and open-access models, currently published within academic departments.

2.2 Funding or Business Model

Funding models for the collaborations include comprehensive development and operating subsidies (about 30% of the projects), mixed models that combine subsidies and earned revenue (almost 60%), and earned revenue models with no subsidy component (about 10%). Of the 90% of the projects that have received some level of subvention, approximately 60% received both development and ongoing operating subsidies, with the remaining 40% receiving support for initial development alone.

The funding models for partnerships can be characterized as either parallel or integrated. When the income models run in parallel, the press and the library each operates under its own funding model, with the press typically using an earned revenue approach and the library applying a standing budget or subsidy model. When the business models are integrated, the organizations share the financial risks and rewards of the project.


Two-thirds of the projects have an earned revenue component, most frequently implemented in parallel with an operating subsidy. For example, for projects where the library provides an expanded, freely available, online version of a print edition published by the press, or where the press markets content provided by the library, the online component is typically subsidized by the host institution or the library, with the print edition marketed and sold by the press under a conventional sales model.

About 15% of the collaborations appear to integrate earned revenue fully into their funding model, with all the partners in the collaboration receiving distributions from the revenue generated by the project. In several instances, this earned revenue supplements an operating subsidy (for example,Érudit and Penn State Romance Studies), and in others (for example, CIAO, LEME, the Fontanus Monograph Series, Metalmark Books, Project Euclid, and Project Muse), the collaboration generates sufficient earned revenue to be operationally self-sustaining.


Collating funding model and collaboration type, we find that:

  • All of the digitized backlist projects are fully subsidized, typically by the participating library. In these instances, the press contributes the content, while the library provides the labor and/or funding to undertake the digitization itself.
  • All of the initiatives that entail the library providing online access to content distributed by the press in print combine subsidies with earned revenue. In virtually every case, the library and press income models operate in parallel, with the library’s participation subsidized, and the press’s participation covered by earned revenue.
  • Most projects for which the press handles marketing and distribution of print content created or controlled by the library also operate under a parallel subsidy-earned revenue model.
  • Half of the online research and reference services are sustained exclusively by subsidies and half are supported through a parallel subsidy-earned revenue approach.

Table 1 summarizes the distribution of collaborations by type and by funding model.

Table 1: Collaborations by Type & Funding Model

As the overview of current library-press collaborations above suggests, many of the initiatives represent stand-alone projects, while others represent exploratory pilots for long-term, programmatic publishing partnerships. In the sections that follow, this guide explores some of the strategic issues and practical operating concerns that libraries, presses, and other university units will confront in defining, launching, and sustaining partnerships capable of testing alternative publishing models.