The Future of Scholarly Communication

It’s University Press Week! All week long university presses will be participating in the UP Week Blog Tour, where presses will be blogging each day about a different theme that relates to scholarly publishing. For the full Blog Tour schedule, click here.


A Future Where University Presses
and University Libraries Work Together

by Alex Holzman, Director

The future of scholarly communication depends to a significant degree on how well university press publishers and university librarians can cooperate to create a sustainable means of transmitting scholarship to the broadest possible audience.  Because our communities tend to focus on different parts of the current system, we sometimes disagree on the best means to achieve that goal, but as units of the university we both must and do share it.

library imagePresses have a horizontal focus, competing for the best scholarship across entire disciplines while also being careful to choose disciplines that reflect their home universities’ strengths.  Libraries focus first on meeting the needs of the home university’s scholars and students, though to be sure they invite researchers across the intellectual world to utilize their resources.  Library collections service every academic discipline within the university; presses just a few and with some exceptions those few are overwhelmingly in the humanities and social sciences.  This at the same time that libraries spend most of their acquisitions budgets on STM materials.

For too many years, presses and libraries operated on entirely different tracks within their home universities.  Now mutual need and complementary strengths bring them together.  There have been a variety of experiments ranging from making s a press’s monographs available to at least the local community via open access to the intriguing situation at Purdue, where the Press director is also the director of scholarly communication, allowing the dissemination of materials ranging from data sets, local conference proceedings, and the like right through to fully peer-reviewed “traditional” scholarship, to be united in one place.  Surely, this is a more efficient way of doing things than having presses and libraries continue on entirely separate tracks.

A growing number of university presses report directly into the library.  This has benefits for a press—increased access to IT support, more investment capital—and benefits for the library—increased understanding of the costs involved in reviewing and polishing scholarship and an introduction into the need to incur marketing expenses if scholarship is to be disseminated broadly. Both benefit from increased opportunities for the two similar but different cultures to adjust to each other.

There have also been successes on the level of the aggregate library and press communities.  The University Press Content Consortium (UPCC) was developed by multiple presses and now serves roughly one hundred; its model was developed by consulting with the entire academic library community and an international array of libraries are participating in purchasing the collections.  Books at JSTOR and Oxford Scholarship Online have also drawn on presses and libraries to improve scholarly dissemination.  Both the ARL and AAUP have made attempts to engage their counterparts in various meetings and conferences—more of that is needed.

Where can presses and libraries further extend their cooperation even further?  Open access models beg for further exploration.  There are at least two proposals currently circulating that explore ways in which monographs can be underwritten by institutional investment, allowing for true open access.  Where that investment comes from and how we move from an end user pays to an institution pays model for cost recovery are sticking points, but only by working together will we find durable solutions.  One effort in this direction that is just getting off the ground is Knowledge Unlatched, which combines elements of subscription models, deluxe versus basic design, and library and press cooperation to achieve open access as well.  (Full disclosure—Temple is a participant in both the aforementioned UPCC and KU.)

I’d suggest enough progress has been made that it is time for the two communities to start working together seriously to solve the economic elephant in the room of scholarly communication, namely STM publishing.  For reasons somewhat lost to history, university presses largely abandoned science publishing around the time of World War II.  There are exceptions of course—Cambridge, Oxford, Chicago, Duke all have strong science journals among their offerings—but few mid-size or small presses do.  Instead, science journals are largely published by commercial publishers whose first concern is enriching their shareholders.  It’s time to change that.

What if presses cooperated on certain aspects of the costs of starting university press alternatives in STM publishing, taking note of the ways library consortial activities have worked over the many more years that community has engaged in inter-institutional cooperation.  Could we form alliances with learned societies also looking for new publishing models that will preserve the income they need to serve their members, but lighten the burden on library budgets?

This wouldn’t be quick or easy or cheap and it would have to be done in a way that didn’t, at the beginning, just add costs to library budgets. But the potential payoff is large enough that a clear demonstration of library and university press commitment to such a venture might attract the start-up funding it needs.

There are probably infinite ways libraries and presses can cooperate to the benefit of each; surely there are more than I can imagine here. What’s already been done demonstrates that libraries and university presses not only need each other, but can achieve great things if they broaden their partnerships. Creating a new scholarly communication system will require the expertise of all university parties involved in the old one, along with a willingness to embrace ideas and methods of operation that may at first be uncomfortable.  To borrow a phrase, it will take a village.

Follow the University Press Week blog tour to learn about the importance of university presses. For a complete list of University Press Week events, visit

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