Considering the current state of University Press publishing

This week in North Philly Notes, Mary Rose Muccie, the new Director of Temple University Press, blogs about her experiences at the recent Association of American University Presses annual meeting.

Welcome to my first blog post as Director of Temple University Press. I’m thrilled to have joined the Press at an exciting time for both Temple and for the university press community. Academic and scholarly publishing has changed dramatically over the past 15 years and the Press has responded. User expectations around digital content, budgetary challenges facing university libraries, and a growing international market are just a few areas where we’re strategically developing new programs, products, and policies.

We’re not alone in adapting to the changing environment. Temple is one of 130 university presses that are members of the Association of American University Presses (AAUP), an organization of non-profit publishers from around the world through which we share information, brainstorm solutions, advocate for university presses, and advise on policy related to university publishing.

The AAUP’s 2014 Annual Meeting took place in New Orleans from June 22 to 24, and, a week into my tenure as Director, I packed my summer clothes (yes, it was hot) and my umbrella (heavy thunderstorms arrived every afternoon) and headed to NOLA. The theme of the meeting was “Open to Debate,” and the atmosphere was one of communication, collaboration, and discussion. Sessions touched on all aspects of what we in the university press community do, from print to online, books to journals, authors to librarians, acquisitions to marketing.

My AAUP conference began with the Press Directors Meeting, which this year was an advocacy workshop facilitated by Melanie Hawks from the University of Utah. It focused on influencing key partners and decision makers. According to Melanie, successful persuasion and influence–be it with your boss or your institution’s administration– hinges on being seen as credible, finding common ground and shared goals, providing evidence-based examples, and making an emotional connection. If you keep these in mind when talking with administrators, they’re likely to see the Press as an important partner that adds value to the university’s teaching, research, and public-service initiatives.

The growing importance of collaboration, in formal and informal ways, came up in several sessions. Kathleen Fitzpatrick, Director of Scholarly Communication at the Modern Language Association, using the MLA Commons as an example, posited that a scholarly society’s value could, in the future, be based on the ability to participate in group discussions, collaborate, and share work openly with the world. In another session devoted to the digital humanities, she noted that by its very nature, digital humanities work is collaborative. And Doug Armato, Director of the University of Minnesota Press, sees an increasing use of informal forms of communication, such as commentary on gray literature in their Forerunners: Ideas First series, and the collaborative development of them as a basis for more formal work.

The importance of open access – scholarly content made available on the open web – was a topic of several sessions. Presses have long welcomed dissemination of knowledge as broadly as possible regardless of business model, while at the same time noting that many of the costs associated with publication apply, again regardless of business model. The speakers in a session on library publishing programs shared examples of campus-based publishing supported from within the library and their approaches to cost recovery.

The meeting ended with a town-hall-style session, provocatively titled “The Revolution will be Subsidized,” devoted to a discussion of recent proposals from the Mellon Foundation and a scholarly communications task force of the Association of American Universities and the Association of Research Libraries. Both focused on developing new models in university press publishing, in particular subsidization of digital publication for scholarly monographs, with that subsidy coming from authors’ institutions. See Jennifer Howard’s summary of the session and the proposals in the Chronicle of Higher Education. Discussion and debate was spirited in this session and it is ongoing; stay tuned for our response as it develops.

Attending AAUP as the Director at Temple, a strong, well-known, respected press, was a great start to my tenure. I’m looking forward to working with the dedicated staff to investigate and implement what I learned.

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