Libraries and Librarians in the Publishing Landscape

Today’s post was written by Alexis Weiss, reference and instruction librarian for theology.

Working in academia, publishing is an essential part of professional development and we have long relied on certain traditional models for doing so. However, over the past two decades and currently accelerating at a rapid pace, the face of academic publishing has been changing. The more traditional business models of major publishers are giving way to newer modes of funding and distribution of scholarship. With this, questions arise for those whose promotion and tenure depends on publication. How will these new models change the process of publication on the side of researchers and writers? What are the ethical considerations arising?

In November 2021, the Publications Committee of the American Academy of Religion hosted the panel “The Transforming Publishing Landscape: What Scholars Need to Know” at AAR’s annual conference and I was asked to be one of the speakers on the topic. Situated between two speakers discussing issues from the perspective of large publishers and a religious studies faculty member discussing implications for tenure, I was tasked with introducing the faculty watching our online panel to the roles that libraries and librarians play in the ever-changing publishing world.

First, we must address what is changing in the publishing world. The primary factor is a far greater demand for open access – this increases dramatically with the Plan S mandate in Europe, which requires government funded research to be open. As this demand goes up, issues of funding arise. In many publications offering open access the cost of doing so moves from subscribers to authors, where large fees must be paid in order to make one’s research publicly available. Another factor is a drive for author rights. In traditional models, authors often hold no rights to their work – once published it becomes the property of the publisher, for their profit. Libraries and librarians are working together with faculty to address these issues and find new and creative ways to address publishing needs. In my presentation, I broke this down into two categories: librarians as navigators and libraries as publishers.

“Librarians as navigators” looked at the professionals themselves first: librarians whose expertise lies in scholarly communications, digital initiatives and/or licensing rights. If an institution offers an online publishing platform, like the William H. Hannon Library’s LMU Digital Commons, these librarians would manage its operation and help to create new platforms for digital publishing. For institutions without such platforms, librarians also assist faculty, staff, and students, in finding appropriate digital publishing spaces, understanding Creative Commons licensing for copyright, and instruct on the ethical importance of open access and open educational resources. Some larger libraries also create transformative agreements with publishers, where rather than paying for a subscription, the library pays the author fees for open access.

“Libraries as publishers” goes back to my previous mention of digital publishing platforms. Libraries large and small are engaging in publishing across disciplines, using the traditional model of the library as a place where open access to information becomes the primary purpose rather than profit. By creating online digital content spaces and supporting faculty and staff in the management of these spaces through standard, ongoing budget lines, libraries are not just able to provide content free to all, but also are able to provide content that sits outside the norm of traditional publishing. This can be in the form of journals that serve a niche audience, media items such as audio and video, even interactive textbooks that can’t be published in a more traditional fashion. Libraries do this in many different ways, but the common method for journals is to collaborate with faculty and departments to provide only a part of the traditional publishing, relying on the faculty or the platform to provide things such as calls for content, editing, and peer review. Yes, the majority of open journals published through libraries are peer reviewed.

In all, libraries and librarians are placing an increasing role in the ever-changing publishing landscape, be it through education, collaboration, or creation. While my presentation focused on religious studies and theology faculty, a field where publishing open access through libraries is still rather small, options are growing across all disciplines. For more information, or to get help finding a place to publish your most recent work, ask a librarian.

Are you interested in learning more about how libraries are playing a role in shaping the publishing landscape? Contact Alexis Weiss to learn more.

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