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More and more library publishers are sharing experiences to topple tradition, reports Rebecca Pool

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More than two years ago and sometime before Covid-19 became a household name, the Library Publishing Coalition joined forces with the Educopia Institute and 12 very different US-based libraries to explore how journal publishing workflows were being used across their publishing programs. Amid the pandemic, the Library Publishing Workflows project has shone a light on the myriad challenges library publishers face - and what has been crystal-clear from the word 'go' is that library publishing is remarkably diverse with each organisation's workflow depending on local resources.

As Brandon Locke, Library Publishing Workflows Project Manager at the Educopia Institute highlights: 'Workflows are contingent on a lot of localised factors - how a particular editor likes to work, how many journals the library is publishing, what aspects of publishing the library is prioritising, how they're staffed, what software and tools they’re using, and so on.

'Historically, there hasn’t been a tonne of conversation about workflows, but we are trying to see how libraries are publishing journals, share this documentation with the community, and get people talking more.'

To make the most of the quarter-of-a-million dollar grant from the Institute of Museum and Library and Services, partner libraries come from all higher education sectors; public research organisations, such as California Digital Library, private liberal arts universities and colleges, including Claremont Colleges, and historically black colleges, with Atlanta University Center taking part. A key project hope has been to encourage peer learning between these libraries and work towards a strong alternative to commercial publishing for more journals. And this appears to be already taking place.

In a series of partner library blog-posts called 'Library Publishing Pain Points', librarians share their key challenges. For example, Sonya Betz from the scholar-led open access publishing program at the University of Alberta points to funding and highlights how 'incredibly resourceful' journals editors overcome this community-wide problem. Meanwhile, Joshua Neds-Fox from Wayne State University's digital publishing program points to the problem of scale but highlights ways in which he and colleagues have tackled this while drawing on experiences from project members.

And, Jason Colman, University of Michigan, bemoans ageing infrastructure and the arduous task of converting journal articles from author formats to that required of the library's publishing platform. He and colleagues are now migrating thousands of journal articles to open source journal infrastructure, Janeway, from the Birkbeck Centre for Technology Publishing – another pain point that should eventually ease the production problem.

For Christine Fruin, President of the Library Publishing Coalition Board of Directors and Scholarly Communication and Digital Initiatives Manager at Atla, a membership organisation for theological libraries, these results are hugely encouraging. 'Many institutions tend to operate their library publishing plans in a silo but this project facilitates conversations and sharing of ideas and resources,' she highlights. 'Programmes might have a staff of ten or one, they might have all the IT support in the world, or none, but there's still a great benefit in talking to one another.'

'The project's pain points blogs have had huge traction on social media,” she adds. “Many [librarians] experience the same challenges and we can learn from our shared challenges as much as we can from our successes.'

Librarian and library consultant, Sarah Lippincott, concurs. Lippincott is avidly watching the Library Publishing Workflows project whilst also taking part in the Next Generation Library Publishing project. Here Educopia, California Digital Library, Strategies for Open Science (Stratos), and key partners, Confederation of Open Access Repositories (COAR), Longleaf Services, and Janeway, are working to integrate open source publishing infrastructure to provide robust support for library publishing.

As Lippincott points more and more library publishers are relying on open source platforms, such as Open Journal Systems and Open Monograph Press, as developed by the Public Knowledge Project, and Janeway. Indeed, the 2022 Library Publishing Directory highlighted that nearly two out of three library publishers report using multiple tools, with heavily used platforms including OJS (47 per cent), bepress' Digital Commons (32 per cent), DSpace (29 per cent), Omeka (23 per cent), Pressbooks (23 per cent) and WordPress (25 per cent). A further13 per cent of library publishers also reported using locally developed platforms.

Yet, despite the proliferation, technology and tools remain a challenge for library publishers – which Lippincott reckons especially applies to organisations running small programmes on a small budget and working outside the norms of traditional scholarly publishing: 'Many have struggled to find the technology that pulls together a full portfolio of content that includes journals and books but also grey literature, theses, open educational resources... It's all those materials that don't have the same publishing pathways, and in many contexts, haven't been given the same value as more traditional publications but do add tremendous value to the publishing ecosystem.'

Pleasingly, the gaps in a library publisher's workflow are being plugged. For example, as part of the Next Generation Library Publishing project, Lippincott and colleagues have been working on a portfolio management system so librarians can take content in their open source platforms, and aggregate this with, say, their grey literature, into a single portfolio that users can easily access. The platform is to include front-end display delivery software and an analytics dashboard for managing publications across their lifecycle.

What's more, in response to the proliferation of tools, the project has also released the Scholarly Communication Technology Catalogue - ScomCaT – developed by UK-based digital consultancy, Antleaf, for COAR. The tool catalogs software and services - from dissemination and discovery to preservation and data mining - to help users decide which platforms and standards to adopt.

Indeed, both Fruin and Locke are equally enthusiastic about the technology browser, with Fruin highlighting: 'This tool was released about a year ago and librarians love it – all the tools and platforms are catalogued in a way that is filterable and searchable. I have noticed that many platforms, software and tools come and go because of a lack of sustainability planning – and Educopia has also been doing a lot of work around this.'

But alongside the growing hum of activity on tools and platform development, Lippincott reckons library publishing still has relatively low visibility for scholars as well as other academic publishers, compared to other publishing routes. 'Library publishing has a very long history... and over the last decade or so we've seen a lot more widespread adoption in North America, Europe and Australia,' she says. 'The field is doing a lot of excellent work here in serving the needs of academic publishing in ways that are grounded in academic values and openness - but it has been difficult to work with publications that are looking for the prestige that the traditional system has offered.'

Still, in a similar vein to technology and tool challenges, barriers are being broken down. From word go, library publishers have been highly focused on open access publishing, which has gathered much momentum in recent years in the wake of numerous open access programmes and journals.

Educopia's Locke is certain that the more the OA movement proceeds, the more academics and scholarly publishing players will come to the library to either learn about OA and publish. Indeed, Lippincott also points out how OA has seen many library publishers partnering with university presses.

'As open access has become normalised, more university presses are open to the idea of working and collaborating with libraries,' she says. 'Here in the US, we've seen a dozen university presses being administered by the library, such as the University of Cincinnati Press, while in the UK, it's been more common for new university presses to be created within the library.'

'We also see libraries reclaiming retired [University Press] imprints – again this model is more common in the UK as well as Australia,' she adds.

LPC's Fruin also highlights how the impact and growth OA has acted as a catalyst for library publishing to evolve. 'Libraries have been such an active voice for open access in the last 20 years,' she says. 'But what I also get very excited about it seeing the skill-sets that librarians have now, which has been shaped by scholarly communication and library publishing – and today, librarians are positioning themselves, more and more, to be change agents, which is great for the future of library publishing.'

Brave new platform

Across the Atlantic, Alenka Prinčič, head of research support, and Frédérique Belliard, publishing officer, at Delft University of Technology (TU Delft) Library have been working swiftly to drive community-driven, open access publishing forward. Right now, TU Delft OPEN predominantly publishes peer-reviewed books, journals and text books, authored by its academics and collaborators, but is seeking to include other types of scholarly content. In the last two years they have organised editorial boards, agreed editorial policies, launched several open access journals and books – many from scratch – as well as numerous text books. Indeed, the interactive Building with Nature & Beyond is based on an edX massive open online course (MOOC) and includes quizzes and links to references, videos and more. As Prinčič highlights: 'This book will be used in developing countries – in this way TU Delft contributes to making education accessible and affordable all over the world.”'

Along the way, both Prinčič and Belliard have used a mix of open source and commercial tools, and like many have been grappling with budgetary constraints. 'We are a very small team - we do a lot but we do also reach a limit,'  says Belliard. 'We would like to form partnerships with other like-minded initiatives to move forward together... but we should also be open and transparent about this – first we need evidence to convince, say, our university board that our publishing operation is worthy of investment.'

Yet despite the constraints, TU Delft is also in the throes of driving a new publishing venture, 'The Evolving Scholar', forward. A few years ago, Prinčič and Belliard knew they wanted to provide TU Delft academics with a home to publish single articles that would be discovered, indexed and cited in the same way as papers in a traditional journal. So working with CERN spin-off and open access publishing platform developer, Orvium, they launched what is now described as a 'place for multidisciplinary, community-driven and open peer-reviewed publications.

According to Prinčič, in the platform's earliest days, she and colleagues grappled with a 'chicken and egg' scenario when it came to attracting publications. 'Nobody wants to be the first, right?' she asks. However, the 14th Conference of the International Forum on Urbanism has now published its papers on the platform, providing much needed critical mass, with more papers relating to the ARCH22 conference ‘Enabling health, care and well-being through design research’ coming next.

Looking forward, TU Delft library is eager for The Evolving Scholar to support all faculties - science, engineering and design – and for its content to include more enhanced features. New formats and deep links to databases are clear options and as Belliard highlights: 'We've done initial research here... the enhanced publication cannot be the same for all disciplines – it will be very different.'

Prinčič and Belliard also highlight how TU Delft's academics have generally been keen to experiment with less traditional publishing formats, putting this partly down to the Dutch government's ambition that all university-related publications are published as open access in the next few years. Given this, they are now eager to build up their open access publications, use more open source tools and ensure that their alternative to traditional publishing is well and truly entrenched in everyday academic life. 'We strive to create a publishing partnership with faculties that will be embedded in the university’s research process from the start,' says Prinčič.

And, of course, for library publishers far and wide, this is what it is all about, what some have already achieved, and what many believe is coming soon - including Sarah Lippincott. As she highlights, technology and digital publishing 'only gets easier and easier', opening up possibilities for library publishers to better compete with more traditional publishing routes.

What's more, she also believes that the rise of open access in the last few years has been accompanied by an increasing awareness of social justice and equity amongst many academics, with changes in attitudes ensuing. 'A great irony in scholarship is that you've had a lot of progressive thinking.... published in these walled gardens,' she says.

'But we're seeing a shift in priorities from prestige to access and equity,' she adds. 'I think the open access tide will continue to rise because of this, with librarians poised to step into that rising tide and be part of the solution.'