AAUP 2014 recap: Inclusiveness and collaboration keys to scholarly publishing (Part 2)

by Tony Brewer

Day two of the meeting began with “A Seat at the Table: Navigating University Structures for Fun and Profit,” a frank discussion about reporting hierarchies at different presses, how to make use of them, and at times what (or who) to avoid. Of all sessions, this one made the best use of the phrase “Please don’t tweet that.” How much leeway, then, do I have with a blog post?

Meredith Morris-Babb, Director of the University Press of Florida, suggested creating a “crisis tool kit” with the names of people to contact when you want action. Mary Katherine Callaway, Director at LSU Press, suggested finding out when and where faculty meetings happen (and when non-faculty can attend), and mapping out the actual hierarchy (who will get results) as well as the published structure (who will get credit/blame).

Nicole Mitchell, Director at University of Washington Press, noted that their press is overseen by a faculty committee appointed by the president and that those faculty are librarians who are more plugged in to the university than are press directors. Consequently, press staff meet with them weekly. 

Structures were all over the map, as one would expect, with varying levels of involvement from all camps. Of course, clear, open communication is always the best policy, but I think being in right (or wrong) place at the right (or wrong) time is as much a determiner of political success as any other factor in publishing.

The Tuesday plenary session, “Reimagining the AAUP: Evolutionary and Revolutionary Opportunities,” was a highlight of the meeting. Facilitators were the past, present, and future AAUP presidents (Philip Cercone, Director, McGill-Queen's University Press; Barbara Kline Pope, National Academies Press; and Meredith Morris-Babb, Director, University Press of Florida, respectively).

The organizational firepower behind this session was truly awe-inspiring. Everyone was assigned to a random table in a large ballroom, four to eight people at each table. Everyone then voted (via text message) on the importance of one of the four goals (Collaboration, Advocacy, Research, and Education) of the new AAUP strategic plan. The results were tallied on a large screen in real-time. Each table had a moderator and was then assigned a goal. My table tackled advocacy. Several tables were handling each goal. After brainstorming tactics for about 30 minutes, we tabulated the best five ideas about advocacy. A table moderator was selected at random and read that table’s results and this happened for each goal. All results of the plenary can be found here, and there is a ton of data. The next step is for the AAUP board to review the data and priorities which tactic they will pursue.

Again, in keeping with the theme of the meeting and with the changes in university publishing as a whole, collaboration and advocacy were clearly the most important goals. I thought one of the most interesting suggestions was that the AAUP change its name, as the organization is neither solely American nor limited to “presses.” (For that matter, what university “press” actually utilizes a press? Ah, semantics.)

The plenary session was long and carried over into lunch, but the interactive nature kept everyone engaged. The session “Managing the Modern Press” followed. Richard Brown, Director at Georgetown University Press, began by describing “tyrant”-style of leadership, using Sgt. Carter from the TV show Gomer Pyle USMC as an example. Good leadership, he said, should be modeled after the basic principles of quantum physics, since particles exist only in relation to each other and these relationships are fundamental to the system's ability to renew and revitalize each other.

He also said healthy relationships require:

  • Transparency
  • Clarity of roles and expectations
  • Willingness to speak hard truths
  • Accountability of performance
  • The ability (and desire) to put the organization ahead of self

Also, neither charisma nor power nor brilliance equate to good leadership, but the ability to create conditions for healthy relationships which includes offering vision and a worldview (products, ID, place); communicating all the time; and being encouraging and affirmative whenever possible.

Pam McClanahan, Director at Minnesota Historical Society Press, provided an excellent handout entitled A Director’s Guide to Managing the Modern University Press, organized by press size. She also related:

Five (too) Easy Pieces (of advice)

  • Work hard and be nice to people … NO: better to become skilled communicator
  • Know a little bit about a lot of things … NO: better to master segments
  • Give 110% … NO: not gonna happen, statistically impossible, fast depletion
  • Treat others as you want to be treated … NO: ASK how they want to be treated
  • Be confident: play the part, act the part … NO: pay more attention to what you DO know than what you don’t know, embrace mentors, success is constant adjustment

She also suggested after-work activities IU Press typically already enjoys (happy hour, department outings, etc.) but also mentioned that to be successful and well attended, such get-togethers need to be convenient and not too frequent.

Linda Secondari, Creative Director at Oxford University Press has found that when it comes to flex-time, treating staff as grown-ups is something of a leap of faith, but there are benefits. For the staff, remote working and flexible scheduling often requires a more collaborative team structure. Giving the freedom to adjust work hours also empowers employees, making them more self-directed and generating proactive problem solving. Staff in turn act like adults, use clearer communication, and, in Linda’s case, generated quarterly reports on progress toward targets, with commentary.

Leila Salisbury, Director at University Press of Mississippi, spoke about motivating employees, especially Millennials. Gens X & Y value less ambiguity and opportunities to learn, so it’s important to articulate traditional career paths; they want to be partners in the enterprise, not wait 20 years for a seat at the table. Remember though that younger employees can be stretched but don't overwhelm them. They also prefer a balanced life: home, family, and place are important to Gen X & Y, who want to be committed to careers but free to pursue personal interests.

She also touched on dealing with uncertainty, citing an April 2014 Wall Street Journal article that noted, “75% of people in uncertain situations erroneously predicted that bad things would happen. So the reactions and decisions that were made based on fear and anxiety could turn out to be exactly the wrong moves.” One should accept uncertainty, not avoid it, for it is inevitable.

The final session I attended was “Collaborative Content Strategies: Projects that Work.” Fresh from the previous session on managing presses, Pam McClanahan described the concept of collaborative content as a large theme under which one can gather articles, essays, or even photographs or other collections (one year of the Civil War; the summer of 1964 as it relates to the Civil Right Movement; climate change; etc.).

She said collaboration has four components:

  • Development and Delivery
  • Resource Gathering and Allocation
  • Partnerships and Group Formation
  • Theme Identification and Communication

As an excellent example, she displayed the digital-first open access encyclopedia of Minnesota: MNopedia. In 2010 the Minnesota Historical Society met with potential users and contributors, consulted tech experts and evaluated similar resources, then set the plan in motion. The site was built in 2011, though it continues to be tested and expanded. MNopedia is funded “by Minnesotans”: the Legacy Amendment's Arts and Cultural Heritage Fund through the vote of Minnesotans on November 4, 2008.

The MNopedia stresses consistency and thorough research: as noted on their About page, “MNopedia eras are aligned with the 2011 Minnesota K–12 Academic Standards in Social Studies.” It also throws the spotlight on local history and has connected many scholars and experts across the state.

Next David Ruddy, Director of Scholarly Communications Services at Cornell University Library, introduced Project Euclid, a “collaborative partnership between Cornell University Library and Duke University Press which seeks to advance scholarly communication in theoretical and applied mathematics and statistics through partnerships with independent and society publishers. It was created to provide a platform for small publishers of scholarly journals to move from print to electronic in a cost-effective way.”

Development of Project Euclid began in 1999 when Cornell University Library received a Mellon Grant to support the transition of small, non-commercial mathematics journals from print to digital distribution. It launched in 2003. By 2006, “it had become clear that its operating model was under stress. Gross revenues from subscriptions were increasing at significant rates, but so were expenses. Net income at the close of the fiscal year provided Euclid with a modest surplus, but not nearly enough to capitalize growth and remain competitive,” according to a case study by the Scholarly Publishing and Academic Resources Coalition (SPARC), who helped to cement a joint venture between Cornell and Duke University Press.

Why not partner with Cornell University itself? There was no strategic advantage to working with Cornell University Press (though the library DOES work with CUP in other areas) and the Euclid mission is not locally focused, plus Duke UP had experience putting its own math journals online. Duke handles marketing, financial, and order fulfillment while Cornell provides and supports Project Euclid's IT infrastructure.

Project Euclid is about 70% open access, made possible through support by subscribing libraries and participating publishers, so some articles have BUY buttons on the abstract page. It also offers print-on-demand through a third-party vendor for select content, mostly monographs.

Donna Shear, Director at University of Nebraska Press, spoke about the Center for Digital Research in the Humanities (CDRH), which “advances interdisciplinary, collaborative research, and offers forums, workshops and research fellowships for faculty and students in the area of digital scholarship.” The CDRH mounts projects that work as multimedia first (only) or that are already in print but benefit from multimedia enhancement. CDRH is funded in by the University of Nebraska and other private donors. Its many projects (26 currently) have their own funding sources: the Walt Whitman Archive, for example, is funded by the National Endowment for the Humanities, the U.S. Department of Education, the Institute of Museum and Library Services, the National Historical Publications and Records Commission, University of Iowa, University of Nebraska–Lincoln, and the Institute for Advanced Technology in the Humanities at the University of Virginia.

One ultimate goal of digital scholarship at UNL is to get scholars tenured, promoted, and receiving raises “based on a file heavily weighted with electronic scholarship.” They are not there yet largely because “review committees and others grapple with the problems of peer review processes that are not as prevalent for electronic as for print scholarship.”

In answering the question how to keep these sorts of projects fresh and updated (and funded), Mick Gusinde-Duffy at University of Georgia Press stressed that they need to be “actually” sustainable and scalable, noting that presses are working toward sharing workflow but there is still tension between day-to-day publishing and opportunities to experiment. I think that’s where a lot of publishers are struggling to innovate: the desire is there but the resources are scarce, even for “day-to-day publishing.”

Also mentioned was The Full New York Times Innovation Report that covers problems with digital publishing and offers many good ideas and insights university presses could use.

In a discussion of “who pays for all this,” Donna Shear was quick to say they always knew UNL would be paying for CDRH. Pam McClanahan Funds said resources and staff time were mapped to data population of the MNopedia rather than to when the site would launch, and related that the MN Historical Society could funnel funds directly to specific parts or topics on the site. Gusinde-Duffy also noted it is important to emphasize “skin in the game” to stakeholders (scholars, content providers, and funders), and that it is essential to specifically prioritize funding: say “I want money for five books about these five WWII battles,” rather than “I want to fund publications about WWII.”

It may be difficult to get some acquisitions editors (and by extension some authors) invested in these projects because the outlay initially is more than just money. It requires a lot of time and an intense amount of collaboration outside of one’s area of expertise. But this is the direction in which university presses need to go even though these projects are not e-books but digital resources, and their attraction adds to the scholarly mission. Readers are NOT coming to a digital site for the full text; they come for photos or a taste of the complete work. Collaborative content also increases the potential author pool, especially a project like MNopedia, which requires much ongoing scholarly participation.

I sensed excitement at the 2014 AAUP meeting. Scrambling for funding and successful (profitable) projects is still what we do, but there definitely seemed to be a renewed focus on the publishing mission and enthusiasm for new (or at least as-yet-untried) ways of disseminating scholarship. One recent new venture for IU Press is moving to the Wells Library and becoming part of the Office of Scholarly Publishing. But we are not alone; many presses are making moves in a similar direction and it is a rather cutting-edge maneuver. Collaborating with libraries (or at least librarians) as well as societies and associations is becoming more and more mainstream. Even the AAUP itself is thinking of ways to collaborate with or advocate for presses in new ways. We remain in good company and the conversation continues.

Again want to I thank the Pat Hoefling Memorial Grant Committee for giving me the opportunity to attend the 2014 AAUP annual meeting. It was an honor to represent Indiana University Press.

Project Manager/Editor Darja Malcolm-Clarke will be blogging for us tomorrow about her experience at AAUP.