Is there, at least potentially, a place for minimally-competent, OJS-based “publishing” programs in libraries? Believe it or not, the Loon thinks there is. Libraries taking this road, however, need to understand why they’re doing it, what its limitations are, and that visible returns on investment may be years away, before they embark.
Quite a few ersatz “publishing” enterprises exist on the typical college or university campus, wholly outside the peer-reviewed-journal space. Student journals and literary magazines. Small conferences, who might “publish a proceedings” if they could do so cheaply and relatively easily, and whose production standards aren’t high—some in the Loon’s experience are even willing to archive untouched presenter manuscripts and/or slidedecks. Working-papers series, or tech-report collections. Chapbooks (though poets tend to be persnickety about typography, so beware). Applied journals and other shoestring publications that don’t run the peer-review gauntlet.
The library or librarian who turns up her august nose at these materials, since they aren’t “authoritative,” need read no further; small-publishing is not for you, and that’s fine. For everyone else, then:
This is a disruptive strategy, a strategy that eschews the enticing dominant market (in this case, peer-reviewed journals) in favor of serving the underserved with a considerably less rich but more available and less expensive offering. The immediate goal isn’t to take on the big pigs; any library considering this strategy understands that it isn’t yet ready to do that.
The immediate goals are to accumulate publishing expertise in the library, to build a campus following, and to design a viable service profile. None of these will happen right away, of course, but they’re where to start. Don’t know how to design or typeset print? Wait for the inevitable design-savvy undergraduate working for the undergraduate literary magazine to teach you; she might even build a house design and Word stylesheet for you, if you can find sufficient incentive for her to do so. Can’t get faculty to pay attention to your program? Word-of-mouth works. It’s nearly the only thing that does.
The last-named goal, service-profile design, is most difficult goal of the three. It demands trial-and-error experimentation, and it risks throwing excessive effort down some unviable rabbit holes, so it’s important for all parties to know that throwing in the towel is a necessary option. Don’t even try this without flexible IT provisioning and tech-migration-savvy software bricoleurs; the program will have to play with (and transition toward and away from, and glue together) any number of software packages to find the ones that fit.
Usability and red-tape avoidance should be major strategy components. An intensely-planned service that no one uses, or that turns away more projects than it accepts because the library throws up so much red tape (or worse, barbed wire) around it, is a failure. Libraries aren’t accustomed to this way of thinking, and its very unfamiliarity has doomed more than a few institutional repositories, but this is one of the occasions when librarians should rededicate themselves to actual service rather than the passive-aggressive rulemaking they’re too often given to.
(Incidentally, fixating on one piece of software and refusing to offer any service that falls outside it is a sure-loser strategy; don’t do it. This is why so many OJS installations in libraries are abject failures. If OJS were the most polished and complete publishing-hosting software in existence—and it isn’t—it’s still not enough for a viable program. On the other hand, the Loon thinks that Open Conference Systems has a great deal to recommend it, and is much closer to a complete, viable conference-management service than OJS is to viable journal publishing.)
Over time, as the service profile solidifies and its staff cut their teeth on publishing processes, the service should be able to add to its offerings and revise its existing services to be more resource-efficient. Sponsoring libraries should be aware, however, that service expansion is not costless, and prepare themselves for the additional resource commitments it will demand. Success doesn’t come cheap!
Not every library that tries this strategy will graduate to full-blown peer-reviewed–journal publishing. There’s not a thing in the world wrong with that! A useful, not-too-resource-intensive service to the local campus is nothing to sneeze at, and it’s a big step into the worlds of locally-based and born-digital collection development. Libraries who feel guilty that they aren’t sufficiently supporting open access thereby should remember that they are developing a population of information producers who simply expect open access in the natural course of things, and that all by itself is an appreciable contribution to the culture change open access needs from academia.
The Loon has wanted to build a service along these lines for a long time. She’s always been barred from doing so by her superiors’ ignorance of publishing processes and unwillingness to invest resources on spec, as well as by insufficiently flexible IT infrastructure. She’d try again under the right circumstances, though, and she hopes that by writing this miniseries, other librarians will get a fair chance at the prize as well.
Library publishing, epilogue: Cutting one’s teeth, disruptively by Library Loon, unless otherwise expressly stated, is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 United States License.