Libraries, Scholars, and Publishers in Digital Journal and Monograph Publishing

Libraries, Scholars, and Publishers in Digital Journal and Monograph Publishing1

Rowland Lorimer

Simon Fraser University

Abstract: In the 1970s, research libraries developed data systems and expertise that, in the 1990s, led to new services such as institutional repositories and journal hosting and, in the 2000s, led to forays into monograph publishing. In contrast, also beginning in the 1970s, university presses found themselves being cast out of their traditional role as providers of research publishing services that created the public record of knowledge and into the marketplace. Continued development of information and communication technology (ICT) in library operations and in research activity stimulated entrepreneurship and scholar/library partnerships with scholar-controlled digital journal publishing. Again in contrast, the market orientation of university presses, combined with a lack of appreciation in the library community for the value added by professional publishers, hampered the extension of collaboration into three-way partnerships among scholars, libraries, and publishing professionals. Recognition of the roles of all parties holds the greatest promise for the evolution of digital scholarly publishing.

Keywords: Journal publishing; Monograph publishing; Digital publishing; Library publishing; Open access; Canadian publishing; Scholarly communication

Rowland Lorimer is Founding Editor of Scholarly and Research Communication and Director of the Canadian Centre for Studies in Publishing, Simon Fraser University, 515 West Hastings Street, Vancouver, BC, Canada V6B 5K3. Email: .

The development and deployment of library data systems and their impact on scholarly journal publishing

The evolution of digital library systems

Following the halcyon days of post-secondary education growth in the post-WWII era, both in Canada and elsewhere, the 1970s brought budgetary constraint for universities. For university libraries, the effects of that constraint were exacerbated by cost increases for scientific, technical, and medical (STM) journals that continuously exceeded annual increases in the consumer price index by a wide margin (Okerson, 1989; Association of Research Libraries, 2006). The same period also brought technology innovations, however, which allowed libraries to manage general budgetary reductions while they introduced improvements in collections management and public services. To be specific, beginning in the 1970s and in full swing by the 1980s, libraries implemented computer-based systems that automated their operational processes for acquisitions, cataloguing, circulation, and serials management. Libraries began to create, store, and access large databases of bibliographic data. These functions generated database-management and computer-storage requirements that extended the boundaries of in-house computer systems support and, by 2000, generated the development of commercial alternatives known as integrated library systems (Lorimer, Provençal, Owen, Devakos, Phipps, & Smith, 2010).

By the end of the 1980s, most academic libraries had closed their card catalogues and were implementing the first online public access catalogues (OPACs). By the mid-1990s, every vendor of library systems software was offering a web-based OPAC. In 1993, online computer systems changed dramatically when Mosaic, the first widely deployed web browser, appeared and many academic libraries created local websites that provided access to an increased range of online services and databases.

Building on four decades of automation, by the end of the twentieth century, academic libraries were radically transformed institutions. The shift to digital collections and resources was well underway, and many more library services were being delivered in a growing variety of virtual and remote techniques. Academic libraries acquired extensive technological infrastructure, and librarians were rapidly developing expertise in creating, maintaining, and navigating the digital landscape in a very practical and hands-on way. Notably, the increased efficiencies and growth of services facilitated by this improved technology served as a counteractive force to the ever-increasing prices demanded by international STM journal publishers.2

Increasing the affordability of digital journal acquisitions

In contrast to the growth of services made possible by the inventive adoption of technology, libraries found they were paying more but gaining nothing in journal acquisition. They were offered access to electronic versions of scholarly journals, usually at a surcharge of 15–25 percent, and often bundled with a parallel print product. Such an option translated into a technologically induced content loss in terms of their overall budget, made more difficult to swallow by the steady ramping up of STM journal pricing that had been occurring in the post-war era. With the knowledge that journal-publishing companies, such as Elsevier, were making up to 40% profit (see various Reed Elsevier Annual Reports; for example, Reed Elsevier, 2011), librarians’ relations with STM journal publishers were less than friendly and collegial. As the librarians noted, they were in the midst of a “serials pricing crisis” (see, for example, Lorimer, Gilbert, & Patrick, 1997).

In Canada, in an attempt to maximize access to and minimize the cost of overpriced STM journals, libraries formed a purchasing consortium in 1999 under the name  “Canadian National Site Licensing Project” (CNSLP). CNSLP started as an initiative funded by the Canada Foundation for Innovation (CFI), with the full participation of all Canadian academic libraries. It negotiated national site licences with major digital resource providers, mainly of journals and monographs, on behalf of Canadian academic libraries. The project garnered international recognition for its development of a model licence to negotiate agreements and prices that would not be available to libraries acting alone.

Following CNSLP’s success at spreading access at more affordable prices, Canadian libraries created a more broadly focused second iteration purchasing consortium, the Canadian Research Knowledge Network (CRKN), which included the purchase of some Canadian books and journals, with both general, and social sciences and humanities content (see CRKN’s members were able to make available an expanded suite of electronic resources, including a wide range of electronic journals, to all Canadian students and researchers across the country, whether they were at large or small universities.3

Another initiative that arose at the same time as CRKN was Scholars Portal, which was developed as a project of the Ontario College and University Libraries (OCUL). Scholars Portal complemented CRKN, building a regional interoperable infrastructure to load locally CRKN-purchased materials as well as other provincially negotiated resources (thereby ensuring long-term access). Scholars Portal also ensured more direct control over the development and improvement of access mechanisms.4

CNSLP, CRKN, and Scholars Portal can all be seen as data systems–based pre-emptive measures taken by Canadian academic libraries to temper the effects of the business practices of large commercial vendors. Yet the fundamental limitation of commercial intermediation by journal publishers, between the production of research by scholars in universities and the consumption of that same research by students and other researchers, remained.

Institutional repositories

It was not long before systems librarians began to turn their technological expertise to extending systems-based data services for their host institutions. One such service was the institutional repository (IR), an initiative intended to ease access to the research of an institution’s scholars by means of an end run around the journals.

In 2002, the appearance of institutional repository-oriented open source software, such as DSpace, allowed academic libraries to begin to offer their user communities

a set of services … for the management and dissemination of digital materials created by the institution and its community members….[This was carried out in the name of] the stewardship of digital materials, including long-term preservation where appropriate, as well as organization and access or distribution. (Lynch, 2003, para 5)

Not immediately apparent in such a description is the challenge it represented to journal and monograph publishing as it then existed. Depending on the breadth of perspective one took on the meaning of “community members,” “stewardship,” “organization,” and “access or distribution,” there was considerable potential for IRs to become parallel publishing processes to journal and monograph publishing.

Those supportive of library-based IRs were overly optimistic in anticipating researchers’ embrace of what amounted to a parallel provision of access. Partly because IRs were not intended to officially be a publishing system, but rather a guarantee of access, no explicit attention was paid to a number of publishing variables. The provision of incentives for researchers, as authors, to lodge their work in a database that duplicated journal output was not addressed. No concerted campaign was mounted to shift the manner in which readers could access content, for instance by accessing a multi-institutional index of the content of IRs. The lack in IRs of the required credibility inherent in publication with an established discipline- and field-oriented journal, with its prestigious editorial board and peer review-based selectivity in acceptances, was neither challenged nor addressed. No consideration seemed to be given to the implications of relocating the control of access to approved publishing services from the academy (through peer review) to academic institutions (university libraries). Also missing was consideration of such other publishing functions as the management of peer review, the role of journal editors and publishers in establishing a direction and emphasis for publications, and the active exploitation of the created knowledge resource. Discussion of such elements as editing, proofreading, and layout were entirely absent. Moreover, the actual legal status of placing a version of a published article in an IR was claimed but not established in court.

These issues were not addressed essentially because IRs were not originally intended as a replacement publishing system, but rather as a guarantee of access. In guaranteeing access, they reflected the traditional role of libraries, which is to provide access to existing materials for which they can anticipate demand. Yet, despite this non-publishing status, once offered to academics as a way of making their work public, there has been an understandable tendency for academics to see IRs as a recognized form of publishing, like personal websites. In conjunction with a general impatience for dissemination, especially by young scholars, and calls for movement away from blind peer review (e.g., Fitzpatrick, 2011), there has been a noticeable mandate creep in IRs, while, at the same time, IRs have been underused by scholars.

The lack of success of IRs in attracting both content and readership did not change the fact that IRs pulled libraries into a more direct and proactive scholarly publishing relationship with their local faculties. The appearance of Open Journal Systems (OJS), an online, freely available, open source journal-publishing platform, appeared to strengthen the alternative to forever writing large cheques to highly profitable STM journal publishers. Libraries could make OJS available to scholars to ease the creation and administration of alternative journals, and could provide them with wide, and sometimes open, accessibility by hosting new journals.

Journal hosting

In the early years of the twenty-first century, library-based digital journal hosting joined institutional repositories as a second extension of library data systems in support of scholarly publishing and research communication. In Canada, a considerable number of university libraries were encouraged to take on journal hosting by two projects, Érudit ( and Synergies (

The CFI-funded Synergies initiative aimed to provide a non-profit platform for both the aggregation of journals hosted at participating institutions and for the publication and dissemination of other forms of research results (e.g., theses, data) in Canadian social sciences and humanities (SSH). Synergies combined the online hosting and publishing services of Érudit with journal hosting services built on the foundation of the output of OJS.

Open access and journal hosting

The advent of library journal hosting coincided with the continuing growth of the open access movement in scholarly publishing. Suber (2009) traces open access back to 1966; however, the Soros-funded 2003 Budapest Open Access Initiative represented the beginnings of worldwide awareness of it. Open access arose as a result of the efforts of a set of librarians and scholars concerned with maximizing the circulation of knowledge by fully exploiting information and communication technology. They were interested in encouraging alternatives to the continuing market domination of large commercial STM journal publishers and to the emergence of large commercial SSH publishers who were following the lead of their STM brethren in pricing and operations.

A recent survey of Canadian academic libraries shows high rates of participation in journal hosting: “55% of the 33 respondents were already providing hosting services and related support and another 24% were considering the provision of such services” (Morrison & Owen, 2010). These are higher than comparative rates reported in a similar US study (Hahn, 2008), a difference that can be explained in part by the significant funding provided to Synergies for the development of a national infrastructure to help transition Canadian scholarly journal publishing from a print to digital environment (see the Synergies Canada Synergies: Canada’s SSH Research Infrastructure website at

Most library-based journal hosting services now provide the online hosting system and related technical support, while publishing activities such as article review processes, copyediting, and subscription or membership management remain the responsibility of the individual journal. Such an arrangement represents a positive partnership and an appropriate division of control, wherein the filtering and development of content remains in the academy and technical services are vested in institutional libraries. In support of facilitating the professional added value of publishing — for instance, professional editing, layout, proofreading, and sales and marketing — several organizations in Canada are providing professional content-oriented publishing services to journals, including the University presses of Athabasca, Calgary, Toronto, and Wilfrid Laurier, the Canadian Centre for Studies in Publishing at Simon Fraser University, and Érudit at the University of Montréal.

These services, and particularly the provision of OJS as back-office software, appear to have contributed to a significant expansion of journal titles, most of which have been founded, as has traditionally been the case, by scholars. In a 2009 survey of 998 journals using the OJS software, Edgar and Willinsky (2010) identified start-up, born-digital publications of scholar-publishers as the most frequent users of both OJS and library hosting services. This was further supported in a more recent survey of the digital status of journals (Lorimer, Bittman, Bonifacio, Carscallen, & Jones, 2012). While the revenue streams of the journals in both the Edgar and Willinsky and the Lorimer et al. studies are limited, the broader picture is that users of OJS span a variety of business and publication models.

Thus, ICT brought to libraries an increased ability to serve clients in flexible, cost-effective ways. In that spirit, a large number of libraries have embraced the dissemination of journal publishing software and the provision of server and hosting access as an alternative to the acquisition- and information-restrictive regimes typified by international STM journal publishers.

Developments in monograph publishing in a digital frame

The position and operations of university press publishing

The development trajectory of university press–based monograph publishing, from World War II forward, has been quite different from that of libraries. Historically, university presses served two purposes: first, to provide texts for students, and second, to provide publishing opportunities for research and analysis written by scholars and researchers. (Often these two purposes became one.) University presses have continued to serve these two purposes into the twenty-first century. In the 1950s and 1960s, parallel with the relatively robust budgets of libraries, numbers of presses expanded their operations. However, as the flow of funds became more restricted in the 1970s, the presses were obliged to become more financially self-sufficient, all the while keeping their location in, and their branding coincident with, their parent universities. They sought financial self-sufficiency by setting sail on the waters of the marketplace. Some university presses retained or acquired access to endowments, others had access to small deficit coverage, and still others were on their own financially (Givler, 2012).

With increased emphasis on financial viability, and hence market management, university presses gradually became fitted with the commercial cloak of businesses operating in the scholarly marketplace. This operational identity undermined the workability of overall scholarly inspiration and control. Gradually, the role of the professoriate was reduced to a two-point decision-making structure: peer review, and the formal approval of titles by a publications board. General emphasis in press operations remained oriented to scholarly value, and the direction of development was usually negotiated between the press director and the publications board. But with financial self-sufficiency as the guiding rubric for publishing strategies, scholarly publishing professionals took over editorial leadership of presses, while peers and publication board members were relegated to carrying out their task within a narrow gatekeeping structure — that is, which to publish and which not. Gone, or considerably weakened, was active scholarly leadership over the whole of the enterprise.

In retrospect, as well as separating university press operations from institutional base budgets and research funding (which, arguably, the presses rarely had), the increasing sacrosanctity of blind peer review and final board approval severed both the idea and the reality of working with researchers, university administrators, and libraries in development partnerships, a relationship that was admittedly susceptible to cronyism. Yet that same lack of a partnership structure has come to undermine university press access to new thinking about scholarly communication, the needed budgets to experiment with and adopt information and communication technology, and active involvement with the re-conceptualization of the enterprise of scholarly publishing.

In sum, the operations of the presses became separated from the core activities of the university, except for a shared brand. Whereas the early days of separation appeared to provide freedom to pursue authors and worldwide market opportunity, that freedom subsequently became a vulnerability in a market that seemed forever to shrink, partly as a result of the financial pressures brought upon libraries by STM-journal overcharging.

The impact of digital realities on monograph publishing

As the preference for accessing research online eclipses the demand for print access, the electronic scholarly monograph, readable on an e-reader and/or searchable on a computer, is coming to play a much more significant role in research and scholarship. As a result, increasingly, university presses will earn back their initial investment in a title through the proceeds of providing electronic access. Demand for print may not die, but when a monograph is being used for reference purposes, as it often is, as opposed to complete, contemplative reading, an e-monograph makes much better sense than a printed book.

Despite that emerging reality, university presses have been slow in negotiating e-monograph sales. There appear to be two reasons. First, without a law in place making technological protection measures legal in Canada, e-monographs are vulnerable to copying. Second, the demands of libraries threaten to undermine the financial viability of university presses. In general, university libraries have wished to secure perpetual access to digital products for approximately the same price as a printed book. They also have wished to broaden the terms of use in a manner that would have been impossible in the print era (a desire that parallels what university libraries have been able to achieve in client services). In purchasing access, they wish access to be for all uses; i.e., reference as well as classroom use. For example, in presenting arguments to the hearings considering Bill C-32, a draft of Canada’s new copyright law, the Council of Ministers of Education of Canada made clear that they saw the new provisions allowing copying for educational use under fair dealing as giving them the right to make classroom sets free of any compensation to authors and publishers (Canada, 2010). The library community appears to be making the tacit assumption that, like commercial STM journal publishers, university presses overcharge for the products and that the price can therefore be whittled down. This is not true.

Faced with such legal uncertainties and explicit demands, the presses demurred well into 2012 by not making digital monographs readily available to individuals and institutions; that is to say, they did not publish digital monographs simultaneously in print and electronic form. Such action marginalized the scholarly position of research monographs at a time when work patterns demand downloadable, searchable, and metadata marked-up (and user–annotatable) monographs. This denial of access to digital versions of new monographs that are necessary to scholarship represents a denial of service to scholars and students. A review of the websites of Canada’s three largest university presses in late 2011 revealed that e-titles were not available for purchase by individuals, and the provisions for library purchase and client use were quite restricted. By mid-2012, it appeared that the presses were often offering delayed access or access only to certain titles. For instance, apparently none of the prize-winning titles on the UBC Press homepage were available as e-books, yet three other e-book titles that originated in 2012 were listed (University of British Columbia Press, 2012). On the University of Toronto Press website, the press noted that 500 titles were available for purchase on its website and a further 2,000 were available for purchase in pdf form “through our library partners” (University of Toronto Press, 2012). A simple policy statement on the provision of e-book titles would have been more helpful. The McGill-Queen’s University Press website made the statement that many of their titles were available in e-book form and, like the others, then referred users to the homepages of retailers. In examining its catalogues, while cloth and paper formats were noted, the e-book format was not included as a choice as matter of course (McGill-Queen’s University Press, 2012).

The above said, in the spring and summer of 2012, it seemed that the bottleneck caused by unreasonable library demands and the reluctant service provided by university presses began to clear. Public libraries, at least, appeared to realize that their demands were financially injurious to publishers and began to consider procedures for treating publishers of e-books fairly. Talks between the Canadian Urban Libraries Council and the Association of Canadian Publishers (Ebound project) began to approach a workable solution (Samson, 2012). An interview with UBC press director Melissa Pitts revealed that the presses had established plans and were in negotiations to provide ready access to titles for libraries. In some cases, they are also working toward direct web sales to individuals.

The dual nature of the monograph marketplace

Surprisingly, the reluctant access that Canada’s leading university presses have provided has not been treated as absolutely unacceptable. This is especially so given the position of university presses as being ultimately owned or controlled by their parent institutions. That surprise aside, the lack of emphasis on timely digital access can be interpreted as a misreading by the university presses of their primary market, brought about by their structural position as independent business entities (affiliated in name with certain universities).

For both journals and monographs, the primary market is for research-oriented publishing services. Publishing services are the primary market because far more resources flow to publishers (particularly monograph publishers) for production than are derived from consumption. The secondary market is reader demand for information and analysis, a market that the presses tend to see as primary. The exception to this relationship (where reader demand yields a greater contribution to the bottom line than publishing service provision) is to be found in commercial journal and leading monograph publishers. But even there, when library purchasing practices are combined with usage statistics, the often low frequency of usage suggests that library purchasing can equally be seen as production support, rather than as an expression of reader demand.

From the point of view of reader demand (the secondary market), the scholarly monograph market is currently over-served. Sales of high quality Canadian SSH monographs can be fewer than 300 copies worldwide. If reader demand is primary, such sales levels hardly justify the publishing effort. As well, extensive use of monographs by academics through their own reading, or as part of their teaching process, is lacking. Publishers and academics alike recognize this. Steele (2008) quotes the former CEO of British publisher MacMillan and president of the UK Publishers Association as saying in the (UK) Bookseller for 23 September 2005 that “most of our words aren’t read, so it’s how you package it that really determines the profit” (Steele, 2008, para. 37). On the scholars’ side, the Modern Language Association (2006) produced a report that questioned the appropriateness of monograph publishing as a criterion for promotion and tenure in the face of both a lack of readership and a lack of publishing opportunities.

The significance of the grim picture is not so much its indisputable reality as its implied and erroneous assumption that readership is the primary market, and hence the whole raison d’être of scholarship. As Biomed Central and others are fond of saying, publication should be seen as the last phase of the research process (BioMed Central, n.d.). Tied to the research process, the publication cost of research, which must entail a quality-control process in its conceptualization and presentation, should be viewed as part of the overall research effort. Put another way, the progress of understanding should not depend on the number of readers, but rather on the nature of the insight and information that may take years to be understood.

The example of US stealth aircraft being built on the foundation of a Soviet-Russian paper which dealt with the theory of radar and was published in an obscure Soviet journal is a classic case in point (Wikipedia, 2012). The writings of Marshall McLuhan are another case of records of knowledge coming to have significance well after they were written. Adapting the notion somewhat, what we have in modern print-based monograph publishing, where the market is seen to be sales of copies, is arguably a classic case of market failure, where, on the whole, current consumption fails to reflect the long-term value of the good offered for sale.

There is more wisdom in the view of “publication as the last phase of the research process” than is at first apparent. The statement of Britain’s Joint Information System Committee (JISC), that wider access to research papers, and hence our knowledge base, has economic impact, makes the same point in different words (JISC, 2011). JISC statements note that public access creates public value; the value of information itself is what is primary. Inherent in the nature of the university as a knowledge incubator is a demand for publishing services. Both scholars and universities need publication to demonstrate the value of their intellectual work, and on this foundation credentialing is built. In his book The Access Principle: The Case For Open Access To Research And Scholarship, Willinsky (2006) makes a more developed case along the same lines. In short, the primary market in scholarly publishing is author (and institutional) demand for publishing services.

In recognition of the primacy of the publishing services market, three other categories of publishers in addition to university presses have marched into what they see as a market worth serving. The first is commercial publishers, who believe (and have proven) that they can attract good manuscripts and bring them to market in such a way as to generate decent returns on their investment. A wide variety of presses operate successfully in this manner, particularly in Britain and Germany, and there are some that are adopting open access digital publishing models even as they attempt to generate sales revenues; Bloomsbury Academic is a good example (see

A second category of publisher is what might be called the copyright troller (see Wikipedia, 2011). Copyright trollers offer academics a chance to publish a monograph. Following the university press tendency to shift a significant portion of publication costs onto authors and their institutions, copyright trollers carry the matter one step further, requiring the author to pay and to present the material in ready-to-publish form. The trollers then place the title in a catalogue and attempt to sell the resulting publication to libraries at a price that allows them to print on demand and recoup their costs with fewer than 50 sales. The drawback is that the copyright-trolling publisher locks up the copyright with almost no investment and then turns around and charges high access fees. There is little understanding of this phenomenon in the scholarly community, which makes its members and some libraries vulnerable to exploitation.

The most recent arrival and third category of publisher is the research library. Research libraries appear enthusiastic to bring both journal and monograph publishing back inside universities. As the following section details, however, at least in the US and Australia, these libraries see themselves as replacing university presses rather than partnering with them. This developing model of monograph publishing, its consequences, and a more viable alternative deserve some attention because the model casts the activities of university presses as superfluous. The model implicitly replaces a “social model of communication,” wherein communication is guided by context (e.g., the existing body of knowledge, writing and design stylistics, and market organization), with a “transmission model of communication” (Gasher, Skinner, & Lorimer, 2012, p. 10-11).

The intersection of library and university press development

In 2007, a much-discussed report entitled University publishing in a digital age was published not by a university press, but as the last phase of a research project. Written by publishing and library members of the board of directors of the Ithaka Group (associated with JSTOR), the report reviewed the role of US university presses in scholarly publishing, and “evolved into a broader assessment of the importance of publishing to universities” (Brown, Griffiths, Rascoff, & Guthrie, 2007, p. 3). The basic thrust of the report overshadows the report’s recommendations, namely that university presses should collaborate with university libraries to address the knowledge dissemination needs and therefore the strategic interests of the university. This point is made clear in the first paragraph of the executive summary of the report: “[U]niversities do not treat the publishing function as an important, mission-centric endeavor” (Brown, et al., 2007, p. 3). It continues in the next paragraph:

A renewed commitment to publishing in its broadest sense can enable universities to more fully realize the potential global impact of their academic programs, enhance the reputations of their specific institutions, maintain a strong voice in determining what constitutes important scholarship and which scholars deserve recognition, and in some cases reduce costs. There seems to us to be a pressing and urgent need to revitalize the university’s publishing role and capabilities in this digital age. (Brown, et al., 2007, p. 3)

Making university presses mission-centric is problematic because it recasts university presses as information agents of academic institutions rather than agents that select manuscripts they deem worthy of being recognized as contributions to knowledge (and purely for that reason). The report fails to recognize the parallel role of university presses to the academic freedom of the professoriate to choose what fields are worthy of pursuit. Indeed, the report does not suggest a role for the professoriate — that is to say, the academy of scholars and researchers — except as authors. Yet, the role of the professoriate in setting the priorities of such an enterprise is fundamental.

A counter-argument that has some viability can be made: if the mission of the university puts knowledge of all kinds (and hence the professoriate) first, as is done in leading universities, then mission-centric presses are non-problematic. In the context of continuing financial challenges, community engagement, corporatization, and, in general, the politics of academic institutions in current times, however, mission-centric presses, in general, may not place the advancement of knowledge first, last, and always.

By the time the Ithaka document reaches its recommendations, it reports:

Some universities have tried to encourage this kind of collaboration by bringing the press inside the library, or creating centralized leadership for both bodies in the form of a chief information officer or head of academic information and services. (Brown, et al., 2007, p. 29)

On the wisdom of such a structure, the report equivocates: “We do not wish to advocate a specific configuration or reporting structure for these activities, but we would argue that these activities must be connected to program strengths of the university if they are to remain relevant to their campuses” (Brown, et al., 2007, p. 29). Note the administrative concept “program strength” and the location and nature of the concern “relevant to their campuses,” not “research activities of the professoriate” nor “the advancement of knowledge.”

A different version of the same notion of embracing the presses within institutional priorities through the library and information services, which explicitly brings forward the role of open access, can be found in a study done for Britain’s JISC. In a 2009 report that JISC commissioned entitled Economic Implications Of Alternative Scholarly Publishing Models: Exploring The Costs And Benefits (Houghton, Rasmussen, Sheehan, Oppenheim, Morris, Creaser, Greenwood, Summers, & Gourlay, 2009), Australian economist John Houghton and his colleagues, supported by a team of British librarian/information scientists and economists, claimed that a shift to open access publishing would result in significant overall savings in knowledge dissemination. True enough, but in first identifying publishing professionals as being able to obtain jobs in other parts of the economy, the report dismisses wholesale the nature of the value added by publishers in list development, substantive and stylistic editing, layout, and the overall creation of an appealing reading product, to say nothing of administering peer review, sales, and marketing. The report’s authors were fully aware that they were calling for a gutting of all publishing functions, resulting in substantial job loss and undermining a good percentage of the scholarly monograph publishing industry. Using more antiseptic terms, they state that their proposal would result in “a reduction of activity and employment in the industry,” with the result that “the capital and labour no longer employed in publishing would be employed in an alternative activity” (Houghton et al., 2009, pp. xxiv–xxv).

A joint statement from the UK Publishers Association, the Association of Learned and Professional Society Publishers, and the International Association of Scientific, Technical, and Medical Publishers was mild in its language and claimed that certain conclusions drawn in the JISC-commissioned report were “unproven” and lacked thorough industry consultation (Taylor, Russell, & Mabe, 2009, para 2). As Jim Ashling was later to report, the document also gave “scant recognition [to] the economic and social benefits contributed to the UK by British publishers and societies” (Ashling, 2009, p. 22).

Both the desire of some in the library community to take over publishing functions and the resistance of university presses to consumer demand for digital processes and products are usefully seen as direct results of the different post-World War II histories of the two institutions. Statements such as those made by Houghton et al. (2009) do not presage a viable university press/library partnership. They speak to the demand for transmission-type publishing services as the primary market to consider in scholarly publishing. In so doing, they recast that demand naively, not as a need for review and revision, for disinterested feedback prior to publication to address shortcomings and improve effectiveness, or for professional publishing services, but as access to world-girding digital communication circuitry. This is regrettable. Any document of import, whether in business, government, law, engineering, religion, or academe should pass under the eyes of more than one person who knows the content (a peer) and persons with professional skills in writing and design (graphic designers and editors). As well, many documents and sets of documents are composed with a strategic aspiration, which is another reason why they should undergo a rigorous review, which could be assured under the management of presses.

Moving forward: Digital innovation, librarians, scholars, and journal and monograph publishers

The technologically energized enthusiasms of the library sector, bolstered with its access to a healthy percentage of the base budgets of universities, represent, in some cases, a challenge to the formation of a partnership with university presses, especially in cases where libraries do not recognize the value added by the presses (e.g., Houghton et al., 2009). However, quite a different relationship exists in journal publishing that can point a way forward. Seemingly, a significant difference is the involvement of scholars, rather than publishing professionals or commercial companies, in a position of control.

As noted, the institutional repositories and the journal hosting services described above in this article represent transmission-type publishing services provided directly to scholars and reflective of the traditional role of libraries. Institutional repositories take what scholars give them and publish it, without scrutiny. Similarly, libraries hosting journals provide for them various transmission functions. These services are not, however, one-way producer-library to scholar-consumer flows; rather, they represent library partnerships of two types with scholars, in which scholars play major roles. Long ago, Paul Ginsparg showed a partial work-around of commercial journal publishing with his pre-print server. The history of the developments of online and open access journal publishing is peppered with innovative scholars whose ideas and creations have been embraced and incorporated into the infrastructure of libraries. As well, the greater managerial presence of scholars in control of journals (but largely eclipsed in university presses), together with the service-to-scholars function of libraries, has encouraged an adaptive scholar/library partnership in the face of technological possibility. And this is only half the scholarly role. The other half is to be found in the management of the publication process, not merely from the administration of peer review and the supervision of revisions, but also in the leadership and structuring role that is played by editors and their boards as they guide journals in making their contribution to knowledge.

In Canada, three policies have also contributed to a healthy journal publishing environment in which a wide variety of journals, under the control of an even wider number of scholars, have published research and kept subscription costs possibly less than or equal to the cost of open access; in other words, the lowest in the developed world. The first policy is the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council’s (SSHRC) support for Canadian-owned non-profit journals. For years, SSHRC has ensured publishing opportunities for Canadian SSH researchers by funding approximately one-third of the costs of production, but only to non-profit, Canadian-owned journals. The second is the Québec provincial government’s support for online publishing initiatives such as Érudit. Québec made funds available to ensure that Québecois journals were available online through a common portal, Érudit, which began operations in 1998. And the third policy is SSHRC’s in-principle support of open access. While it is being implemented slowly, SSHRC’s adoption of this principle has assisted in the inclusion of online open access journals as recipients of financial support (Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council, 2011). Such policies, together with a friendly environment to open-source software, have created dynamic scholar/library partnerships focused on journal publishing.

Out of this technology-supportive, entrepreneurial-friendly, non-profit encouraging, library/scholar partnership-affirming environment has come admirable achievement. Yet, to be thorough and fair in this assessment, discussions between not-for-profit journals and libraries stalled at the point where Canadian SSH journals suggested that CRKN transform its contribution to not-for-profit journals from subscriptions to support for open access. The Canadian Association of Learned Journals (CALJ) hosted two consultations on journal publishing in an attempt to build an understanding of the best way forward. A clear path of development eluded the meetings (Lorimer & Provençal, 2009; Lorimer & Provençal, 2010; Lorimer, 2010), but presumably this will prove to be a temporary impasse.

Clearly, library/journal collaborations outstrip the much more significant impasse that exists in the world of monographs. There, two beginning discussions between the library and university press communities, held, unfortunately, without official researcher participation, resulted in nothing more than an agreement to talk more, later (University of British Columbia, 2010). The pertinent question appears to be how to extend the partnership dynamics that exist in the journal world to the world of scholarly monographs.

The expertise and technology for hosting, provision of access, archiving, and preservation represent valuable contributions to a digital knowledge communication environment. In addition to contributing technology and ITC management competence, librarians’ professional value in service provision to the scholarly community translates into a focus on the primary market of scholarly publishing—research-based demand for dissemination services and the creation and preservation of the public record of knowledge.

The need for professional publishing expertise does not disappear with new, powerful, and instant transmission technology; rather, such technology reconfigures the social roles that editors, graphic designers, sales and marketing personnel, and strategically-oriented publishers must play in the digital environment. Expert personnel who can provide such services to the knowledge communication enterprise in digital form are to be found within university presses and to a lesser extent, in the offices of scholarly journals and the freelance community.

Moreover, vision and innovation can be found in the scholarly community. Technology is commonly cast as an inevitable manifestation of machinery, as something that is discovered, as gold is by a geologist. Andrew Feenberg (1999) argues that, on the contrary, technology is socially constructed. Hundreds of choice points call for decisions that are guided by the social goals and perceived political or commercial exigencies of decision-makers playing the role of technology strategists. This is a constructivist view of technology.

The development of digital scholarly communication can be seen as constructivist inquiry, with social sciences and humanities research and development guided, if you like, by the desire of certain scholars to diminish media-based, commercial, and organizational barriers that impede the flow of knowledge. Removal of the impediments to the flow of knowledge is in the process of happening. It will be achieved most readily by the recognition of what value each of those involved in scholarly communication can most easily bring to the enterprise.

What does each bring? In a nutshell, libraries and librarians, in collaboration with programmers, become key partners in reconfiguring digital scholarly and research communication, as they possess both the requisite technological and management understanding and the dedication to the service of research and researchers. Substantial numbers of scholars on the editorial boards of not-for-profit journals can contribute needed entrepreneurial intellectual energy dedicated to creating a duly constituted knowledge base across fields of interest and disciplines. A growing cadre of constructivist-inspired, technology-oriented researchers and associated programmers, who are interested in creating both software and technological applications to extend the boundaries of knowledge communication and widen its dissemination, are also enterprise critical. Out of this growing field, which includes digital humanists dedicated to maximizing insight into texts, have arisen various developments, including world-leading journal publishing software. Finally, the publishing professionals commonly found in university presses and in journal offices (or freelancing) who have expertise in fully preparing and exploiting both the knowledge and market value of published texts are also indispensible to the formation of a three-way—i.e., researcher/library/university press—collaboration that can extract maximum value from the potential that is inherent in digital technology.

This collaborative enterprise (in Canada) would be greatly assisted by a JISC-type organization with a mandate to provide “easy and widespread access to information and resources, anytime, anywhere; a vision with technology and information management at the heart of research and education” (JISC, 2011, para 1).


  1. This article is a much reworked and shortened exploration of a paper written to provide background information to Canada’s Social Science and Humanities Research Council (SSHRC) in its effort to define the contribution that the social sciences and humanities can make to the government’s yet-to-emerge digital economy strategy.
  2. I am very grateful to Brian Owen, who drafted a much more extensive analysis in assistance to the research and drafting of this article.
  3. The above paragraphs also come from Brian Owen’s analysis.
  4. This information supplied by Rea Devakos in assistance to the research and drafting of this article, used with thanks.


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CCSP Press
Scholarly and Research Communication
Volume 4, Issue 1, Article ID 010136, 18 pages Journal URL:
Received January 17, 2011, Accepted June 14, 2012, Published August 30, 2012

Rowland Lorimer. (2012). Libraries, Scholars, and Publishers in Digital Journal and Monograph Publishing. Scholarly and Research Communication, 4(1): 010136, 18 pp.

2012 David Phipps. This Open Access article is distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution Non-Commercial License (, which permits unrestricted non-commercial use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original work is properly cited.


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