By Karen Carmody-McIntosh
Pioneers in their fields, University of Minnesota researchers seek innovative ways to share their findings, making their work searchable and accessible to audiences beyond the academy, while remaining affordable for students in the classroom.
With diverse publishing options and web-based platforms available, the process of selecting a venue can take time and in-depth research. Fortunately, the University Libraries is well positioned to partner with faculty and researchers through its Open Scholarship & Publishing Services unit – a team of experts in content strategy, web design, usability, and user experience.
“We stay abreast of what’s happening in the publishing field so we can educate people on their options and offer solutions within the University support system,” said Kate McCready, M.L.I.S., Director of Content Services. “We offer consultations on any aspect of scholarly publishing, whether it’s finding an agent or evaluating a journal. We will also directly publish their materials with the Libraries through our platforms.”
The idea for a publishing unit grew from careful investigation into how the Libraries could support authors in a more consistent way across campus.
“Libraries’ roles have expanded to assist many areas of a faculty member’s work,” said McCready. “We had a platform called UThink, which was an open blogging system used for more than a decade by the University community. But we were getting requests for publications that needed editorial backend support. We were also getting requests for dynamic scholarly serial development projects and we didn’t have a team devoted to that effort or a review process in place.”
Requests such as these drove the decision to bring existing Libraries experts together to support the full lifecycle of scholarly communication.
The strengths of the new Publishing Services team are manifold. Web development and design is integral to the work, but their expertise goes much deeper. “Within the Libraries, we have a thorough knowledge of copyright and intellectual property rights, so we can guide decisions about how to make materials available to the community,” said McCready. “We understand the needs for different peer review processes. And then once works have been created, we get those items cataloged, put into library systems, and we work with researchers to share their publication with their community and to the University.”
Open Rivers, Open Access
For Patrick Nunnally, Ph.D., Coordinator of the River Life program at the U of M Institute for Advanced Study, Publishing Services provided the expertise to help create a new type of digital journal. Open Rivers grew out of a grant-funded seminar to explore new narratives on the role, meaning, and sustainability of the Mississippi River. From its inception, the journal was designed to continue the work of that seminar by providing a platform where varied perspectives could fit together, sometimes within the same article.
“We have someone who is a Dakota visual artist in conversation with a scholar of American Literature who works at a university in Great Britain, a scholar of law from the University of Nebraska, and the superintendent of the national park that we’re in right here [along the Mississippi River].”
According to Nunnally, the grand challenge of water access and equity cannot be addressed without building multidisciplinary connections among researchers in the sciences, humanities, arts, and social sciences. What’s more, research from within academia needs to exist alongside and be influenced by the knowledge and experience of community partners.
“We want writers from across the campus and from particular sectors outside to participate in the journal’s work. We can’t assume that everybody has read all of the same stuff – has passed the entry gates, if you will, into the academy. We need to make something that looks different and Open Rivers really does that.”
The journal exists on a WordPress website designed by Publishing Services in collaboration with Joanne Richardson, M.A., Digital Information Strategist for the River Life program. The collaboration between Libraries developers and Richardson is typical of the support process Publishing Services provides. Guided by training from the Libraries team, faculty and staff that work on a journal gain the knowledge they need to manage a site and to inform contributing authors about copyright and open access. Once posted to an online journal like Open Rivers, articles can also be made available in PDF format for download, free and easily available for use in the curriculum.
“It’s a great match,” said Nunnally. “The team we work with is hands down the most professional, best team we’ve worked with at the University in the 12 years I’ve been here. No question about it.”
For Innovation’s Sake
Newly developed projects are not the only ones to benefit from working with Publishing Services.
“We started our journal six years ago, because innovations weren’t making their way into dissemination,” said Kristin Janke, Ph.D., Professor in the Department of Pharmaceutical Care & Health Systems and part of the editorial team for Innovations in Pharmacy, an online journal focusing on pharmacy-related breakthroughs in practice, education, and policy.
Before submitting a proposal and teaming up with Publishing Services, the journal had already published 228 articles on a departmental website. The faculty and staff working on the journal were masters of creating excellence despite constraints.
“We already had an ISSN, we had gotten ourselves into the Directory of Open Access Journals, and we had started the Pub Med Central application process. We were doing those things on the side while we were trying to manage manuscripts and of course do our full time jobs, which is be faculty,” said Janke.
The editors had been in search of a manuscript management system, but had been unable to find one to suit their budget and capacity for technical support. Fortunately, they learned about Publishing Services from the liaison librarian to the College of Pharmacy.
After having their proposal accepted, consultations took place to select a platform. In addition to gaining a streamlined system for producing issues and facilitating the peer review process, they saw some unexpected results.
“Reports from the system are telling us more about our readership,” said Janke. “I was surprised by the number of corporate readers that we had. Seeing that has heightened our awareness of utilization and visibility. We’re starting to think more about the role of alt metrics and social media in publicizing our authors’ work. We’re now poised to create a bigger footprint for the journal and create more visibility.”
What’s Next for Publishing Services?
The librarians and developers on the Publishing Services team are kept busy working in collaboration with researchers to publish journals, dynamic scholarly serials, conference proceedings, and open textbooks. Guided by McCready’s leadership, the team is taking part in bigger conversations about the role of libraries in the future of academic publishing.
“I’m really excited about being a member of the Library Publishing Coalition,” McCready said. “Although our focus is serving the needs of U of M faculty and researchers, there are some solutions that would be better built at scale with our colleagues from other institutions in order to make them more affordable and available to more authors and editors.”