By Jon Jeffryes
The University of Minnesota Libraries Publishing Services is about to turn five years old. Compared to traditional academic publishers — some of which have been publishing for more than 100 years — the publisher, which launched in the spring 2014, is still a new kid on the block.
That newness brings challenges, but it also brings a lot of opportunities. It’s a chance to change the publishing landscape, raise up under-represented voices, and drive evolutions in the formats of both scholarly books and journals.
Those opportunities drive Emma Molls in her multifaceted role of Publishing Services Librarian.
“Oftentimes our publications want to do something pretty innovative and we can say yes because we’ve only done innovative things,” Molls says, “We’re not stuck in one single definition of academic publishing.”
‘We can publish just about any type of thing’
As Publishing Services Librarian, Molls’ position focuses entirely on all of the different aspects of the Libraries’ publishing program — from recruiting and evaluating publication proposals, exploring platforms for publication, setting up a publication workflow, troubleshooting technology issues, advising on the design of a publication, and developing policies to maintain a high level of quality throughout the process.
“We publish journals, monographs, open textbooks, and we have one conference proceeding,” Molls explains. “We haven’t done creative fiction, but otherwise we can publish just about any type of thing.”
Molls partners with librarians throughout the organization from the Publishing Services Team to subject librarians who lend their disciplinary expertise to project development.
All of the publications that come out of Libraries Publishing Services are completely open access and digital. That means that the books and articles are free to readers to download, read, make copies — and are available to anyone with an internet connection.
Open access reduces barriers to access and ensures that researchers across the world can use this high quality information regardless of institutional affiliation or credentials. Open publications can also help reduce individual costs for students when adopted as course text books and reading assignments.
Focusing on education and access instead of profit margins
Molls highlighted two projects as emblematic of the power of being a new publisher of open content: Engaging Helen Hacker, a book, and Open Rivers, an online journal.
Engaging Helen Hacker: Collected Works and Reflections of a Feminist Pioneer was the project of former University of Minnesota graduate students, now alumni, who wanted to highlight the work of Helen Hacker, another University of Minnesota alum who was an early feminist scholar in the field of sociology. The book tells her story and collects her work, including previously unpublished manuscripts — providing a new and wider audience to a thinker whose work was muted by societal biases of the mid- to late-20th Century that privileged male voices.
Another project, Open Rivers, expands what a scholarly journal looks like. Along with the expected scholarly articles and book reviews, Open Rivers includes information for a more general audience including blog posts, websites, and podcasts. Open Rivers also strives to include the perspective of Native Americans in each edition to ensure respect of the role of the river in the lives and culture of the original inhabitants of the land.
Publishing with a focus on education and access instead of profit margins allows the Libraries’ publishing program to apply creative approaches and raise up under-represented voices.
That inclusivity extends to publishing perspectives outside of scholarly norms. The Libraries Publishing Service has filled a gap that allows practitioners from diverse fields to publish their best practices learned from their day-to-day work. These articles often fall outside of the publication focus of most scholarly journals, but the articles from resources like INNOVATIONS in Pharmacy and Teaching Media Quarterly add valuable insights and ideas into their professional communities that might otherwise remain unpublished.
‘We’re really adding something of value’
It is that combination of expanding the scholarly conversation to a wider, more diverse set of voices and expertise, providing more information at no cost to researchers, students, and practitioners around the world, and serving a real need on campus that inspires Molls dedication and hard work.
“We’re really adding something of value to the campus community and to the global scholarly academic community.”