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Bryn Geffert: Libraries as publishers

At Temple University’s symposium in honor of the inauguration of the University’s new president, on Oct. 18, 2013.

NOTE: Live-blogging. Getting things wrong. Missing points. Omitting key information. Introducing artificial choppiness. Over-emphasizing small matters. Paraphrasing badly. Not running a spellpchecker. Mangling other people’s ideas and words. You are warned, people.

Bryn Geffert is College Librarian at Amherst.

Imagine a biologist at Amherst who writes a science article. Who paid for her to write that article? Amherst. But who paid Amherst? Students. Alumni and donors. US funds.

Now it’s accepted by Elsevier. The biologist gives it to Elsevier as a gift, in effect. Elsevier charges Amherst $24,000/year for a subscription to this particular journal. It’s Looney Tunes, Bryn says. There isn’t a worse imaginable model.

Since 1986, serial [= journal] prices have increased 400%. Why? Because a few publishers have a monopoly: Wiley, Elsevier, Springer. With increasing prices for serials, libraries have less money for books. In 1986, academic libraries spent 46% of budgets on books. Now it’s down to 22%. And the effect on book publishers is even worse: when they can’t sell books to libraries, they shut down publishing in entire disciplinary fields. The average sales per academic book is now 200 copies. Since 1993, 5 disciplines have lost presses. E.g., the number of presses sserving British Lit have dropped by about half. More and more academic works are going to bad commercial presses — bad in that they don’t improve what they get.

These these are just the problems of wealthy institutions. How about the effect on developing countries? He gives three examples of work of direct relevance to local cultures where the local culture cannot afford to buy the work.

University presses are dying. Money to purchase anything except journals is dying. Academic presses are dying. And we’re paying no attention to the world around us.

Why does Amherst care? Their motto is “terras irradient”: light the world. But nothing in this model supports that model.

What do we have to do? He goes through these quickly because, he says, we are familiar with them:

  1. Open Access policies
  2. Legislation that mandates that federally supported research be Open Access
  3. Go after the monopolies that are violating anti-trust
  4. Libraries have to boycott offenders.

But even so, we need to design a new system.

Amherst is asking what the mission of a university press is. Part of it: make good work even better and make it as widely available as possible.

What is the mission of the academic libraries? Make good info as widely available as possible.

So, combine forces. U of Mich put its press under the library. This inspired Amherst. But Amherst doesn’t have a press. So, they’re creating one.

  • Everything will be online, Open Access (Creative Commons)

  • They will hustle to get manuscripts

  • All will be peer reviewed and rigorously edited

But how will they pay for it? Amherst’s Frost Library is giving two positions to the press. In return, those editors will solicit manuscripts. The President will raise money to endow a chair of the editor of the press. They’ll take some money from the Library to pay freelancers for copy-editing. Some other units at Amherst are kicking in other services, including design and building an online platform.

People say this is too small to make a difference. But other schools are starting to do similar things. This means that Amherst is a recipient of free content from them. Bryn can imagine a time when there’s so much OA content that the savings realized offset the costs of publishing OA content.

The goal is to move away from individual presses looking out for their own interests to one in which there’s free sharing. “I want to see a world in which the students at a university in Nairobi have access to the same information as students at Columbia.”

3 Responses to “Bryn Geffert: Libraries as publishers”

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