Libraries at University of Nebraska-Lincoln


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ISBN 978-1-932326-53-6
CLIR Publication No. 166
Published by: Council on Library and Information Resources
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Copyright © 2015 by Council on Library and Information Resources. This work is made available under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommerical-ShareAlike 4.0 international license.


Once upon a time, the world was simpler. Publishers published and libraries collected a lot of what publishers published. Nothing is so simple any more. Now everybody’s a publisher—including librarians. Large-scale initiatives such as HighWire Press and Project Muse have had libraries in attendance at their births, and substantial continuing projects such as Euclid are still housed in libraries. A whirl of buzz and excitement surrounds a growing assumption that publishing is in some way and to some extent a critical function for the library of the future.

We have studied the topic of libraries as publishers, with investigations mainly in the U.S. research institution context.1 Specifically, we reviewed existing literature and conducted a survey of members of the Library Publishing Coalition, seeking to learn the kinds of activities they are undertaking as publishing, the business models they are using, their definitions of success, and their attitudes toward open access or end-user pay models. Our aim was to better understand this emerging sphere of library activity and its possible future in the scholarly communication and publishing sphere. Will library publishing grow and be sustainable? Will libraries play a new and permanent role? If so, in what way and what will be required?

When we refer to libraries as publishers, we consider the range of transactions in which library leaders and staff conceive, evaluate, support, and ultimately produce what we now call content for broad public dissemination, in whatever medium. We say this in full awareness that different observers will draw in different places the line between “publication” and something less structured, coherent, or significant. That ambiguity is an implicit theme of what follows.

We consulted the growing number of articles and other publications (Appendix A) to better understand the range of ideas that underlie library-as-publisher discourse. Distinguishing the different strains of activity and expectation that animate current conversations can help us understand not only the present moment but also the varied possibilities that loom ahead. We are also intrigued with the sub-topic of funding the library publishing enterprise, as well as the sustainability of today’s endeavors, so we present results from a small survey of about 50 libraries.

A certain kind of demand and leadership led a hundred years ago to a certain kind of university publishing. Now new, or at least additional, kinds of demand lead us to new kinds of university publishing. Libraries are re-emerging as players, perhaps because they bring to the enterprise a kind of new perspective, inquisitiveness, and experimentation.