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By Isaac Gilman

Peter Givler observes in his history of university presses in the United States that “Universities have been publishers for at least as long as there has been moveable type.” For over 100 years in the United States – and for over 90 years in Australia – the most prominent expression of university publishing has been the university press. Over the past two decades, however, shifts in technology and the economics of publishing have created an opportunity for university libraries to take an active role in fulfilling “one of the noblest duties of a university”: the publication and dissemination of useful knowledge.

Academic libraries have functioned as publishers for well over a decade (see, for example, Michigan Publishing at the University of Michigan, the California Digital Library at the University of California, ANU Press at The Australian National University, the Synergies project in Canada, and, of course, the Sydney University Press). However, such initiatives generally have been the exception, rather than the rule. Within the last five years, though, the community of library-based publishers has grown significantly as libraries have recognised the unique value they can provide to their institutions and to the broader scholarly community by creating new venues for authors to share their work (see, for example, Amherst College Press).

In North America, the culmination (but by no means the apex) of this expansion in library-based publishing has been the creation of the Library Publishing Coalition (LPC), a community of practice whose mission is to promote “the development of innovative, sustainable publishing services in academic and research libraries to support scholars as they create, advance, and disseminate knowledge”.

While traditional, independent (read: outside of the library) university presses and library-based publishers share many common traits, the existence of the LPC (and, in Australia, the formation of the CAUL Library Publishing Advisory Committee) recognises that there are also important distinctions. For example, libraries have the unique perspective of being the customers of publishers, and of acting on behalf of users (students and faculty) of published materials – an identity that is shaping the approach that libraries are taking as publishers ourselves. And perhaps more significantly, library-based publishing services are contributing to a transformation in the core identity of academic libraries, shifting our emphasis from being consumers of existing works to creators of new works. These are issues that are unique to libraries, and they merit new communities of practice such as the LPC and LPAC.

As these communities of practice develop standards, approaches and best practices for library-based publishing – and as individual libraries, like my own at Pacific University, develop new publishing services – it is important and useful to call upon the years of publishing experience that are present in the library community. To that end, it is my privilege to spend time at both Sydney University Press and ANU Press, to learn from their experiences, and to incorporate that knowledge into the development of the Pacific University Press, which will be a unit of our University Libraries. It is fitting, I think, that in sharing their practices and knowledge with me – a new member of the library publishing community – Sydney and ANU are simultaneously fulfilling their “noblest dut[y]” and equipping Pacific to do so as well.

Isaac Gilman is Associate Professor and Scholarly Communication & Publishing Services Librarian at Pacific University (Oregon). He is a member of the Research Subcommittee of the Library Publishing Coalition and is currently visiting the University of Sydney and the Australian National University on an Endeavour Fellowship.

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