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When Purdue University Press was brought under the wing of the university’s library in 2009, it was a marriage of necessity, brought on by the flagging financial fortunes of the press. Since being absorbed into the library in 2009, the press has moved from reporting to library administrators to participating in planning with them, said Dean of Libraries James Mullins at a recent conference sponsored by education non-profit Ithaka. Purdue is one of a growing number of universities and colleges across the country where the in-house press and library are working more closely together, offering a glimpse into the possible future of academic publishing.

In 2009, financial concerns, including unpaid royalties, forced a bailout of Purdue’s in-house press, which saw its business operations taken over by the library. Several years on, the new partnership with the library has righted the ship, accounting-wise. But perhaps even more importantly, it has also helped Purdue’s press rethink how it presents things like datasets in its publications. “Our authors are very interested in enriching their publications with additional digital content,” said Purdue University Press director Charles Watkinson. “Because the library is one of the core places to create data repositories for institutions, we’re able to link to those more easily, and that’s an area where we’ve had success.”

Along with new technologically driven opportunities, there is also a distinctly old-school  benefit to bringing together the library and the university press, said Watkinson, in that it makes the press feel like more of a part of the campus community than it has in the past. Traditionally, presses tend to linger on the fringes of campuses, part of the organization, but at arm’s length. Becoming part of the library, a place often seen as a center of campus both academically and physically, let Purdue’s press get more engaged with the campus as a whole. That’s led not only to closer collaboration with faculty, but also with students, resulting in the Journal of Purdue Undergraduate Research (JPUR), an open access look at research done by some of Purdue’s youngest and brightest students.

The merger hasn’t been without hiccups, though. The funding models of libraries and presses are fundamentally different, Watkinson points out. That fact has forced staffers on both sides of the equation to learn new financial vocabularies. Dealing with revenues remains “a learning process,” according to Watkinson. It’s a learning process that more and more academic libraries are engaging in, though, as demonstrated by the recently released Library Publishing Directory, a guide to more than 100 library publishing ventures around the world, many of which include collaborations with university presses. In the directory the Library Publishing Coalition details what each one is doing and provides an overview of the burgeoning industry as a whole..

University presses aren’t the only ones looking to partner with academic libraries, either.  Publishing collaborative BioOne is partnering with the libraries of Dartmouth University and other universities across the United States to launch Elementa, an online, open access journal focusing on the science of climate change and sustainability from a variety of angles. According to program director Mark Kurtz, Elementa is an experiment in many ways, one of which is taking a look at what role libraries can play in large scale open access publishing, which many think represents the future of the industry. “We’re trying to explore if the model PLOS One demonstrates so well, be applied to a grand challenge, like climate change,” Kurtz said.

While BioOne provided capital, marketing and general coordination for the project, Dartmouth staffers have taken point on developing and hosting for Elementa, which is built on the PLOS digital platform and hosted on Dartmouth’s servers. The library is also helping to manage editorial workflow for the new journal, in collaboration with editors from the University of Michigan, University of Washington, University of Colorado Boulder, and Georgia Institute of Technology. Like PLOS, the journal is funded by publishing fees—$1,450 per article—rather than subscription revenues, and brings readers peer reviewed articles in subjects connected to the study of climate change, including ecology, atmospheric and weather research, and sustainable engineering.

Kurtz admits that Elementa has been a complicated project to get off the ground, pointing out that both BioOne and Dartmouth’s library have had to move out of their comfort zones to ”create a shared vocabulary and a new management framework.”  He even cedes that it may not end up being a model for the future. But no one will know the answer until someone tries. That’s the driving force behind Elementa, which launches officially on November 15. “We need experimentation, and our experiment is to see if there is a place for the academy to take some control of publishing. We think there is, and that we can demonstrate that,” Kurtz said. “We think the academy is an appropriate locus of scholarly communication, and that we can help libraries see how to assert their role there.”

A good partnership between library and press can be a boon for both. Some other universities, though, are taking a different approach, building their presses from the ground up within an existing library framework. Amherst University, a small liberal arts college in Massachusetts, is creating a press within its walls that is devoted to open access. The decision to build a new press from scratch was prompted by the frustration that Amherst librarians felt at the current state of academic publishing. “We were convinced that you couldn’t build a system much worse than the one we have right now,” said Amherst librarian Bryn Geffert.

The university’s first press will be a part of the library from day one, with a mission devoted to publishing open access works, and to publishing only online. “We’re going to insist that everything we publish be free and open to anyone with an Internet connection,” Geffert said  “We don’t want to get into printing or inventory management or sales.”  If Amherst’s press does offer printed versions of the work it publishes, Geffert said, the work will be outsourced through a print on demand publisher. Taking print out of the equation, said Geffert, will allow the press to take chances and experiment. “We want to be really nimble, and if our commitment is to free and online publications, we can stay simple and efficient.” Geffert said.