Library-Press Connections at the Charleston Conference

By all accounts, the annual Charleston Library Conference continues to show significant growth every year, also attracting—in accord with the theme of collaboration—a significant number of AAUP members.

This November, university presses were represented on a variety different panels, including “So Now What? Realizing the Potential of the Press in the Library” with Mary Rose Muccie (Temple) and Charles Watkinson (Michigan); Watkinson, Leila Salisbury (Mississippi), and Barbara Kline Pope (National Academies) on “What’s the Big Idea? Mellon, ARL, AAU, University Presses, and the Future of Scholarly Communication”; Jane Bunker (Northwestern) served as a panelist for “University Presses and Libraries: An 80/20 Rule?”; “A Sustainable Ebook Ecosystem: Librarian, Publisher, and Vendor Perspectives” with Alan Harvey (Stanford)—and many others, with representatives from Project MUSE and Project Euclid, Oxford University Press, and the University Press of Kentucky.

Salisbury, Muccie, and AAUP’s Brenna McLaughlin offered reports back from the field.

Leila Salisbury: It has been fascinating watching the growth of interest in the Charleston Conference on the part of the university press community. While a handful of UP publishers have been attending for years (some back when the conference boasted only a couple hundred people and everyone could all fit in one room for discussions), there were probably 20+ university press attendees this year, both for the conference and especially for a pre-meeting summit hosted by vendor YBP. This preconference discussion brought publishers (both UP and commercial), vendors, and 20+ academic librarians together for an unusually frank discussion of the current climate, pressing issues, and solutions for forward movement.

From the field, YBP reports several trends: increases in individual and consortial purchasing and licensing; many traditional approval plans converted to e-slips only; DDA (demand driven acquisitions) using STL (short term loans) to decrease overall library monograph expenditures; and DDA sales up with more print and e-approval slip plans being instead pushed into DDA pools of titles. Michael Zeoli from YBP presented a case study comparing sales patterns for a 2011 and a 2014 monograph. The 2011 title sold at release but also showed later (post-publication) orders as libraries purchased copies from approval slips. The 2014 title, by contrast, sold only in pre-publication approval plans or as DDA purchases, with sales stopping immediately post-publication, rather than reflecting the downward curve over time that monographs have traditionally experienced in library purchasing. For the current fiscal year, YBP reports that 55% of their digital sales are either STL or DDA based, but those purchases reflect lower dollar returns than do outright or approval plan purchases.

There was discussion among the larger publishers about the value of using use statistics and data in modeling new publications. Several publishers reported profiling titles that should be withheld from DDA or STL use because they were expected to perform as a course book, and DDA and STL models represented potential income liabilities. Most acknowledged that monograph sales had fallen to such an extent that they were only marginally if at all profitable and that publishers would do well to use available usage data to help model content so that as many titles as possible could sustain overall publisher programs. A library representative, who serves as a legislative liaison for one of the state library consortia, also had some valuable insight into these struggles. She noted that the issue is not that use is down, but the real issue is that purchasing funds are decreased and that any political goodwill (i.e. increased funding, at either the university or legislative level) is driven by the concept of value for use, efficiency, and sharable resources, as well as a focus on the undergraduate experience. While this may not be the message that we in the AAUP are immediately excited to hear, this is valuable information to consider and integrate into campus conversations about funding and the role of university presses.

Another highlight of the conference for the AAUP was the concurrent plenary titled, “What’s the Big Idea? Mellon, ARL, AAU, University Presses, and the Future of Scholarly Communication.” The panel gathered consultant Raym Crow, Mellon program officer Helen Cullyer, NAP director and AAUP president Barbara Kline Pope, Michigan director and university librarian Charles Watkinson, and myself to address proposals from Mellon and the AAU that will explore the concept of flipped monograph funding (pay-to-publish instead of pay-to-read) and how the scholarly communication ecosystem might be stabilized. Panelists and audience questions addressed how certain types of publications might be affected, the possible creation of a “class system” of presses through such initiatives, the challenges and possibilities of electronic publishing and content, and where possible funding for such large-scale initiatives might originate (and how that might affect other parts of the ecosystem). Both Crow and Cullyer acknowledged that some of the programs through the AAU and Mellon are still in the formation phase and that there were further questions to consider. The plenary made for a lively discussion, acknowledging that university presses are each different in their own ways, that allocation of resources at both the press and library/university level is a struggle, and that many paths and models will need to be investigated as part of efforts to develop the most effective methods for publishing and disseminating scholarship.

Throughout the conference, a number of smaller panels addressed issues and concerns related to pricing, DDA and use pools, and strategies for reducing costs while maintaining access to content and providing service to faculty and students. Several panels also addressed the relationships between libraries and university presses, as well as the evolving role of library publishers. The conference has grown exponentially over the years to the point where one has to arrive early to get a seat in one of three ballrooms broadcasting the plenary talks, but despite some of the logistical hiccups brought on by its own success, the Charleston Conference remains a key avenue for understanding the dramatic sea changes happening in libraries that are directly affecting the university press community.

Mary Rose Muccie: November was my seventh Charleston Conference and, as always, I came back with at least one major takeaway. This year the biggest was the growing impact of open educational resources (OERs) as an alternative to rising textbook costs.

The speakers at the second of the opening-day plenaries gave an overview of the rapidly growing number of successful programs that provide alternative learning content, and noted that professors are aware of the impact of textbook prices on their students. In a subsequent concurrent session, William Cross from the NCSU libraries stated that his institution sees provision of OER alternatives to increasingly unaffordable textbooks as a social justice and access to education issue.

Several speakers on OERs pointed out that transitioning faculty awareness into action is not easy; however, positioning OERs to faculty as an opportunity to teach more effectively by using material tailored to their instructional goals can build enthusiasm and engagement. Small grants for faculty who create an OER are also common.

Many university presses are already partnering with their institution’s faculty, library, and administration to develop OERs. If the enthusiasm at Charleston was any indication, presses should be informed about and involved with OERs. Just as with traditional texts, alternative options will benefit from press expertise and experience.

As expected, there was no lack of thought-provoking points made in Charleston sessions. In addition to those on OERs, here are several that have stayed with me:

  • Our monograph budget will go to zero in 2021 in order to cover inflation in journal prices. We need to work with publishers on alternative purchasing options for monographs as forcefully as we do for open access. —Michael Levine-Clark, Associate Dean for Scholarly Communication and Collections Services, University of Denver
  • In FY14, the title value of YBP’s DDA records was approximately $314M. Three percent of DDA usage triggered a purchase. —Michael Zeoli, Vice President, eContent Strategy Development & Partner Relations, YBP Library Services
  • Usage statistics don’t measure value, they measure volume. —Anthea Stratigos, CEO, Outsell, Inc.
  • Libraries and patrons don’t care if a publisher’s strategy is innovative. Don’t bet your future on innovation. Focus on increasing relevance and think about what you’ll do when your unique value proposition loses its uniqueness. —Rick Anderson, Associate Dean for Scholarly Resources and Collections, University of Utah

Brenna McLaughlin: As mentioned above, the Charleston Conference has dramatically expanded since its early years, along with the university press attendance. So if you decide to join the crowd in 2015, let me offer a few tips for surviving:

  • Book your hotel room today. You will want to make the most of the event and stay within a walkable range of the conference hotel, the Francis Marion. By summer, much of the discount conference rate rooms in near-by hotels are sold out. The conference provides shuttle service to many farther-flung hotels, but it is not speedy, nor always reliable. Plus, the historic district is worth exploring in spare moments.
  • Read the program well in advance: it can feel as though there are thousands of interesting sessions on offer—though surely there must only be hundreds! As sessions are programmed across five sites, a detailed itinerary with locations of your preferred sessions is a necessity, unless you want to be—as I was this year—regularly late and often in the wrong Colonial Ballroom.
  • The conference is very welcoming to first-timers, with special information assistance, badges, and plenty of social programming that provides networking opportunities between communities that do not always meet in such a collegial atmosphere.
  • Eat, eat! There are amazing restaurants in the city.

I did, despite scheduling issues, make it to some great sessions. A few takeaways:

  • In the “Sustainable Ebook Ecosystem” panel, featuring Alan Harvey of Stanford, YBP’s Mike Zeoli, and a representative from Oxford’s institutional sales team, there was an in-depth discussion of sales to libraries and the changes new purchasing models and formats have brought. Zeoli shared YBP data showing that STL sales have rocketed recently, in combination with both print and e-sales decreasing rapidly.
  • Harvey initiated a frank discussion of how the STL experiment has demonstrated that the current pricing model and sales triggers are unsustainable.
  • Jane Bunker and Marianne Ryan, a Northwestern University librarian, presented a case study of how the press has integrated into the library: the things that have worked well and the challenges that need to be overcome. Collaborative events, shared infrastructure, and committee participation all help strengthen both parties. Bunker noted, however, that management structure and ingrained organizational behavior create the biggest roadblocks.
  • She also noted that press-library collaborations, including merges, still must consider where faculty and students are in this work.
  • This theme was repeated in a panel featuring press directors and librarians from Michigan and Temple. If undergraduate learning is a strategic priority for a university, how do you serve that? Mary Rose Muccie gave examples of what her press does, crediting Garrett Kiely of Chicago with the idea of sending a book and a letter of welcome to all new faculty. Temple is also working with an entrepreneur class to develop an app related to Forgotten Philadelphia.
  • In another session, the Mellon Foundation’s Helen Cullyer spoke about how digital scholarly publishing and communications has matured to the point where foundations need to make a priority of funding infrastructure projects rather than “cool, one-off” digital publications.

Even if you aren’t easily able to attend Charleston, at the least, I recommend reading over the program each year to stay in tune libraries’ changing interests and concerns.