Valedictory Presidential Talk
Director, Georgetown University Press
Thank you, Peter, and good afternoon, everyone.
It is right and good to be in Baltimore these few days, home of Babe Ruth and crabs and The Wire and the proud Patapsco River, but more important, home of the oldest and certainly one of our most distinguished university presses. Kathleen, I appreciate everything that you and your colleagues at Johns Hopkins University Press are doing to make all of us feel welcome.
The greatest virtue of a lunchtime address is brevity, and I plan to honor that virtue today. I say “plan to honor” because I’ve learned that nothing is certain on this earth—especially at AAUP meetings.
Last year at this time, at our Salt Lake City meeting, I had just begun my inaugural address when a fire alarm went off in the hotel, and all hell broke loose. AAUP members scrambling through the aisles and crashing through doors—it was like the running of the bulls in Pamplona.
You know, come to think of it, I had just mentioned the name of Greg Britton when that alarm went off. I am not accusing Greg of anything. And I not suggesting there was a connection between the fire alarm and any mischief at the strange but curiously compelling “Essential Oils” conference down the hall.
But I’m just sayin’ …
I need to begin with sincere thanks to all those who made my past year as president of this association so gratifying and rewarding in so many ways.
To Peter Givler, our Yoda, our point person on critical policy issues and our link to kindred associations, who does such an outstanding job as our executive director. I think Peter’s work is worthy of an ovation, so please join me in thanking him.
To the AAUP Central Office staff, who keep this community organized and informed, and who facilitate our communication with each other.
To all the members of the AAUP Board, particularly my immediate predecessors as president, Kathleen Keane and Alex Holzman. All of you have taught me a great deal about publishing and organizational life.
I would also like to thank the chairs and members of our thirteen AAUP committees, through whom so much of our common work is done.
There are many others to thank, but I want to express my deepest appreciation, most of all, to my colleagues at Georgetown University Press, who during the past year have had to compensate, even more than usual, for my deficiencies. Thank you all.
During the past year those of us in the AAUP have experienced several significant developments within our association–in some cases evolutionary lurches—and I want to categorize those developments under four rubrics: technological progress; collaboration; bridge-building; and organizational introspection.
Within technological progress we have seen continued digitization. Every member of our association is confronting the challenges and opportunities of digitization: simply getting PDFs, but also converting to XML and EPUB.
According to the recent AAUP Digital Survey, roughly half of largest and our smallest presses have digitized about half of their backlists. Over 60% of our Group 3 presses have digitized over half of their backlist. Yet 73% of press directors in this survey said a lack of resources was either serious or critical to their press’s digital publishing plans. We still have a lot of work to do.
But beyond digitization, some results of technological innovation: We have also seen the first wave of apps. Four of our members—Chicago, MIT, Hawaii, and the Museum of Modern Art—have developed apps in recent months, with many others on the cusp of releasing their own.
Under the rubric of collaboration we have seen dramatic progress with e-book aggregations: University Press Content Consortium, or UPCC; E-books at JSTOR; Oxford’s University Press Scholarship Online; and Cambridge University Press, too, has developed a new platform.
Many of these and other digital initiatives are eloquently described in an outstanding report from the AAUP issued earlier this year: Sustaining Scholarly Publishing: New Business Models for University Presses, which emphasizes how presses are engaged in new relationships to produce new forms of content—particularly in regard to open access initiatives—through hybrid business models.
Under the rubric of bridge building, we have built stronger ties to research librarians in various ways, including through two AAUP avenues: the AAUP Library Relations Committee, chaired by Patrick Alexander of Penn State, and the newly formed AAUP-Association of Research Libraries (or ARL) Working Group, which meets on a quarterly basis to exchange information and explore potential collaborations between presses and libraries. I’m delighted that Julia Blixrud of the ARL has joined us for this meeting. Welcome, Julia.
As the AAUP Report points out, numerous presses such as California and Michigan and Indiana and Pittsburgh and NYU and Cornell and Penn State and Georgetown, among many others, are working creatively with their libraries to make hundreds of titles available in open access, and in many cases making POD editions available on a fee basis. Of course some of members, such as National Academies Press and RAND, have been doing this for quite some time. But there is so much more to be done on this front.
Under the rubric of organizational introspection, I cannot tell you how many of our member presses have told me that they are examining their own organizational structure and going through strategic planning process so they can better adapt to the digital environment—and better assess their fundamental purpose and mission as scholarly publishers. There is a sense of quiet urgency running through our presses: that we must adapt.
And within discussions of structure, the traditional monograph workflow, and traditional budget allocations, is really challenged by our current and future needs for digitization and digital ancillaries and app development and customized book websites.
Workflow is a slippery beast. As Brian O’Leary has recently posted, changing workflow is likely the most significant issue publishers will face in the future. If strategy is a head, O’Leary writes, then workflow is a circulatory system. And changing workflow, he adds, is nothing less than a heart transplant.
Well, “heart transplant” may be dramatic hyperbole, but O’Leary is right that the whole thing is bloody complicated.
In very broad strokes, at least, those are at least some of the developments we have experienced in the past year.
So what lies ahead? What is our agenda? If we use the framework of technological progress and innovation, collaboration, bridge building, and organizational introspection, here are some issues to consider—all of which, in the end, are interrelated, and all of which must place the reader and the customer squarely in the middle of our strategy.
In regard to technological innovation, developing e-books and e-journals that simply mimic the traditional print template is not enough—not in the long run. We need to provide readers with something more: aggregation, chunking, searchability, interoperability, discoverability, customization, accessibility on an array of devices… all with added value. Those are, and will be, critical features of any viable publishing program.
And related to this: How deftly are we licensing chunks of our digital content? How actively are we working with digital entrepreneurs—those individuals and organizations who are not oriented toward a book format, but have a new tools to attract customers and disseminate content online? These digital entrepreneurs are pushing us to think beyond, as Brian O’Leary writes, traditional “containers.” We have been conditioned to think in terms of books and journal articles—containers—as a starting point.
Containers are obviously important, and I am not ready to throw containers into the recycle bin just yet. But containers are options, O’Leary writes, not starting points.
Containers strip out context—tags, links, audio and video—that provides so much value to the learning process. Investing in context, O’Leary concludes, is now required.
In regard to collaboration, we know we cannot go it alone. The market for esoteric scholarship is just too narrow, the financial requirements too great. But I mean collaboration not only between presses, as important as that will be, but between presses and libraries.
We have a lot to learn from research librarians. We need to engage them, work with them, and maybe more than anything listen to them. They remain a key market for us, but also key conversation partner. Of course we have some cultural differences, differences in how we think about budgets and financials and fair use and access and e-reserves and mission. We should never ignore these real differences. At the same time, we should always be in dialogue, because in so many ways our futures are inextricably linked. We both reside on the continuum of scholarly communication, and we need each other. We have different skill sets, and our collaborations should focus on complementing each other’s strengths.
In terms of bridge building, we have worked with scholarly societies for decades to help them publish their journals, and in some cases monograph series. But could we engage these scholarly societies even more closely? Could we, as publishers, enter into what social theorists call communities of practice?
Communities of practice are ways of managing knowledge by groups of people who a) are firmly committed to a domain of interest, b) learn collectively, and c) who develop a common repertoire of resources, and tools to address recurring problems. In my mind this notion of communities of practice lies at the heart of scholarly publishing, and serves as the lifeblood of any business model.
Content begins within individuals who are immersed in communities of practice. And publishers must continue to build bridges with these scholars to enter into these communities.
And finally, in terms of organizational introspection: Ultimately, this may be our most important activity. I don’t mean perpetual strategic planning, which is tedious and exhausting. But I mean just being clear, all the way through our organizations: What exactly is our purpose? Where are we going? And fundamentally, deciding what business are we in. Are we a book publisher? A journals publisher? Or do we acquiring and produce and digitize and promote and disseminate and archive content? There is a difference.
In regard to our identity, how can we better align our editorial program with the institutional and intellectual strengths of our universities and so we are indispensable to our subject areas and to our institutions? Should we become the university’s publisher, and offer an array of publishing services? Should we integrate or coordinate with our library?
There are many paths for presses like ours; there is no one, true universal path. It all sounds very Zen. Which reminds me of the schizophrenic Zen master, who was at two with everything. But seriously, this identity issue is crucial.
And in terms of our internal operations, which are unique to each press, I just want to make one point: As Margaret Wheatley has written, maybe the most important task that directors and department heads have in managing and leading organizations is this: Creating conditions for healthy relationships. Yes. Creating conditions for healthy relationships.
That is the necessary context for all of our planning, our strategy, all of our publishing activities. Because if that kind of culture of healthy relationships is not present, then we will never fully capitalize on all of our technological progress, our collaborations, and our bridge building.
I began this address by invoking the virtue of brevity. I will conclude it by invoking another virtue, a virtue that, according to Cicero, was not only the greatest virtue, but the parent of all the others: gratitude. I make no claims about possessing virtues of any kind, but as I prepare to step down from this office, at this very moment I am full of gratitude:
Gratitude toward my colleagues at Georgetown University Press, who inspire me by their commitment and their very presence. Gratitude toward MaryKatherine Callaway, the incoming president of the AAUP, and someone who I know will serve her office with honor and distinction. Gratitude toward all the member presses of the AAUP for publishing content that matters, in such a breathtaking kaleidoscope of subjects and formats, and for envisioning a future in which readers and customers have access and options. And gratitude toward all of you in this room today—presses, fulfillment centers, journal and e-book aggregators, librarians, printers, the media, guest speakers, prophets, visitors—for being integral parts of this remarkable community of scholarly publishing. All of you are making such astonishing and long-term contributions to the academy, to society, and to our common good.
I am so grateful to the AAUP for allowing me to serve this association. And I wish all of you success in the months and years ahead.