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What’s the role of university libraries in supporting the dissemination of scholarship? Once focused on being keepers of research, university libraries have begun to transition into the role of research producers as well. In recent years, many have initiated open access (OA) scholarly journal publishing programs that offer a variety of services aimed at either launching and running new journals or supporting existing titles.

One leading example of a successful library publishing program is Michigan Publishing out of University of Michigan Library. Jason Colman, Director of Michigan Publishing Services, helped build the program, which he has been running for the past five years. Colman said Michigan Publishing’s mission is to support UMichigan journals, foster new scholarly publications, and encourage experimentation in academic publishing. In the interview below he shares his experience with the program and how it works.

Q&A with Jason Colman

Can you share a bit about yourself? What does your role as Director of Michigan Publishing Services entail?

JC: I have a bachelor’s in History and a Master’s in Information Science from Michigan. I’ve been working at Michigan Publishing for about five years – before that, I was helping to coordinate mass digitization projects (like Google and Internet Archive) at the California Digital Library.

At Michigan Publishing Services, I lead a team of five that has three main goals: increasing the impact of existing publishing programs at U-M, supporting new publishing ambitions of the U-M community, and providing space for experimentation in scholarly publishing. We publish about 20 books a year, mostly authored by Michigan faculty, staff, and occasionally students. We are also the home for more than 30 online, open access journals across a variety of disciplines, and various digital projects such as ACLS Humanities eBook and the Influenza Encyclopedia.

I spend most of my time either talking with scholars about their work and how we might help it find its audience, or coordinating production work across my team.

Can you explain the role of Michigan Publishing in relation to Michigan Libraries?

JC: Michigan Publishing is the scholarly publishing division of the U-M Library, and it consists of three outward-facing programs: the University of Michigan Press, Michigan Publishing Services, and Deep Blue, our institutional repository. The Press joined the library the better part of a decade ago, but it wasn’t until about 2012 that the Library’s Scholarly Publishing Office and the Press really started to fully combine staff and workflows and became Michigan Publishing. Michigan Publishing Services emerged as a unit in 2014 to clarify its separate but related role to the Press.

How do journals become a part of Michigan Publishing Services - do you seek existing journals to become partners, launch new titles, or both?

JC: We don’t really go out looking for new journals, but we’re approached pretty frequently by editors looking for a publisher and a platform. Sometimes the connections of our University Press acquisitions editors come in handy in spreading the word about what we can do. (Our Press does not have a Journals program.) We’re pretty evenly split between journals that are edited by Michigan faculty and journals that aren’t.

What services does Michigan Publishing provide journals?

JC: We have a flexible menu of services, the most basic being a hosted HTML version of the journal and preservation in our publishing platform, which also includes Altmetric and Google Analytics to help measure impact. Beyond that, journals can choose to do copyediting, typesetting, and print on demand with us, and we provide those services through a mixture of in-house and vendor-supported work. We help get our journals indexed in Google Scholar, DOAJ, and other disciplinary indexes, and we also provide access to a commercial submission management system.

Do all of your journals follow the same publishing models and use the same tools or do your titles have differing operations? Why or why not?

JC: Every journal is different in one way or another. Many are traditionally peer-reviewed and published in issues, while some publish on a rolling article-by-article basis. Most are run by faculty, but a few are edited completely by students. A few use LaTeX to produce PDFs, some use InDesign, and some have no PDFs at all. Some sell print subscriptions or print on demand copies and have us host the OA version, but quite a lot are online only. We’re open to a wide variety of arrangements as long as we can accommodate them.

How do you think journals should be reaching out to and working with their libraries? Where do journals tend to need the most help in your experience?

JC: More libraries than ever have the technical capability to host journals, and that’s exciting. The hard part is what happens after the first issue comes out. How do you help those journals find their readers? How do you help the journal’s editors communicate its impact, both to its broader field and to its funders? The whole library publishing community has these problems, and it’s really exciting to see us coming together in organizations like the Library Publishing Coalition to solve them.

How has Michigan publishing evolved and what are your plans for the future?

JC: The most transformative thing that’s happened for us has been the integration of the Scholarly Publishing Office with the Press – with the broad spectrum of skills and experience we have now, we are able to have a much greater connection to our disciplinary communities and really show our relevance to the University. What I’m most excited about over the next couple of years is the maturation of our new publishing platform, Fulcrum. With the support of Mellon, we’ve been working for the last two years on this new open-source platform that will enable a much richer integration of scholarly narratives with the digital objects (things like 3D models, datasets, video, and audio) that our authors are creating as they do their research. We’re in an early Beta release right now, and plan to have version 1.0 complete in 2018. Beyond Fulcrum, I’m looking forward to continued growth in Michigan Publishing Services. We’ve been increasing our output at a rate of 25-30% annually since 2014, and I don’t see that slowing down anytime soon. Library publishing is really hitting its stride.

Danielle Padula

This post was written by Danielle Padula,
Community Development