Hacking the Library-Publisher Partnership at MIT

Collaboration at many levels.


February 14, 2016

While many libraries are experimenting with new publishing roles through partnerships with their university press, here at MIT we are looking to “hack” a long-standing relationship between the MIT Libraries and the MIT Press.

We are both quite new to our roles directing the MIT Libraries and the MIT Press, and are excited about the opportunity to leverage a fairly standard reporting relationship (the Director of the Libraries supervises the Director of Press and chairs the Press’ Management Board) into the kind of deeply collaborative relationship that might propel real innovation in scholarly communication.

Both the MIT Libraries and the MIT Press have a long history of leadership in key areas of digital publishing and open access (OA). DSpace, a milestone in digital libraries that catalyzed the institutional repository movement, was developed through a project of the MIT Libraries. The MIT Libraries administer MIT’s Faculty OA Policy (one of the first of its kind) and have to date collected and made openly available a remarkable 43% of the journal articles published by MIT Faculty.

Likewise, the MIT Press has been a trendsetter in OA book publishing for two decades, beginning in 1995 with the enhanced digital publication of William Mitchell’s City of Bits. Unlike several peer presses who have recently garnered external funding (and lots of attention) for OA development, MITP’s OA efforts on the books side, including dozens of OA books online to date, have mainly been funded by ongoing operations. On the journals side, the MIT Press was one of the first academic publishers to flip a high impact journal to OA. In March 2009, Computational Linguistics, the longest-running publication devoted exclusively to the design and analysis of natural language processing systems, was made digital-only and OA, with no article processing charges. The MIT Press was also one of the first publishers to launch an online community that aggregates book and journal content within a particular subject domain. Our original implementation of this model, CogNet, which launched in 2000, is a subscription service; some newer implementations of this model, which has just been rebranded the IdeaCommons platform, are open to the world and feature previously unpublished content.

Leading by Example
One of the great privileges of working at MIT is to be part of its mission to change the world. That mission translates into technological innovation and colors every area of the Institute and shapes strategic plans. In the world of information, MIT’s leadership in open courseware, open access, and MOOCs speaks for itself.

Under new direction, the Libraries and the Press are revisiting their own missions and core values, and have converged in part around the principle of adaptability. Namely, both organizations share the aims to actively engage in the changing technologies, practices and policies around creating and sharing information; embrace an entrepreneurial ethos that welcomes thoughtful risk taking and is not afraid to learn from failures; and adapt continually to the changing needs of the communities they serve

This adaptability principle not only guides planning and decision making within both organizations, but it also helps define the areas where closer library-press collaboration will move us towards our shared vision more quickly. We are less interested in looking for ways the libraries might dabble in publishing, and much more interested in leveraging the combined expertise and resources of our organizations to benefit the communities we serve and contribute to a reinvention of scholarly communication.

Three Connected Communities
To our minds there are three such communities: the global academic community, the MIT community, and the community of library and press employees.

Global Academic Community. We best serve the global academic community jointly by expanding access to the scholarship and instructional content that we curate and disseminate. We are synergistically exploring a range of expanded access models, along with a more strategic, systematic approach to using content licenses and a redeployed collections budget in support of those models.

MIT Community. The Libraries and the Press daily strive to serve the MIT community of faculty, students, alumni, but a clearer joint focus on those needs looking ahead includes: automating deposit of MIT faculty content published by the Press in the Libraries’ DSpace repository; jointly facilitating and automating access to relevant course materials for both instructors and students; a “self-publishing” imprint for MIT faculty and alumni, with publishing and distribution services provided “back office” by the Press, where authors directly fund editorial, production, design, and marketing services, and have the option to subvent manufacturing at a level that supports OA distribution.

Community of Employees. The benefits of a closer partnership between the Libraries and the Press are already being experienced by members of staff. There are now shared communications and listservs, cross-pollination through Press staff on library committees and vice versa, joint social and professional development events, and a new focus on expertise sharing when it comes to fair use, data publishing, open access, and subject-specific content curation.

Somewhat apart from how we serve our shared communities is the question of how we might coordinate basic operations in those areas where there are clear efficiencies to be gained. We are actively exploring a joint digitization program, joint fund-raising (private and foundations), and joint licensing and deployment of software and platforms that serve shared needs.

As both libraries and presses are faced with renewed scrutiny and pressures to demonstrate their relevance to their parent institutions, we see an opportunity to capitalize on our shared commitment to promoting the value of peer-reviewed scholarship, while working together to create new, more open, models for scholarly communication.

In the best spirit of MIT, we aim to jointly “hack” some new solutions to current challenges facing scholarly publishing.

Chris Bourg is Director of the MIT Libraries and Amy Brand is Director of the MIT Press.

Back to Top