Thoughts on Libraries as Author and Publisher

Yesterday, as I was speaking with two Texas Tech University librarians, the topic of libraries as author and publisher came up. This was a new concept for me as I’ve never thought of libraries that way. In fact, it’s an idea that seems almost foreign as libraries tend to only be seen as community centers, quiet places to study, gateways to a wealth of information, and, of course, a glittering treasure trove of books. However, despite the generalized roles associated with libraries, I don’t think it’s too far-fetched to envision them wearing the author/publisher hat, especially where scholarly publishing is concerned.

Research libraries offer patrons, especially students, access to scholarly journals, academic texts, and online databases, but its their librarians that keep the wheels turning. From directing researchers to helpful resources to digitizing the works of university faculty, librarians do it all, but their work doesn’t end there. Many academic librarians are writing their own articles for publication, putting together essay collections covering a vast array of topics, and leading discussions on effective research strategies. Essentially, they’re a collective powerhouse championing readers and researchers of all backgrounds.

But, where does publishing and authorship come into play in all of this? Many research libraries (those in higher education specifically) are now implementing their own publishing models to create affordable textbooks for students. This model can also extend to the reprinting of rare books or creation of niche essay collections specific to a university or field of study. Additionally, the creation of a publishing model might help research libraries as budget cuts continue to rise. With this in place, some hefty subscription fees can be avoided.

Publishing modes aren’t solely limited to research libraries. Public libraries have also taken this into consideration. For example, the Sacramento (Calif.) Public Library received a $245,000 grant to purchase an Espresso Book Machine to start their own press, I Street Press, in 2012. Since then, they’ve published 11,000 books by 137 authors, assisting each with the publishing and design processes. They say everyone has a story to tell and this library made that thought into a reality. Imagine what could be accomplished if more of them took that route.

Though these models might not work for every library, they are still worth considering. Librarians know better than anyone else what readers are looking for. They make personal connections with people and go out of their way to provide what they can to readers and researchers alike. Put them in the role of author/publisher and you can expect some hidden gems to emerge.

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