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Keynote: Library Publishing in the context of mission driven publishing and open scholarship – Gaining relevance and recognition

Published onApr 16, 2024
Keynote: Library Publishing in the context of mission driven publishing and open scholarship – Gaining relevance and recognition


This paper looks at Library publishing in the wider context of institutional and mission driven publishing, in particular traditional University Presses, and in the context of Open Scholarship and Diamond Open Access. It draws from an earlier study of New University Presses in the Netherlands, to explore opportunities for collaboration. It argues that Library publishers must collaborate with each other to increase impact, gain relevance and achieve recognition. The paper presents several models for collaboration based on existing examples and ends with a brief SWOT analysis as a way to think about the future of Library publishing.


My background in Academic publishing is working at a University Press here in the Netherlands, Amsterdam University Press. Before becoming involved in OAPEN, I worked as publisher of electronic publications, starting over 20 years ago and before Open Access. AUP was a member of the Association of American University Presses and modelled after the University Presses in the US. I remember going to a number of their conferences and feeling happy and inspired to be part of this tradition of mission driven and not-for-profit strand of Academic publishing, which has such a long history, dating back to the sixteenth century with the establishment of Cambridge and Oxford University Press, and several leading University Presses in the US starting out in the 19th century.

When AUP decided to attempt moving to Open Access (OA) models, we got to know other presses that were on the same journey. We thought of them as University presses, but in hindsight they were actually Library publishers. As far as I know, Library publishers in Germany were among the first of their kind, established around the turn of the century, and I thought of them as a new wave of University Presses, that emerged thanks to the digital era and through the support of existing infrastructure and expertise within the University Library. Around that time we established the Association of European University Presses (AEUP), which still exists today and is doing well, and the first members were a mix of University Presses and what we now call Library publishers. That mix still characterizes the membership, and I learned that in the meantime, within the American Association of University Presses (now called the AUP), Library publishers represent almost 25% of the membership.

So it seems to make sense to think of Library publishers as a continuation of University presses, as a new wave, as New University Presses as we tend to call them in Europe. But this is misleading, and actually not very helpful. My understanding of Library publishers changed when I was asked to do a study of the New University Presses here in the Netherlands.

New University Presses in the Netherlands

The Netherlands has 13 universities, and 8 universities have some kind of relationship with an academic press. Interestingly, they represent more or less the whole spectrum relationships. 3 publishers are actually independent and operate on a commercial basis through some kind of agreement with the university, 5 are part of the university and based in the library, although some of these publishers have older predecessors that had a different relationship with the university. Among these 5 Library based publishers, there is one, Leiden University Press, that can be categorized as a traditional University Press, the other 4 can be best understood as Library publishers, although 2 do call themselves a University Press. In Europe we tend to call them New University Presses – I’ll get into the differences between the two in a moment. Among these 4, Radboud University Press was launched just last year, another, Maastricht, is not yet officially established. Just to highlight the significance of this new wave of institutional publishing: When I started working at Amsterdam University Press, we were the only University Press in the Netherlands, now there are 5, and I’m not even counting AUP, as they have become an independent press. By the way, none of these publishers can be found on the global map of Library publishers. I should also add that most of the remaining University Libraries do provide supporting services and also funding for OA publishing, in particular for journals and articles.

The study was commissioned by OPuS Foundation (Open Access Publishing Services), a Dutch foundation aimed at supporting and enabling OA initiatives in the Netherlands1. A previous OPuS initiative has led to the development of  a national platform for OA journals based on Open Journal System, called is hosted by the Digital Infrastructure department of the KNAW Humanities Cluster, and operating on a Diamond OA model. has around 30 OA journals and aims to reach 80 journals by 2027.

This study was focused on the transition to OA books and was aimed at opportunities for collaboration among New University Presses. The study identified several potential areas for collaboration, among them obvious areas such as knowledge exchange and working towards shared publication systems such as Open Monograph Press, but a few other ideas include working together for peer review and making use of the recently introduced peer review information system of the Directory of Open Access Books (DOAB), called PRISM (Peer Review Information Service for Monographs), collaborating in the publication of OA textbooks by making use of Pressbooks (which is already being used by Groningen University Press), and setting up a joint collection of OA books with OAPEN.

My personal favourite idea is about setting up a comprehensive national catalogue of publications, making use of a shared metadata management system called THOTH Open Metadata, developed by the COPIM consortium (I’ll come back to COPIM later on). This would improve the visibility and dissemination of the publications, it would enable connecting with other services and in addition, it would increase the political impact of Library publishing at the national level. I’m pleased to say that the Library publishers have indeed started to work together: they established a working group and are currently preparing a project to realise the ideas mentioned above.

What is happening here in the Netherlands is happening in many different countries as well, also in some other European countries, and this opens up the potential for international collaboration and the further increase of the impact of Institutional publishing. I’ll come back to this further on, but first I’d like to look at some of the similarities and differences between the ‘old’ and the New University Presses.

New University Presses versus traditional University Presses

Both old and new University Presses are mission driven and non-profit, both receive some financial support from and operate within the context and remit of their parent institutions. However, where University Presses receive some support, in the form of subsidies or in some cases endowments, they also operate within the constraints of the market. Library publishers are usually funded through the Library budget, and although they also have financial constraints, they are much less dependent on income from sales.

As Library publishers operate within the library, they tend to be organised within the framework of other library services. Therefore, Library publishers often draw upon the existing expertise within the library and a considerable part of the funding comes in the form Library staff that are wholly or partly involved in publishing activities.

Another crucial difference as I see it is that Library publishers were established after the digital transformation of publishing, and most of them are born OA. Traditional University Presses existed before the digital transformation and have had to adapt to the digital era. Transitioning to OA has proven to be quite a challenge for these presses, and it’s not easy to find examples of presses that made a full transition. I expect that MIT press may have achieved it, and Michigan University Press is also well underway.

By contrast, most Library publishers have OA as their starting point, openness is a core value, and publishing is seen as part of a larger range of activities to support Open Scholarship. In fact, it’s doubtful whether the rise of Library publishing would have taken place without the rise of Open Scholarship and Open Science.

These differences lead to all kinds of operational and cultural differences. Library publishers are more service oriented, University presses are more product oriented. University presses value their relative independence from the parent institution, and will try to distinguish themselves through their publishing portfolio, which usually includes authors from other institutions. Acquisition is a key part of their activities and they will try to work with authors that have already built a reputation. Library publishers might value all of that as well, but they are primarily concerned with helping the researchers and students within the institution with their publishing needs, in the broader context of scholarly communication. Being less constrained by the market, they are naturally interested to support a broader range of research output, beyond books and journals, and many library publishers will support textbooks and OERs, or publications in niche disciplines, or new services such as pre-prints and open peer review.

With all these differences, I’d argue that University presses and Library publishers are actually complementary to one another. It is quite common to see Universities that host both types of publishing, and where that is the case, there is a tendency to bring them closer together under the umbrella of the library. This often leads to tensions and misunderstandings. But both come with valuable qualities: University Presses tend to be good at acquisition, editorial support, quality assurance, list building, marketing and branding. Library publishers can distinguish themselves through their core values of openness, equity, inclusiveness, accessibility and innovation. Library publishers are often quite small in terms of FTE, but these values remain and are to be cherished.

I should add that the landscape is actually not as black and white as I’m implying with this characterization. Some publishers operate more or less in both worlds, and a nice example is UCL Press. UCL was the first fully OA University Press in the UK, they operate much like traditional University presses but at the same time, they are firmly based in the Library and part of a wider range of services to support open scholarship.

However, most Library publishers are quite small in terms of FTE, which also means that they are limited in terms of their capacity and available funding. The challenge for these Library publishers is then to demonstrate impact and relevance, to achieve a certain scale and thereby to gain recognition. To me, the biggest challenge seems to be how to achieve impact, not just for authors, but as a publisher.

The point I’d like to make in this paper is that for Library publishers, this means becoming relevant within the wider institution and thereby gain recognition. As I see it, it is imperative that Library publishers seek collaboration to achieve this, and they can do this in several ways.

Examples of Collaboration among Library Publishers

The first and most common kind of collaboration is Knowledge exchange. There are many examples, such as the Special Interest Group within IFLA, the Library Publishing Coalition in the USA, and here in Europe through the AEUP as mentioned earlier. The AEUP was set up over 15 years ago for all kinds of University presses, but most of their members are New University Presses. The oldest example is the working group for German University Presses. The newest example was launched just recently: the Open Institutional Publishers Association (OIPA) in the UK.

Another obvious way to gain visibility and recognition is to work together to present your published output. I’ll mention two examples: AEUP, which has more than 40 members, has created a joint collection within Science Open, ScholarLed has all their peer reviewed books presented as a separate collection within OAPEN.

A more fundamental choice it to set up publishing activities from different institutions into one press, and I’ll mention two prominent examples from the UK, both set up by existing Library consortia: White Rose University Press is named after the existing consortium of the University libraries of Leeds, Sheffield and York; Scottish Universities Press is a brand new initiative of SCURL, a longstanding consortium including 18 university and HEI libraries. A first call for book proposals went out in November 2022.

By joining forces, these publishers can increase the scale of their publishing operation, which outweighs the potential prestige that comes from their parent institution. At the same time, the conditions under which they operate change: it might become more challenging to integrate publishing into the wider set of services supporting scholarly communication.

Another way to work together is to find funding to do innovative projects in the area of OA, and for truly impressive examples I’d like to introduce another category of mission driven publishing, the Scholar led publishers. Scholar led publishers are set up and managed by researchers. They come in a wide variety, but usually they operate more or less independently from their institution and can’t rely on institutional funding. Because of this, they are more or less forced to find new ways to sustain their activities. This is why they’re interesting to watch and also relevant for Library publishers.

A really interesting and successful example is the Open Library of Humanities. OLH is a press that launched an open access journal, and in addition made it it’s goal to help existing journals flip to OA. It developed a model to do that in a sustainable way through a membership model for libraries. And on top of that, OLH developed an open source publishing platform, primarily for journals, called Janeway, hosted and maintained by Birkbeck university.

The launch of OLH coincided with flipping a prestigious journal in Linguistics, published by Elsevier, to OA, by continuing under a new name, Glossa, with OLH and support from the Dutch research funder NWO. This was part of a wider initiative called LingOA, introducing Fair open access principles, initiated by Johan Rooryck. OLH now publishes 28 journals, and Glossa has been fully funded through OLH since 2021.

OLH is also part of the consortium of ScholarLed publishers that conducted a project to support OA Books, called COPIM2, which I already mentioned. This was a very ambitious project to innovate open book publishing in various areas, by developing new funding models, developing new tools, exploring new book formats, and to make everything freely available for other small non-profit OA presses. The project came up with the inspiring and poetic motto, ‘scaling small’, which refers to the notion that smaller publishers can increase their impact by creating shared infrastructure and funding models, that can be made available to other presses. The consortium is now conducting a follow-up project, Open Books Futures, which aims to make the results of their work available through services. One of these services (mentioned earlier) is THOTH, a service for metadata management, and the other is the Open Book Collective, a platform to support collaborative funding of presses and infrastructures through a membership model. Offering this combination of presses and infrastructures fits with the vision behind the project and is new.

OA Infrastructure services as integral part of Open Scholarship

With that I’d like to widen the perspective a bit and look at the role of infrastructures, and in particular community led and OA infrastructure services. These are an integral part of the ecosystem of OA and open scholarship. They include infrastructures that provide services for the whole publication cycle, including publishing, quality assurance, hosting, dissemination, preservation, persistent identifiers, metadata management, data management, peer review. They enable the ‘scaling small’ that inspired the ScholarLed consortium, but in the same way, they are indispensable for Library publishers, to enable their publishing services and achieve a wider impact.

Many of these infrastructure services started out as initiatives from researchers within an institution, and some started out as a project, supported by project funding from charities, or from EU framework funding. The problem with these types of funding are obvious: research funding is meant to support research projects, not to sustain services; institutional funding through the library is meant to sustain services within the library, but not to support infrastructures beyond the institution. Therefore community driven infrastructures often struggle to become sustainable. But of course sustainability is essential  to be valuable and trusted by the community that makes use of these services. It is important to understand that this isn’t just a problem for these individual infrastructures. In the wider shift to open science, it is essential that we find mechanisms to sustain these services.

As University Libraries have a central role in supporting scholarly communication, they are very much part of the transition to open science - and I’d argue that this transition is about the future of University Libraries. In that light, it’s encouraging to see that many libraries see open science as an opportunity to extend their services, not only by supporting Library publishing, but also by taking part in collaborative efforts to support community led OA infrastructures. An early example I’d like to mention is Leuven University. Leuven University Press is a more or less traditional University Press working towards a transition to OA. The Humanities Library of Leuven set up a fund to support OA infrastructures and also an OA publication fund for Leuven University Press, the KU Leuven fund for Fair Open Access.

There are various initiatives to help libraries with this type of support, among them the Global Sustainability Coalition for Open Science Services (SCOSS) and Invest in Open Infrastructures (IOI). Through their work, awareness of the importance of community driven OA infrastructures has become more global, and collaborative funding models through both libraries  and research funders have become more widespread.

A shift towards Diamond OA

At the same time, we can see a shift in the way OA is being funded, away from Article Processing Charges (APC’s) and Book Processing Charges (BPC’s), and towards Diamond OA. It has become clear that charging for APC’s and BPC’s isn’t making academic publishing less costly, which is holding back the transition to OA. It is also creating new barriers to openness, shifting from the barriers to users in the subscription model to a new barrier for authors. The last few years we’ve seen a strong support for Diamond OA, where the cost of OA is covered by institutions and research funders, and the burden of finding funding for OA is lifted from the author.

Here in Europe, OPERAS, the European distributed infrastructure for open scholarly communication in Humanities and Social Sciences (HSS), is one of the drivers behind Diamond OA and open infrastructures. OPERAS is involved in a number of projects to support Diamond OA, all within the European Research Area, but also mindful of the global OA landscape. Two are aimed at journals: CRAFT-OA is a project to support and improve the technical side of Diamond OA; DIAMAS is developing institutional OA publishing models and ways to establish globally shared quality standards and guidelines. The third project, PALOMERA, is aimed at OA books and concerned with aligning and promoting policies to support OA books.

The future of Library publishing

As a summation of this paper, but also as a way to think about the future of Library publishing, I’d like to end with a brief SWOT analysis of Library publishing.



  • Open Access

  • Diamond OA

  • Equity, inclusiveness

  • Innovation, experimentation

  • Open Science

  • Collaboration

  • Recognition

  • Open Infrastructure services



  • Prestige

  • Acquisition

  • Editorial control

  • Insufficient capacity

  • Insufficient funding

  • Perceived relevance

Obviously, this SWOT doesn’t apply to the Library publishers that operate next to existing University Presses, or that are from huge institutions, like California Digital Libraries or Michigan in the US, or UCL Press in the UK.

It is quite common for New University Presses to mirror themselves on traditional University Presses and work hard to overcome perceived weaknesses. I’d argue that they are in fact fulfilling a growing need within institutions in the wider context of the transition to Open Science and the shift to Diamond OA. The real threat is the perception that they are too small to become a serious alternative for existing publishing channels. The solution is to actively become part of the emerging ecosystem of open scholarly communication and achieve scale through open and community driven infrastructures.

I hope it’s clear that I think the future for Library publishers looks bright.

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