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Why Library Publishing isn't just Library publishing: WRUP as an example of a library-led approach to supporting open access publishing

Published onApr 16, 2024
Why Library Publishing isn't just Library publishing: WRUP as an example of a library-led approach to supporting open access publishing


Using White Rose University Press (WRUP) as an example, this paper looks at the contribution of library publishing to the changing publishing landscape. It discusses the key drivers that have led the growth of library and institutional publishing, the service-led ethos that underpins much of this activity, and the future – both for WRUP and the growing community of open institutional publishers in the UK.

Introduction: Library publishing in context

Library publishing is a key and growing part of the academic publishing ecology, especially in the area of Open Access (OA) publishing. White Rose University Press (WRUP), operated by the University libraries of Leeds, Sheffield and York as one strand of the White Rose Libraries collaboration, is an example of a library-led, OA university press. WRUP was established by White Rose Libraries early in the recent wave of new university presses. This changing publishing environment was described by Adema and Stone (Adema & Stone, 2017). This report detailed the number of new and potential university presses who were at various stages of development at that time. Since it was published, some of the presses discussed, and others not currently under development at the time, have emerged as viable publishing options, many with an OA focus.

There are several reasons behind the expansion of institutional and library-led publishing initiatives. WRUP, as an example, was developed in response to several drivers that are likely to be common to the development of many peer presses. These drivers include:

  • Being well placed to contribute to, and drive, the open access conversation;

  • Supporting the disruption of the traditional publishing model and the move to an open scholarly comms environment;

  • Working to increase the impact and dissemination of research;

  • Providing publication routes that support emerging and evolving policy.

These considerations link to White Rose Libraries’ underlying commitment to supporting the transition to open scholarship on a range of fronts. A key element in deciding to set up a formal OA press was wanting to be in a position to support academics looking to publish OA from a position of actual experience. By founding WRUP as an OA press, the parent libraries could offer their academic communities practical guidance from a position of experience, as well as creating a viable OA publishing solution at a point in time when these were much fewer in number. WRUP, as a library-led press, is part of the wider scholarly communications and open research support offered by the parent libraries, and delivers publishing as a service rather than as a commercially-driven operation.

There are now other drivers that have emerged since WRUP launched, but that continue to feed the growth of institutional OA publishing, including library-led initiatives. Growing focus on making longform outputs available OA, seen in policy from e.g. cOAlition S (Plan S, 2021) and UKRI (UKRI, 2023), and in the community’s expectations for REF 2028, is now driving interest in OA publishing routes from academics who publish these formats. It also shows why a service-driven approach is important, especially if we are to support academics who may be coming to OA publishing for the first time, perhaps influenced primarily by compliance considerations.

White Rose University Press as an example of a service-driven, library led press

WRUP opened for proposals in 2016, and has moved successfully from proof-of-concept to an operational, academic publishing unit offering viable OA publishing routes. As a born-OA, library-led university press, WRUP publishes academic books across all disciplines, but primarily so far in the areas of Arts, Humanities and Social Science. It also publishes fully OA journals, again across all disciplines. It is a non-profit press, and operating resources (including infrastructure and staffing) come from the White Rose Libraries’ collaboration. The collaboration can also offer funding waivers to publications by academics based in one of the three partner institutions.

WRUP was the UK’s first collaboratively-operated OA university press, and this collaborative approach - so often seen across different areas of library activity - flows through into WRUP’s external collaboration too. WRUP has worked with Jisc and other presses on the New University Press toolkit (Jisc, 2021), for example, and played a key role in the development of collaboratively delivered Mythbusting sessions.

When we talk in terms of “publishing as a service”, what do we mean by this? Library-led publishing has the same level of commitment to academic rigour and quality outputs as other, more traditional publishing models. The approach WRUP takes to publishing is very much author-focused, however, with a key element being support for the author through all stages of the publication process. Alongside this, WRUP also offers support and guidance for academic and library-based colleagues, outside the process of publication. We run and participate in sessions for groups of academics, departments and for library colleagues, as well as offering 1:1 advice to those who have questions about aspects of OA publishing.

As well as offering this internally at the Universities of Leeds, Sheffield and York, WRUP also offers support externally. Alongside initiatives such as the Jisc NUP toolkit (2021) and Mythbusting sessions, WRUP regularly shares experience with other new or still-establishing OA presses, and with other HEIs who are keen to explore OA publishing. The collaborative approach that runs through so many areas of library activity is equally important to library-led publishing activities too.

Where next for White Rose University Press?

The growing focus on OA monographs, driven by new policy in this area, has brought a new wave of engagement with open access publishing and with open research and open scholarship more broadly. This is seen at individual academic, department, and institutional levels. Institutional OA publishing initiatives, including library-led presses like WRUP, are seeing increasing interest, both in terms of enquiries about potential publications and also general enquiries about open publishing practices. In this context, White Rose Libraries has committed to increasing the resource supporting WRUP, and WRUP appears in local institutional strategies for the first time.

In the White Rose Libraries’ Strategy 2023-2027, there is a firm commitment by the parent libraries to the ongoing development and support for WRUP. The strategy states:

We will increase the throughput, sustainability, profile and recognition of White Rose University Press.

In doing so, the libraries recognise that library-led publishing needs to be resourced, promoted and developed in a structured way. To this end, the steps identified to deliver in this area of the strategy include: adding a dedicated WRUP staffing resource for the first time; using this resource to develop an Advocacy and Marketing plan; and supporting WRUP’s development with the next phase of a business plan. This recognises the commitment that libraries need to offer to support and develop a library-led press, and moves on from perhaps unrealistic assumptions that these activities can be delivered effectively from within existing and already fully-employed teams.

A community of open access, institutional and library-led publishers

So far, this paper has looked at the approach of library-led university presses, using WRUP as an example. Of course, the community of new OA presses is very diverse, some are library-led, some institution-led, and there are also scholar-led presses that offer strong OA publishing options as well. There is also much more to the institutional OA publishing environment than formal academic publishers. Many institutions offer less formal, but no less valid, valuable and important open publishing options. Some institutions host journal infrastructure (e.g. installations of OJS), for example, giving cost effective support for the publication of open access journals. Sometimes this infrastructure is provided internally, for members of a specific institution. Institutions can also offer their infrastructure to external academics, delivering it as a developed and fully supported publishing solution. Other examples see institutions offer publishing routes via repository infrastructures. It is often the case that support for these initiatives rests within the university library, in terms of both funding and support. Wherever they are based, the colleagues who support open access publishing – in whatever format this is offered – will face similar issues. An example of this could be considerations about copyright, potentially supporting academics through discussions on e.g. Creative Commons licencing and in the use of third-party owned content.

The growing awareness of the multifaceted nature of institutional and library-led publishing is one of the main drivers for the newly-launched Open Institutional Publishing Association (OIPA). This association recognises the value of all OA and OA-striving institutional publishing activity. OIPA welcomes as members initiatives that may not be within scope for membership of other publishing associations, where, for example, the focus tends to be on formal presses. It aims to support and engage with open institutional publishing in all formats, establishing a community of practice to foster collaboration and knowledge-sharing. In doing so, OIPA aims to give a shared voice to smaller presses, so their contribution to national debates e.g. about policy, infrastructure, funding models etc. is seen and given the consideration it merits.

All the indicators are that the transition to open academic publishing will continue to gather pace, and that institutional and library-led presses and publishing activities will play a key role in this transition. Library-led university presses like WRUP have the opportunity to shape expectations around the publishing experience for academics as they move to a new, more open scholarly communications environment, and it will be interesting to see how the wider academic publishing ecology evolves moving forward.

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