How One Small University Press Got Started in OA

2018 University Press Forum

[Editor’s Note: This essay also appears as part of the annual University Press Forum in the May issue of Choice and on]

Alice Randel Pfeiffer, Director,
Syracuse University Press

How does a smaller university press enter into the realm of open access (OA) publishing? With caution, institutional encouragement, collaboration, and financial support. This was the case for our press, at least. After years—yes, years—of discussion, research, and planning, we finally found a project to launch our OA adventure.

In 2010, Syracuse University Press became part of the Syracuse University Libraries. This realignment created an opportunity for sharing viewpoints on trends in scholarly publishing. Suzanne Thorin, then dean of libraries and university librarian, was intrigued by open access publishing efforts at peer institutions and suggested that the Press and Libraries collaborate to provide a platform for OA publishing. As a result, we launched the joint imprint Syracuse Unbound for publishing OA books and other content. It was a collaboration that leveraged the publishing expertise of the Press and the technical infrastructure of the Libraries, which already hosted open access content on their institutional repository, SURFACE.

Our first project was a born-digital, multimedia e-journal, PUBLIC, A Journal of Imagining America. It was a cross-campus collaboration between Syracuse University faculty who were part of the national organization Imagining America, Syracuse University Information Technology Services, Syracuse University Libraries, and Syracuse University Press. Financial support came from the Syracuse University administration and was an essential component of the enterprise.

There was a significant learning curve, which required establishing the hosting framework, designing its components, managing peer review, and establishing editorial processes. Publishing a multimedia journal was an ambitious goal, but after three years of dedicated work, the first issue debuted in 2013. Early issues of PUBLIC garnered favorable reviews and achieved our goal of raising the profile of OA publishing on campus.

Success with the journal encouraged us to consider how we might begin to publish OA books. Parallel to our activity on PUBLIC, we developed an efficient and reliable workflow for creating EPUB files for SU Press publications. We expanded our research and knowledge by attending sessions on OA at the AAUP annual meetings, and by contacting other university presses and digital content providers. With our newfound confidence, we applied for round two of the NEH/Mellon Humanities Open Book Program in 2016 and were one of eight presses awarded a grant. We wanted to make accessible some works that had been published before digital workflows existed and focused on recovering materials and content that were in demand but unavailable due to the cost of keeping them in print or converting them to digital.

As of this writing, we are in the early stages of completing the work of the NEH/Mellon Humanities Open Book grant. As we learned from the participants awarded grants in round one, the most challenging aspect is clearing digital permissions to the content. The OA books are scheduled to be completed this fall.

Another OA opportunity arose last summer before we began work on the NEH/ Mellon Humanities Open Book Program project. David Seaman, dean of libraries and university librarian at Syracuse University, was approached by SU faculty members seeking copyright advice for a multiauthored work. The book, Triple Triumph, was about three pioneering women from SUNY Upstate Medical University with careers of distinction in medicine. It was to be edited by Cathryn Newton, dean emerita of the College of Arts and Sciences and professor of Earth Sciences, and Samuel Gorovitz, professor of philosophy and former dean of the College of Arts and Sciences. Professors Gorovitz and Newton wanted to encourage educational, non-commercial use of the work.

During preliminary meetings, we suggested that Syracuse Unbound would be the best venue for the book so that it could be produced quickly and reach the largest audience. In a matter of three months, the book was released in August 2017 and became an immediate success, reaching twenty-five countries across five continents with over 2,700 downloads by January 2018. In addition, over 3,000 print copies were distributed, and one of its subjects was featured on NPR’s Story Corps Project.

This experience illustrates how open access publishing encourages collaboration between the Press, the Libraries, and the faculty, helping to expand the reach and reputation of the university. The shared experience of a successful OA project on campus has significant residual benefits, including good will and increased visibility of all involved.

As we seek to encourage further discussion on our campus of OA publishing, we are creating a dedicated website for the NEH/ Mellon Humanities Open Book titles to raise awareness of the program and its publications. We are curious and excited about the response to these newly available titles. Will the results lead us to expand our OA activity? Is there an opportunity to attract new projects based on the results? Will the data on the speed of dissemination and international reach encourage faculty? Could a small university press like ours use the OA publication model to respond quickly to trends and topics in the rapidly shifting news cycle? About this time next year, we should have more detail to share about our OA adventure.

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About the author:

Alice Randel Pfeiffer is Director, Syracuse University Press