Amherst College librarian launches new open access publishing venture

One doesn’t normally think of small liberal arts colleges as having very much of a role in affecting the direction of scholarly communication in general or academic publishing in particular. But Bryn Geffert, head librarian at Amherst College in Massachusetts, believes the can and should. With the endorsement of Amherst’s president and Board of Trustees, he has recently launched Amherst College Press, which will produce a handful of edited, peer-reviewed, digital-first books on “a very small number of subjects.” “We want to do a few things well, not overextend,” he says.

Staff retirements have allowed Geffert to repurpose two salary lines in the library’s budget into an editorial staff, including a press director­—”somebody who’s absolutely committed to open access,” he says. “That’s a fundamental value for the press.”

Although he has no illusions that library publishing operations will challenge Elsevier anytime soon, Geffert hopes that they will eventually help to shift the economics away from the bottom-line model that drives much of academic publishing. “I’m going to risk sounding like a wide-eyed idealist here,” he says. “If at some point enough libraries are producing or working with presses to produce enough freely available information,” the amount they need to spend on materials will drop. If that happens, the savings “will more than offset the expense we’re investing.”

Geffert has received  helpful advice from directors of larger university presses but doesn’t know yet whether Amherst College Press will join the Association of American University Presses. AAUP’s members produce a lot of good work, he says, but it  has taken stands he doesn’t agree with. For one, it objects to the Federal Research Public Access Act, which would expand federal mandates that guarantee access to publicly supported research. And it has stood behind the publishers who sued Georgia State University over alleged copyright infringement in e-reserves. Does a library-based publishing operation really “want to be part of an organization where at least part of the constituency is suing libraries?” he asks.

–Extracted from a larger article by Jennifer Howard in the Chronicle of Higher Education, February 4, 2013.