Once again, I feel behind and at a loss for understanding how my press is going to make the foray into electronic publishing other presses are making (here I’m thinking specifically of the discussion on the AAUP listserv of SUNY’s recent successes). Wayne State University is limiting all temporary employees to one thousand working hours. Those hours are non-renewable, and once they’re up the job is supposed to be done and nobody new can be hired. This means that people (I don’t have any numbers) are losing their jobs. We at the press are fortunate in that we’ll be able to hire someone new on a permanent but part-time basis to replace one of the people we will soon be losing. We can replace one but not all.

 

These sort of changes affect everyone at the press, those who are losing paychecks especially but also those who remain to pick up the slack. The editorial, design, and production department is doubly affected. We’re losing our editorial assistant, and the journals program will be moving under our purview.

 

Our editorial assistant is a poet and an MFA and will be likely be starting a PhD program soon, so she’ll be fine. I’ll miss her and I don’t know what I’ll do with the work, but I know she’ll be OK. I have someone in mind to handle some of the cleaning and coding on a freelance basis, but initial cleanup, coding, and general prep for copyediting are awkward to freelance.

 

I’m working on the posting for someone to replace our current journals coordinator. I initially thought we might be able to merge journal editing and production with book  editing and production, but feedback from university press colleagues helped me to see the challenges with that approach, so we’re going with the status quo, and I think overall that’s a good thing, even though the status quo is much-maligned.

 

I received a lot of great responses and support, even waves of telepathic empathy, from my colleagues. That was a bright spot in confronting this change. It was depressing that I had so much company in rethinking and doing more with less, but the back-and-forth was inspiring also, especially when another editorial manager suggested I work it out in this blog I’ve been neglecting.

 

So now I have the opportunity to work with a content management system that’s in the works and also the chance to think through issues of open access and electronic publishing as they relate to journals. How I’ll manage six journals on top of my current workload and on top of the other changes and improvements I should be making I’m just not sure. Ideas?

publishing as systematic?

March 25, 2008

Thanks to Amy Buckland for sending “Effects of Editorial Peer Review: A Systematic Review” my way. It’s from 2002 and was cited in a blog by Heather Morrison.

True, it’s an old study for me to blog about, but I was happy that Amy thought of me and I was amused by the study. Its authors looked at previous studies and concluded that more studies were necessary before a conclusion could be reached about the positive impact of blind review by referees.

I’m not surprised that there was nothing concrete showing the benefit of peer review. (Anyone know if there is now?) Is there anything systematic about publishing? How do you even go about showing the benefits? Compare different versions of manuscripts?

Peer review is about people, as is acquisitions, as is copyediting, as is design. Even though biomedical journals contain real data and high-level theory, we’re still dealing with people, people with fixed ideas about how information should be presented, biases, jealousies, and preferences that have more to do with themselves than with the work they’re reviewing.

The usual fix

March 12, 2008

<post edited March 13 thanks to a clarification> On our AAUP listserv today was a note from Greg Tananbaum of Consulting Services at the Intersection of Technology, Content & Academia quoting researcher Atanu Garai, who was calling attention, among other things, to the fact that articles submitted to institutional repositories before publication will be posted before the articles are copyedited and thus will be shared in a rough form potentially embarrassing to their authors.

In his note, Garai quotes Adam A. J. Deville, the author of “Sinners Well Edited” from the most recent issue of the Journal of Scholarly Publishing. I haven’t read the article, but Deville is quoted as criticizing some unedited papers as “rambling, repetitive, insufficiently researched, and badly argued.” Copyeditors can fix the first two, but university press copyeditors don’t, at least in my experience, usually introduce new sources, and they can’t fix an argument that is truly faulty, though they can repair and at least query some missing links.

Maybe my reaction to Garai’s pointing to the lack of copyediting in articles in repositories and his quote from someone complaining of writing problems that might not be addressed in the editing process is the standard gripe by editorial managers when we’re asked to fix something in copyediting that isn’t really fixable in our usual copyediting workflow. But I’ve also noticed that when university presses want to distinguish themselves and praise the work they do as a reason for why libraries shouldn’t become publishers or why scholars shouldn’t introduce their work into institutional repositories, they like to hold up copyediting as an example of their care and art. That was the context in which this note came to the listserv.

I’m not making a judgment call here about the repository. I’m merely pointing out that we (that is, university presses) are inconsistent about the value we place on copyediting. I’ve seen copyeditors criticized for “doing too much” when they  attempt to revise, even intelligntly so, or when they question content, and I’ve been asked to do a triage edit to move a book through the pipeline more quickly when someone feels it’s more important to get the book into the hands of readers than it is to make sure everything’s just so.

If I were to make a judgment about the Harvard mandate, I’d say that I don’t feel concerned about the lack of copyediting. The pieces being put in the repository are being called drafts, even though they are papers accepted for publication. They’ll be shared as information, not as finished packages.

And you know how I feel about text as information.

There’s nothing quite like being read to motivate writing. Thanks to the Chronicle for blogging my blog. Of course I now wish I’d said something about what motivated me to discuss “free.” Whether online publishing costs less than print publishing is an ongoing topic of discussion pretty much everywhere these things are discussed, but I specifically had in mind Cathy Davidson’s HASTAC blog in which she reminds the “new technology utopianists” about the high cost of producing scholarship in terms of housing and staffing people to work on that scholarship.

Michael Jensen’s post to Publishing Frontier (http://pubfrontier.com/2008/02/29/open-access-re-journals-vs-books/) was also on my mind. In a thoughtful piece about the differences between the cultures of journal and book publishing, Jensen offers some reasons for the relatively easy move to online formats for journals. He spells out some norms in scholarly publishing that are based on the value we put on nearly all of our books. The careful approach we take to every monograph (from thoughtful acquisition and extensive review to careful copyediting and creative design) doesn’t translate in full or easily to the work of publishing online.

Publishing born-digital books is not only technically beyond many of us but also, simply, foreign. Publishing PDFs of published books keeps the book design intact, but the feel of the book gets lost. To a lot of university press people a book online just doesn’t feel like a book. Its content seems more commoditized, its lifespan shorter.

My husband, a freelance copyeditor for university presses, used to work at a Macmillan imprint that publishes college textbooks, and he often talks about how quickly things changed once the senior management starting talking about “product,” not books. He wasn’t long for that place.

Moving to a text-takes-precedence model, where design gives way to an XML style sheet and printing is offered only on demand and serves just to hold the book together, means we have to focus on content and use and search, not aesthetics. It’s not exactly like thinking about books as “product ,” but it’s not too far off. Personally, I’m OK with it. I would be equally proud of my work if our books were published only online. Until I became responsible for design and production and not just editorial, I really did think of design and printing as a vehicle to get the text out there, and maybe that some of that view will always stick with me.

When I’m feeling positive, I believe that university press staffs will find their way through the talk of finding a business model that allows us to stay in business and that allows scholars open access to the work of their colleagues. I believe that we’ll settle on some methods that will work well to sustain us. When I’m feeling overwhelmed by home (washing baby bottles, cooking food a three-year-old will eat) or work, I feel a little beaten down about the lack of change in university presses as a whole. I get it, of course. As at other presses, at mine we’re focused on the day-to-day work of publishing books–an effort that doesn’t leave a lot of time for abstract thinking and planning. I volunteered to lead my press’s effort into figuring things out, but so far I haven’t made enough time for it, being so bogged down by my “regular” work.

When I’m feeling positive, I find my own excuses very irritating. I have read for years about the changes in scholarly book publishing, and that subject is what motivated me to get a master’s in library and information science. So if I know something about what we need to do, I shouldn’t let anything stop me and I should get to work on our methods.

The solution seems obvious: university presses should publish hyperlinked scholarship online for “free.” It’s really neither that obvious or that simple, of course. Note the quotes around “free.” Note the lack of funds forthcoming from our administrations to support “free.” Note the growing list of expensive-to-produce regional books we’d have to sell in large quantities to support “free.” Note the lack of staff experienced in converting and tagging Microsoft Word documents and knowledgeable about creating XML-authoring systems.

What the Ithaca Report made clear, what researchers have been saying for years, and what university press leadership generally believes is that our university administrations need to play an important role in any macro-level changes university presses make. Most of all our libraries need to be involved. Ours is willing to be, and I’m supposed to be forwarding that relationship. As with presses, some libraries are more “advanced” than others. Harvard just mandated that its faculty must submit their published journal articles to its repository to be made available with open access, which means that Harvard faculty can only publish in journals that allow postprints. Wayne has a repository, but it is undermarketed and underutilized, and its use is not mandatory.

One of the first decisions we need to make, one that isn’t often discussed, is what kind of books we want to publish as objects and what kind of books we want to publish as information. When I was purely an editorial manager at Wayne, it was easy for me to value books purely as text that conveyed research and perspective. Now that I’m also responsible for design and production, I want our books to look good. Whereas before I believed that design was a vehicle for a clear and well-constructed argument, now I have a much better grip on the reality that authors, staff members, and, presumably, book buyers and readers want books to look and feel beautiful.

I’m feeling positive today. Writing about the challenge of addressing the challenges university presses face is motivating me to do some work on my goal of finding a way for Wayne State University Press and Wayne State University Libraries to work together that combines our publishing knowledge and the libraries’ IT and cataloging infrastructure and that keeps us both relevant and responsible to our universities, to the Detroit metro community, and to the readers of our books.

This is us

January 24, 2008

I’m starting a blog. I want to use it to create a professional identity, but I also want to say something interesting. I don’t know yet who my audience is: friends, family, potential employers. My audience can’t be everyone I know, nor can it be everyone I don’t know. I do have a Facebook profile now. If you’re interested, take a look. It’s bare. I’m in the process of compiling friends: http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=799828897. That sure is a cute picture of Jesse.

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