ACLS
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A few weeks ago, I attended the Association of American Publishers’ Professional and Scholarly Publishing (PSP) Annual Conference in Washington D.C. Besides being personally excited for the scheduled program, I wanted to see what I would walk away feeling HEB as an organization gained from attending the event considering we are new(ish) members to PSP and never attended any previous annual conferences. Long story short, I enjoyed the sessions and look forward to HEB participating in the conference in the future.

Below are a few takeaways from individual sessions and themes I noticed in the conference. If you are interested in learning more about AAP or PSP, visit http://publishers.org/our-markets/professional-scholarly-publishing.

First thing that caught my eye was the overwhelmingly STEM-leaning audience and speaker schedule.

At first, per usual, I had a chip on my shoulder feeling as if HEB’s humanities-publishing peers were underrepresented. However, a presentation that was superficially directed towards a STEM audience, “A Tale of Two Continents – Open Access in Europe and the US” triggered some “big picture” connections in my own head to the current environment of OA publishing in the humanities¹.

A lot of attention during the plenary session gravitated towards government and institutional attitudes towards OA  and the respective impact on implementation of an OA strategy for publishers. Any scholarly publisher appreciates the difficulty of incorporating new workflows and business models in the structure of an university or other nonprofit press, where resources and manpower are limited.

The scholarly and ethical commitments to OA are often easier for publishers in the humanities to grasp than the financial and organizational costs. There are more incentives to publish open access in the STEM marketplace right now—whether it be mandates from governments, funding availability for processing fees, the disciplinary importance of publishing in high-impact journals (compared to the monograph market in the humanities), and public resistance to high-priced STEM journals.

What business and practical incentives humanities publishers can offer in an open access program will be critical to higher OA adoption rates by scholarly publishers.

Open publishing platforms and services such as the Social Science Research Network, Hypothes.is, and the Open Humanities Press are all products or projects that are good examples for humanities publishers to examine while thinking about incentives of incorporating OA offerings².

Archiving and journals have traditionally been considered the two vehicles for open access in the humanities (Suber, “Promoting Open Access in the Humanities”)³. Projects such as the Open Library of Humanities, the Humanities Open Book Program⁴, and TOME (Toward an Open Monograph Ecosystem) are all expanding the dichotomy mentioned above, providing more flexibility in delivery and funding for humanities publishers or scholars. As innovative and worthwhile as these projects are, it occurred to me during the plenary session that there is an unspoken advantage in humanities publishing being “behind” OA STEM offerings: publishers and scholars in the humanities can inform their decisions to participate in OA scholarly communication by evaluating the efficacy, scalability, and collaborative potential of OA initiatives in the STEM world. Collaboration between traditional scholarly publishing (mainly UPs) and institutional libraries seems to be the natural next step in the OA environment for humanities publishers.

The session most closely aligning to HEB’s goals and challenges occurred on the second day of the conference. The theme“What Can Small and Non-Profit Publishers Do to Stay Competitive?”,  sparked some thoughts related to HEB’s own day-to-day concerns as a small, non-profit organization.

Collaboration is key: HEB has partnered with the University of Michigan Library since our conception. By joining forces with an institution with critical experience (from both a research library and publisher perspective), stakes/interests aligned with HEB’s, and their own network of scholarly communication professionals HEB can from time-to-time tap into when appropriate, HEB has been able to maintain a stable product offering for our users—even arguably too stable and not flexible enough to innovate!

As the speakers listed the different vendors, publishers, libraries, etc. that each of their respective organization collaborates with, the con of collaboration became readily apparent to me. It also helped that my phone was vibrating like crazy with an influx of emails from partners HEB collaborates with (coming full circle here!)

Collaboration helps put your product in front new eyes, cuts cost of in-house technology development, and fosters relationships critical to the overall health of a scholarly publishing environment. However, collaborations also can stretch your workforce and “brand” thin. For small, nonprofit operations where every minute of an employee’s time is crucial, having to continually adjust (almost improvise) workflows, maintaining constant contact with vendors to whom work must be outsourced to, and balancing the commercial interests of partners with the nonprofit mission of your organization are delicate exercises.

Playing your cards close to the vest: Where small, nonprofit publishers are at a disadvantage compared to the large commercial publishers is obvious—resources, resources, and more resources. However, a thought shared by one of the speakers who was from a publisher for a scholarly society (albeit in a STEM field) struck a chord with me. She emphasized the importance of holding and fostering relationships with the scholars that are members of her respective organization. As a part of the American Council of Learned Societies, HEB has the benefit of tapping into the knowledge, experiences, and scholarly community fostered by ACLS.

Since these relationships are the primary reasons for the outstanding quality of our collection and the driving force behind our curatorial process, HEB has been historically risk-adverse in communicating and offering new services for ACLS members. Future considerations for HEB may involve ways to more actively receive and incorporate feedback from ACLS scholars, and expand this feedback from just title recommendations/review to topics around usability, discoverability, access, etc.


  1. Further reading: “Panel 819. The New Open-Access Environment: Innovation in Research, Editing, and Publishing”, Special Panel at the Modern Languages Association, Austin, TX, Sunday 10th January 2016: https://apps.mla.org/program_details?prog_id=819&year=2016
  2. Further reading on HEB’s relationship with Hypothes.is: “Tech Talk: Hypothes.is Tool“, by Christopher Plattsmier.
  3. From Peter Suber’s expanded writings, originally for an oral presentation at the American Philological Association Annual Conference on January 3, 2004 (https://legacy.earlham.edu/~peters/writing/apa.htm)
  4. HEB participated in the NEH Humanities Open Book Program. Learn more.