After Charlottesville, local debates over the place of Confederate monuments in United States public places roared into the national spotlight. With a broad knowledge of the fields of study that have examined the history, policy, and cultural meanings of such monuments, University Press of Kansas Editor-in-Chief Joyce Harrison compiled for the Association a list of relevant university-press-published scholarship for us to share as part of the #CharlottesvilleCurriculum effort. There are many other deeply urgent aspects to what happened in Charlottesville on August 12, and several Association members have also compiled valuable resource lists under the #CharlottesvilleCurriculum tag. More can also be found in sections of the Books for Understanding: Race Relations in the US bibliography.

Compiled and introduced by Joyce Harrison

As more and more Confederate monuments and symbols are removed in US cities and towns, many people new to the issue have wondered why. Is it a bit extreme? Are we erasing history by removing them?

The books in this list were written by people who have spent their lives and careers studying how Americans remembered victory and defeat, how southerners honored the Confederate dead, and what monuments meant when they were built—and continue to mean—as our troubled past haunts us, over 150 years after the end of the Civil War.

University presses can help us understand and allow us to contribute to informed discussion and debate.

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After while supremacists and Neo-Nazis marched in Charlottesville, leading to violence and the tragic killing of anti-racist protester Heather Heyer, many groups and individuals have used social media to point fellow citizens to books, articles, teaching resources, and other materials to help understand what is happening throughout the United States. The members of the Association of University Presses publish scholarship that helps all of us know and understand our history, our present, and our possible futures; and a number of member presses have contributed resource lists to the #CharlottesvilleCurriculum and #CharlottesvilleSyllabus effort. Below are links to these reading lists.

If we’ve missed any #CharlottesvilleCurriculum posts by Association members, please email details to bmclaughlin@aaupnet.org. 

Read the rest of this entry »

To help celebrate Peer Review Week 2016, we asked the 20+ organizations on the steering group to tell us how they #recognize review and what more they hope to do in future. Their responses show a clear understanding of the importance of peer review and a firm commitment to supporting more recognition for review in future.

Peter Berkery, Association of American University Presses (AAUP)

Peer review is woven deep into the fabric of AAUP. Our membership guidelines instruct that regular members must meet the editorial criteria of having both a board that certifies the quality of its scholarly publications, and a peer review process that meets a common standard.

The Association’s Admissions & Standards Committee holds applicants to a rigorous standard, reviewing editorial processes undertaken in recent publications for consistency with these standards. Membership in AAUP recognizes the importance of peer review to the scholarly record, and recognizes those nonprofit scholarly publishers who commit to this work—and the editors and reviewers who uphold our standards.

We recently articulated the common standard of peer review quality in monographic publication in Best Practices for Peer Review, which is available under a CC-BY-NC-SA license. It is the (peer-reviewed!) product of a two-year consensus-building effort by the AAUP Acquisitions Editorial Committee.

We expect that the practice of peer review may change in the future—as disciplinary norms shift, and new experiments in the format and delivery of both scholarship and scholarly peer evaluations find successful models. The reason for peer review—to help develop and validate high quality scholarship—will remain, as will its central role in AAUP and in AAUP membership.

Alison O’Connell, Aries Systems

Aries Systems advances peer review recognition by giving journals using Editorial Manager® flexibility to collect the data they need in-workflow, enabling participation in reviewer recognition initiatives downstream. Building this configurability into EM gives journals the control to experiment with emerging recognition services. Journal system administrators can configure the reviewer form to solicit permission to share review data, and can export appropriate review data in the formats required by recognition services, such as Publons.

Looking ahead, we keep abreast of developing needs through our continuous engagement with the community through user group meetings, industry conference participation, and other initiatives, so that when new tools and services emerge, the functionality is already in place to empower editors to explore.

Elizabeth Moylan BioMed Central (BMC)

A recent survey of our peer reviewers found they choose to undertake peer review based on their expertise, not on the basis of any expected rewards. However, in keeping with the theme of Peer Review Week 2016 over a third of respondents felt that stronger recognition of their work was motivating. Public acknowledgement and certificates were mentioned.

At BMC we recognize reviews in the form of citable acknowledgements. Our open peer review journals also provide recognition to peer reviewers through the publication of their named reports alongside the article. Reviewers for the BMC series of journals can also obtain a discount from the article-processing charges when submitting to the BMC series.

We have recently announced a trial partnership with Publons, so that reviewers can showcase their peer review activity. We also provide support for peer reviewers in the form of ‘how to’ article collections by experts in various types of research methodology and guidance for beginners.

In future, we want to explore ways in which reviewers in general (regardless of peer review model) can be recognized publicly. We’ll also be looking at the free text comments received in our initial survey and sharing – as well as responding to – what we learn.

Bahar Mehmani, Elsevier

Elsevier launched its Reviewer Recognition platform over two years ago, providing reviewers with a personal review profile page in which they can view their Elsevier journal review history and, in a few simple steps, create a public Reviewer Page listing all their peer review activities – including those for other publishers’ titles. Reviewer statuses are awarded based on the number of reviews they have completed for a specific journal. Since the launch of the platform, more than 450,000 reviewer individual profiles with a “status” have been created. Reviewers receive the encrypted link to their personal profile every time they complete a review for a title. They can download a variety of certificates based on the number of reviews they submit to a journal and take advantage of other perks such as discounts on Elsevier bookstore and WebShop author services. Furthermore, our journal editors can select reviewers based on the quality of their reviews, nominating them for a “Certificate of Excellence,” which complements the certificates based on frequency of review. Editors can also publish their list of nominated reviewers on their journal homepage as well. For Elsevier, this is just the beginning of an ever-expanding road toward recognizing reviewers.

Ruth Francis, F1000

At F1000Research we do post-publication peer review, which allows us to give credit to reviewers in many ways. Reviewers’ names and affiliations are published along with their full report alongside the paper which means that their contribution to the article is clear and the reports become an integral part of the article and the scientific discussion around it. Because the whole process is open and transparent, reviewers can see how the author responds to their comments and how they revise their article. In this way, referees are recognized as a part of the whole publishing process. We give a DOI to the report so it can be cited in its own right, and referees can also add their review to their ORCID profile to give visibility to their professional process.

In the future we hope to see reviews recognized as a qualitative measure of the article itself and used by readers, funders and institutes to evaluate the quality of the research. We would like to see many others adopting more open peer review and reviews used in an evaluative way.

Kristen Overstreet, International Society of Managing and Technical Editors (ISMTE)

ISMTE is all about peer review.  Conversations at meetings and on the member discussion forum, and several EON articles, indicate awareness of the importance of reviewers’ contributions.  But has ISMTE given enough attention to the methods of recognizing reviewers?  Unfortunately, the answer is no; however, I already see change brought about by the theme of this year’s Peer Review Week.

Meghan McDevitt, the Editor of EON, has commissioned an article for the October issue on the subject of recognizing reviewers, and the Education Committee is developing an educational resource on rewarding reviewers and editorial board members that will be posted on the ISMTE website (www.ismte.org) soon.  Social media posts and discussion forum conversations this week will identify more ideas for how journal editorial offices can recognize and reward the crucial contributions of our reviewers.  We also hope to learn how reviewers in other areas, such as grant review, promotion and tenure, etc., are recognized.  This could help us identify new methods we have not yet considered.

Peer Review Week 2016 has brought the issue of recognizing reviewers of all types to our attention, and I look forward to the new resources that ISMTE will be able to offer as a result.

Annette Flanagan, JAMA and the JAMA Network

JAMA and The JAMA Network Journals have provided peer reviewers with continuing medical education credit for many years. In addition, the journals publish annual editorials recognizing the contributions of peer reviewers, with a link to lists of the names of peer reviewers who provided peer reviews for the journal in the previous year. See JAMA’s examples here and here.

As an organizer of the International Congress on Peer Review and Scientific Publication along with the BMJ and METRICS, we are interested in seeing new research into incentives and rewards for peer reviewers. Many have been launching new programs and are experimenting with novel ways to incentivize, acknowledge, and credit peer reviewers and peer reviews. We invite those interested in conducting research evaluating the effectiveness of these programs and models for peer reviewers to submit abstracts for the next Peer Review Congress. See topics for suggested research. Abstracts are due February 15, 2017, and the Peer Review Congress will be held September 10-12, 2017, in Chicago.

Pandelis Perakakis, Open Scholar

What is peer review? What is its purpose? How would we redesign it from the ground up to best serve this purpose? From the perspective of what is best for Science, peer review should be a mechanism of validation. Once produced, a scientific work should be exposed to the eyes of the entire scientific community who would collectively decide whether it meets the scientific requirements to become part of the knowledge commons or if it needs further improvements. No assessment of the potential impact of the article is relevant to the peer review process. Peer review should be an open debate to generate consensus about the scientific validity of a given work. In this conceptual framework, reviewers are recognised because they are openly helping improve each other’s work. Reviewers act as co-authors who have an interest in increasing a work’s scientific quality because if they succeed, the work, and their names appearing next to it, will gain more visibility. Open scholar develops and promotes infrastructure that facilitates a model of open peer review, organised around institutional repositories and open archives. Our two flagship projects are the Self-Journals of Science and PeerMod—an open peer review module for open access repositories.

Alice Meadows, ORCID

ORCID’s vision is for all who participate in research, scholarship, and innovation to be uniquely identified and connected with their contributions and affiliations across disciplines, borders, and time. Our peer review functionality, introduced last year, enables organizations to  recognize all types of peer review activities – of publications, conference abstracts, grants, promotion and tenure applications, and more. It allows organizations to connect review information to a researcher’s ORCID record (with her/his permission), from where it can also be shared with other organizations if wished.

Several of our publisher members were early adopters of this functionality (American Geophysical Union, eJournal Press, F1000, and Publons), and we are now encouraging more members – from publishing and beyond – to implement it. We believe that adding validated information about peer review activities to ORCID records will help enable more recognition for this important work across all sectors.

Tom Culley, Publons

A Publons profile recognizes your review activities, and demonstrates your commitment and contributions to sound research in your field. Over 80,000 researchers already use our free service to effortlessly track, verify and showcase their reviewing and editorial contributions, in real-time, across all of the world’s journals. Publons provides:

  • unique statistics and insights to compare your reviewing behaviour with others
  • verified proof of previously hidden contributions to include in promotion and funding applications
  • premier reviewer discovery, screening and analysis tools.

Over 1,000 journals from Wiley, Sage, Springer Nature, Cambridge University Press, The Royal Society and many more will be fully integrated in 2016.

This year, we are launching the Sentinels of Science Awards – the ‘Nobel Prizes’ for peer review –  with support from industry heavyweights. We’re excited to be announcing the inaugural recipients at the end of Peer Review Week 2016.

In coming months, Publons is focusing on facilitating training and feedback to reviewers, to elevate the quality of peer review and research. Publons users are also directly contributing research and analysis into peer review that was previously not possible. Our unique, cross-publisher peer review information will be used to assess how peer review is performing globally and the impact it has on research.

Phil Hurst, The Royal Society

The Royal Society recognizes peer review in two main ways. Since its launch two years ago, our ‘objective peer review’ journal, Royal Society Open Science has provided the option to publish peer review information. Two thirds of published authors have opted for this and many reviewers have ‘signed’ their reports.

For the past year, we have integrated our biggest journal, Proceedings B, with Publons. This integration makes it easy for reviewers to opt into including recognition of their work in their Publons profile. A substantial number of reviews have been claimed, the majority through the integration. An added bonus is they can easily add this information to their ORCID profile via Publons. Researchers indicate that peer review is not regarded as an important research output by their institutions at present. However, they are building their profiles of peer review work for when it is recognized.

In the future we want more recognition for reviewers. We intend to extend the opportunities provided by open peer review and our Publons integration to more of our titles and more reviewers. There are potentially many more ways to recognize peer review – we are keen to identify and explore these. We think transparency is important in peer review and believe that reviewers should be recognized for this vital research output.

Tessa Picknett, Executive Director, STM , SAGE Publishing

Peer review is the lynchpin of the scholarly publishing process, relying heavily on the expertise of reviewers around the world.  To recognize the vital role that peer reviewers play, SAGE has developed a range of initiatives, including rewarding peer reviewers by enabling free and seamless access to all 960+ journals on the SAGE journals platform for 60 days following submission of a review.  In addition, we have established a partnership with Publons to further enable recognition of individual reviewer’s contributions and to improve the peer review process for all stakeholders. We are also delighted to be supporting Publons’ inaugural peer review recognition awards being launched this week.

Peer review – like everything in publishing – is constantly evolving, with increasingly innovative developments in online submission systems and open peer review. However, the fundamental role of evaluation, improvement, and selection – by reviewers and editors – continues to be widely endorsed as an essential component of the scholarly communication system. Whilst we continue to focus on mechanisms to make this as transparent, ethical and straightforward as possible, we recognize a need for support and guidance, especially for early careers researchers, and we are driving forward initiatives, and collaborating with others to provide expert support across the globe.

Stephanie Dawson, ScienceOpen

Open and public, post-publication peer review has been a cornerstone of ScienceOpen since our beginning. We believe that full recognition of peer reviewers’ efforts requires transparency. Therefore, any ScienceOpen member with the required level of expertise can evaluate and review any of 25 million articles with their name and research history available via ORCID. ScienceOpen peer review reports receive a CrossRef DOI to make them citable and trackable for altmetrics. Researchers can add them to their CV, ORCID profile, and website. Making well-written and insightful reviews citable, is an important step towards giving reviewers real credit for their work, and by making reviews open, we can also prevent valuable information from being lost. The context of a researcher’s evaluation – his/her experience, specialties, publications – is important for the reader in assessing a peer review and adds to the context of the research itself. As the volume of publications worldwide continues to grow, new strategies will be needed to support researchers in this evaluation process – both pre- and post-publication. As a major aggregator of information, ScienceOpen will continue to explore ways to open up and understand the context of scholarly research, with peer evaluation of research in all its forms remaining central to that mission.

Amy Bourke-Waite, Springer Nature

At Springer Nature we’re constantly looking to improve our peer review systems, and find new and better ways of recognizing peer reviewers for their hard work. Existing methods of recognition include monetary reward (monographs), and free subscriptions or discounts on Article Processing Charges (articles). But most researchers simply want their name to be acknowledged.

Seventy BioMed Central journals offer open peer review, encouraging transparency and providing a valuable educational resource for future peer reviewers. In the last year, BioMed Central have published over 40,000 open peer review reports, recognizing 24,000 peer reviewers.

Nature Editor in Chief Philip Campbell writes and thanks anyone who reviews three or more papers for the Nature Research portfolio. In 2016 we piloted initiatives including optional publication of peer-reviewer reports in Nature Communications; optional publication of peer-reviewer identities in Nature; optional transfer of peer-reviewer reports and identities from Nature Communications to other selected Springer Nature journals.

This month we’ve started a Publons pilot across 13 of our journals., and we’ll soon be announcing another pilot, experimenting with a new type of recognition. Finally, to all our reviewers everywhere: in case we haven’t said it recently, thank you from the team at Springer Nature.

Verity Warne, Wiley

At Wiley we recognize the integral role that reviewers play in scholarly communications. Researchers spent a huge amount of time reviewing (at least 22 million hours for the top 12 publishers alone in 2013), and we continue to introduce new ways to reward and recognize their invaluable contribution.

Journals across our program show their appreciation for reviewers by offering certificates, book discounts, APC discounts, CME for reviewers, and acknowledgement lists.

This week we are proud to announce that more than 750 Wiley journals are being newly integrated with Publons, allowing reviewers to  track, verify, and showcase every review they undertake for participating journals.  Reviewers can then use their verified peer review and editorial records in funding and promotion applications.

In our study of reviewer motivations, training and recognition needs last year, we found that researchers strongly believe that reviewing is inadequately acknowledged at present and should carry more weight in their institutions’ evaluation process. Some work has been undertaken in this area (the 2012 Sense About Science’s open letter to HEFCE, and the open letter to the Australian Research Council to name a couple) but we believe more could be done to facilitate debate on this issue with all stakeholders, including funders and research assessment bodies.

#PeerRevWk16; #RecognizeReview

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Following are the remarks delivered June 16, 2016, at the Barnes Foundation by AAUP Executive Director Peter Berkery during the Opening Reception for the Association’s 2016 Annual Meeting in Philadelphia.


I know you are all eager to return to your conversations, the wine, and the phenomenal artwork, but I hope you’ll indulge me in a few brief, final words first.

In 2014, the University Press of Florida published the collected poems of Reinaldo Arenas, a Cuban poet self-exiled to NYC because of the Castro regime’s persecution of LGBTQ people. Arenas’ experiences of oppression ultimately led to his suicide in 1990.

An excerpt from Arenas’ poem Morir en Junio y con la Lengua Afuera speaks powerfully to the immense sorrow and outrage that have followed last Sunday’s horror in Orlando:

     For against death,
our furies are no longer enough,
our hatred,
our frustrations or our,
good intentions.
For against death,
there are no massages nor laying ourselves down,
nor anything that didn’t happen,
nor hours we could not use except to flee.
If only you were to gesture against the sunbeam,
that offends your eyes each day,
when it sneaks in to touch the carpet.
Sing,
let someone know you’re exploding,
let someone know we’re all exploding always,
let someone far away, someone far, far away,
away in another time,
(the time of attentive hatred, the time of fierce furies)
hear your explosion always.
Let your explosion be heard always.
Let your explosion become one with time, take up residence in time.
And let it be,
one more shriek in the hated concert.
And let it be,
another constant sputtering in the same bubbling cauldron.
And let it be,
one more destructive pest, royally equipped,
for the voyage and the sojourn,
—for the journey—
over the timeless white hot terrain ahead.

(© 2014 Estate of Reinaldo Arenas)

University presses play an essential role in the care and feeding of civil society by cultivating and publishing books like this one, works that engage unflinchingly with serious issues like the hateful and persistent persecution of gay and transgender people and the epidemic of gun violence in the United States.

Recognizing the overwhelming impotence of moments of silence, the last few awful days have led many of us to ask ourselves “What can I do to fight the ignorance, the hatred, the violence?”

And what I’d like to say to you tonight is this: you’re already doing it.

I urge you to embrace the honor of this essential work over the next few days, along with a renewed commitment to shine the bright light of knowledge on a world that desperately needs it.

 


This article serves as foundational reading in anticipation of John J. McAdam’s three-part presentation at AAUP 2016, entitled “Reimagining the University Press from Scratch.” Watch a webinar replay of Part 1 and make sure to attend Part 2 and Part 3, debuting in Philadelphia.


By John J. McAdam

At the Association of American University Presses‘ Annual Meeting on June 18, 2016, I will be facilitating an industry mastermind discussion on strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats (SWOT) in scholarly publishing from a start-up business perspective. In particular, we’ll explore: “How has the publishing industry performed over time and in particular the scholarly/university press publishing segment?” By way of background, I thought it might be helpful to provide some of that data regarding the broader publishing industry in advance of the meeting to get the conversation started.

For tax and economic reporting purposes, the US government utilizes the North America Industry Classification System (NAICS) to segment industries within the US economy. Entering the keyword search term “publishing” at www.naics.com, three key horizontal industry segments in publishing stand out:

NAICS Code NAICS Title NAICS Description Notes & Questions
511130 Book Publishers – except exclusive Internet publishers Organizations that design, edit, and market, and distribute books Why separate Internet publishing?
511120 Periodical Publishers – except exclusive Internet publishers Magazine, journal, or other periodical publishers Do these publishers support professors adequately?
519130 Internet Publishers Publishers that provide text, audio, and/or video content on the Internet exclusively Notes:

1) Publishing and/or broadcasting content on the internet exclusively or

2) Operating websites

Screen Shot 2016-05-31 at 3.24.26 PM

Why does NAICS carve out exclusively Internet publishers? Following the logic of the NAICS, exclusive Internet publishing has grown to warrant its own industry classification. In fact, Exclusive Internet Publishers is three times the revenue of both Book and Periodical Publishing and employs twice as many people.

The aforementioned NAICS “industry” codes contain five digits and represent a horizontal view of the publishing industry. Next, let’s review the publishing industry both vertically and more broadly using only two and three-digit NAICS codes. The NAICS categorizes publishing into three segments. The first is the industry sector Information (NAICS code 51). The second subsector is literally Publishing (NAICS code 511). The third is Book Publishers (NAICS code 51130) which is the best fit for most university presses. Now that we have data from these three market segments, let’s analyze the data points using Compounded Annual Growth Rates (CAGRs). What does the CAGR analysis tell us?

  • The number of firms is flat for Book Publishers, decreasing in Publishing, and increasing in Information—by the same amount, respectively.
  • Revenue in Information is growing 4.5 times as fast as that of Book Publishing.
  • Payroll expense is growing by double digits across all Information and Publishing
  • Workloads have increased per employee as evidenced by increasing payroll per employee.
  • Book publishers need to understand for what information customers are willing to pay.

If you are feeling overworked in Book Publishing, then the data confirm this feeling. If you feel underpaid, the data suggest otherwise (sorry). Payroll is growing at 9.1 percent and revenue is growing at 4.2 percent while total employment is declining at 5 percent compounded annually. Furthermore, revenue per employee increased to 9.7 percent annually which means employees are becoming productive (more revenue per employee) and being paid more per employee.

The revenue trends across Information, Publishing, and Book Publishing tell a clear story, as we can see in the chart below:

Screen Shot 2016-05-31 at 3.23.24 PM

Clearly, people have been buying more from the parent Information sector and at a higher growth rate over the last 15 years, than either the Book Publishing or Publishing subsets, which have remained relatively flat. As we view this revenue trend chart, we should wonder what’s happening in the Information industry that is generating such consistent annual growth. When we break down the subsectors and compare revenue trends, here’s what we see:

  • Recordings had flat growth.
  • Telecommunications had slow growth.
  • Broadcasting, Data Processing, and Data Hosting had fast growth.
  • Other Information Services had exponential growth.

Anecdotally, within Other Information Services, revenue in the Libraries and Archive industry is in fact growing. Of course, as will be no surprise to anyone, the Internet Publishing, Broadcasting, and Web Search Portals have the fastest growth. Look for more industry segmentation here when the NAICS updates economic activities next for 2017.

As we prepare for our SWOT analysis mastermind industry discussion, we should be curious about what is growing and why. Economic activities data inform us that information in nontraditional forms present opportunities for growth. If the university press continues to provide information in traditional ways, such as books and periodicals, then it should not expect growth. Why is growth necessary even for small, mission-driven nonprofit organizations? First, to ensure that revenue grows sufficiently to match growth in expenses such as pay raises. Second, in this case, publishing industry data reveal that book revenues are flat and people are demanding information in forms other than books. Your strategic business plan to keep your university press sought-after by and relevant to your stakeholders should account for these trends even if growth is not the objective in and of itself. Eventually change will be unavoidable. Whether growth or adaptation is the objective, let’s discuss what valuable information a university press might offer that people need. My intention is to facilitate a constructive discussion that will benefit both you and your university press. I’ll see you in Philadelphia.


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John J. McAdam is the author of The One-Hour Business Plan (Wiley), an instructor in Strategic Business Planning at The Wharton Small Business Development Center, an association workshop speaker, and business advisor. For more information, visit John on Twitter, LinkedIn, his website, or contact him via email.

Copyright © John J. McAdam 2016. All Rights Shared with AAUP.
Photo: Aaron A. Abeyta

Aaron A. Abeyta

The following letter was delivered as a keynote speech at the Association of American University Presses annual meeting in Denver, Colorado, June 2015.

A Letter to Pratt in Praise of Books

Dear Darrin,

I am writing in the evening light; the river birds have begun the last of their singing, sweet whistles, and rapid staccatos that are their language. I imagine they are asking one another for the very same things we might ask for, a lasting grace that is more than just their flight.

Antonito blooms in the cradle of three rivers, all of which give their names and their water to the Rio Grande west of town. A gorge of andesite rock, scored with petroglyphs, directs the river south through a rift that split the llano in two at the earth’s forming. The petroglyphs mark the passing of ancient civilizations; their crude renderings on the black stone are a lasting proof, a carved longing etched for us to interpret. Thermals rise from the gorge, and the river noise and the raptors make upon them a calligraphy of sound and flight that is like words at their genesis.

Further to the west, there is a storm tethered to the San Juans; the bruised sky does not descend east into the canyon cut by the Conejos and lined with cottonwoods. Today, for the first time in weeks, the river has green at her watery edges, the peak of runoff fading. The river is my home; it is what I return to, always my north and brightest star. It is the river that keeps my memories, each bend its own story. For all I know, it is this river of water and stone that is my soul. My friend Cristobal once fished here. This river does not belong to him, he of the fierce face, so angry or so afraid or so brave. This is the river where I saw him last, before the .22 slug to his right temple. The river has made it so that the final memories of many things and many ghosts can be washed clean, wet as water on stone, touched by every current; the river becomes this mirror that is both truth and the shimmer of the half remembered; slow, flat water, which heals and forgives. The river is what I try to save. I believe the river is better than all of us; it knows how we love, and it urges the broken parts of us healed, and that is why I am writing this letter; I believe books, language, and the perfect word hold that same power.

Sometimes it is easy to lose sight of what we are meant to do, what we are meant to change in the world. Are we meant to find the good stories, the most perfect word, to find the music of a line or sentence? We are seekers, and that is what we were made to do, to follow the rivers of our youth; linger at the deep pools of joy, pain, and regret; cast our hope to the answers beneath the water’s mirror, that reversal of aspect that allows us to see inside ourselves. We broker in what we see on a daily basis and also that which we imagine. We fuse the two constantly, alchemists that work at new meaning, new vision, new understanding. We must see differently; it is, perhaps, the only requirement of the job. Eliot called it prelogical thinking, and he claimed it was only available to and through poets. Shelley called the poet the hierophant of sacred mysteries, and Stevens, when speaking of the great blue and purple tabulae, said it “spoke the feeling for them, which is what they had lacked.” We must see reflected, there in the word, that which everyone else sees as human and tangible and then imagine it as sacrosanct and beautiful, no matter how ordinary, ugly, or foreign it may seem.

Do you believe, as I do, that we are here to save language and therefore the power of the written word? Yehuda Amichai described our modern voice as a “weary language, . . . a language that once described miracles and God.” That is why the books you publish are so important, so necessary—good books, long labors of words and thoughts that seek the sacred peace of a well-written line. It was books that saved me.

I come from a place where leaving has always been equated with success. Leaving is difficult at times; the ways out are marked with the glowing road signs of those that tried and failed. The fields at the edge of town are rigged with the land mines of doubt, failure, and fear. Leaving has never been easy. My only stated goal when I was young was to leave Antonito and never return. I would negotiate the land mines, ignore the roadside crosses and the scattered bones of the fallen.

I was never a horrible kid in school, though I think there are a few teachers that might disagree with my self-assessment; I do, however, remember being bored, tired of filling in blanks, tired of books that did not reflect me or my place. School was an oppressive force. Were it not for football and friendships I cannot say where my early path would have led. I remember the psychologist the district brought in, her battery of tests on me; the intended goal, I learned later, was to expel me. There were these mentions of reform school or military school. In short, I hated school, and then my freshman English teacher, literally, gave me a key one day. At the back of the room there was a locked cabinet whose contents were off-limits. She would constantly tell me, “Those books are for the seniors.” I am many things, but chief among them, I am persistent, to a fault. Finally, in what seemed like a moment of desperation, she told me, “Go ahead pick a book from back there if you promise to quit disrupting my class.” I was only too happy to oblige; if I never have to conjugate another sentence, I will be a happy man.

She handed over the small key, and I walked to the back of the room. I chose Capote’s In Cold Blood, and a new world was opened. Emily Dickinson says that every poem has its trapdoor that the reader must fall through. I fell into that book and knew, at that moment, that I would love books and their saving power for the rest of my life. I cannot remember my first kiss, but I remember Kenyon Clutter and the fact that he ate apples to keep his teeth clean and that he carried a sheep on his fifteen-year-old shoulders through a Kansas blizzard. He was not an important character in the book, but I was in awe of Capote, of those minor details and how much weight they carried. I knew then that books, and the conjuring they possessed, were the first true-feathered bird.

Perhaps we are all here to trace and collect words, to sow meaning; we collect that thing which people discard as ordinary and bring it to a page of life where it can flourish and be the map of human struggle and therefore an instruction as to how we can all survive.

I worry sometimes that my students are losing their ability to love or appreciate the inexhaustible strength of words and their power. I think they betray that which you and I would never betray, that thing which we give ourselves to like prayer. We call upon language to protect us, give us light, and there is a grace in what we chose to do, the books we give ourselves to, the hard-earned pages that lift us toward being whole. I think that there are others like us, a race of people who still love the eloquent transcendence of the exact word, the beautiful and sensuous hip of a perfectly rendered comma that can send any of us on a river journey toward interminable love.

We search the geologic layers of the human condition and we bring it to the page because that is our job, to record that which matters, the memory worth saving, the history worth telling, the woven words that form a music that has always been meant to save us. Sometimes we are called to save our fallen home and its forgotten places. Sometimes we are called upon to save the window in each of us, the portal mirror that allows us to interpret the sacred mysteries. What is language to you? How, perhaps, has it saved you? Is it, perhaps, like Li-Young Lee said about poetry, each poem is a “descendant of God.”

Language is my wife’s love of living and remembered things, language is my mother’s hands or my father’s tired back, language is my daughter’s smile, the medicine of it after I believed that parts of me were broken forever. Language is water that carries me simultaneously forward and into the past.

I am writing to you from the banks of the river; the storm never made it off the mountains; the birds are silent and there are so many stars out beyond the dark, swaying bodies of the cottonwoods. I strain for the notes of some sound against canyon walls, but there is only the steady thrum of river. Thank you for the work you do, for your dedication to good and important books, their magic and message, their language of liberation and hope. This letter is in praise of books, their limitless potential and their sacredness. I suppose, by association, this letter is also about friendship and about what is lost or can be lost. I hope to someday show you the Conejos, the river that is my home water. I will show you where I caught my first fish, point out the bend where I last saw my friend Cristobal and his stringer of fish. I will show you my hometown, how much it needs hope, how much it needs books like the ones you publish. We all need to see ourselves in words; each of us needs our history to be told and understood, and for your contribution to this end, I sincerely thank you.

I am writing to you from the banks of the Conejos River, and I am wishing you a good night. Perhaps you will dream of words and their origins, and in your dream they will begin to fly and work the dusk light of your memory, collecting in their beaks and in their winged flight the parts of your being that were you long ago, and the words will circle in the alpenglow to form the stories and poems that rise toward the growing night, toward stars, toward the timeless space between their origin and your dreaming them back to the page, forever and forever without cease.

Be well, my friend, and keep bringing us toward a place where the music of words is rendered with grace.

Adios,

a.

Logo: UP of Colorado

Reproduced courtesy of Aaron A. Abeyta and
University Press of Colorado.

 

Aaron A. Abeyta is a Colorado native and professor of English at Adams State University. He is the author of four collections of poetry and one novel. For his book Colcha, Abeyta received the American Book Award and the Colorado Book Award. In addition, his novel Rise, Do Not Be Afraid was a finalist for the 2007 Colorado Book Award and Premio Aztlan. Abeyta also was awarded a Colorado Council on the Arts fellowship for poetry, and he was recently named the Poet Laureate of Colorado’s Western Slope by the Karen Chamberlain Poetry Festival.Book Cover: Colcha

Abeyta’s work has appeared in various publications, including An Introduction to Poetry, 10th edition; Literature: An Introduction to Fiction, Poetry, and Drama, 8th edition; and Conversations in American Literature: Language, Rhetoric, Culture; Colorado Central Magazine; and High Country News.

Abeyta received his MFA from Colorado State University. He lives in Antonito, Colorado, where he remains close to his family and culture, both of which greatly influence his work.

Contact Aaron Abeyta

Peter Berkery visits Texas, Texas A&M, Baylor, and Missouri UPs

Since the beginning of his tenure in March 2013, AAUP director Peter Berkery has been visiting member presses as part of a “listening tour” to introduce himself to the community, accelerate his learning curve, and create an opportunity for in-depth exploration of the ways in which the organization might help university presses embrace the challenges and opportunities presented by a rapidly changing landscape—in publishing and in the academy. While it appeared the tour would wind down in the summer, it has continued. Peter will be chronicling highlights from his visits on the Digital Digest.


by Peter Berkery, AAUP Executive Director

So, I am light years behind in sharing comments from my ongoing series of member press visits–which now number in excess of 50!–but in fact I really have been keeping a running tally of (what I hope are) useful observations. First and foremost, then, apologies to anyone who feels justifiably dissed by the lack of reporting; please rest assured your hospitality is deeply appreciated, and moreover your insights have been extremely useful as I think about both reporting back to Mellon for their support of this tour and trying to move our enterprise forward. In the fullness of time, I still plan to give voice to all that I’m learning. I’ll pick up right where I left off, my late February visit to central Texas–specifically, the presses at UT, A&M, and Baylor.

My first stop was Austin, where Dave Hamrick and his team at University of Texas Press offered great food and even better conversation. The topics ranged from Mellon’s “Big Idea” (the foundation’s evolving investigation into the possibility of “flipping” the financial model for academic monographs from pay-to-consume to pay-to produce; more to come), through approaches to prioritizing the various opportunities for university presses to work consortially, and to how we can improve our relationship(s) with independent booksellers. Appropriately enough, all three of these items have a home on the agenda at AAUP’s upcoming Annual Meeting. Our colleagues at UT talked in depth about how each of these matters could affect their press in particular, as well as the broader spectrum of AAUP members, helping to clarify my own understanding of these important topics.

After Austin, I headed east to College Station for a day at Texas A&M University Press. Again, more good conversation, but this time with a new twist: TAMU Press had recently completed a significant production systems migration, and I was able to get a deep-dive on life before, during, and after. Data conversions that were supposed to be programmatic requiring manual intervention, heroic efforts to add legacy date in order to take advantage of new capabilities, and lots of nights and weekends turned a medium project into a large one. The TAMU team is happy with the results, of course, and is looking forward to increased productivity from the new platform’s enhanced capabilities. Hearing how disruptive such an implementation can be at even a mid-size press was a useful reminder; since AAUP members of all sizes face a number of these adventures in the months and years ahead, it is always useful to find ways to have a committee or a listserv leverage prior experiences.

I also had the opportunity to learn about TAMU’s significant distribution activities on behalf of a dozen or so smaller scholarly presses in Texas–only some of whom currently are AAUP members. I wonder whether or not there’s an outreach opportunity for us there.

From College Station, I turned slightly north for the drive to Waco, where the good folks at Baylor University Press rolled out the red carpet! Carey Newman and his team laid out in wonderful detail how their artisanal approach to acquisitions, editorial, design, and marketing produce books of extraordinary quality. As many of you know, Carey has adopted (what sounded to me like) a take-it-or-leave-it approach to doing business with Amazon and, with an extensive and strategic deployment of Baylor’s bright interns, developed something of a bespoke approach to marketing new titles – the latter making the Press less dependent on the former in order to achieve sales targets. Moreover, all of this is consistent with Baylor’s philosophy that small presses have to compete on quality in every facet. The passion for the work in Carey’s office is palpable. Also, the potlucks kick a**!

Before closing, I should note how, in different ways, all three presses have worked hard to create deep ties to their campus and local communities. From fundraising boards comprised of prominent individuals through detailed (and handsome!) annual reports to deep engagement with faculty via advisory boards and how-to-publish seminars, all three presses are working to raise their profiles and broaden the understanding of the value they bring to their institutions and regions.

I’m looking forward to return engagements in the Lone Star State, so I can catch up with some of our member presses north of the Brazos!

Shortly after my week in Texas, I found myself in Missouri for the inaugural Library Publishing Forum. I took advantage of my proximity to Columbia to pay a visit to University of Missouri Press. I’ll share three encouraging observations here. First and foremost, things appear to have stabilized remarkably well under Dave Rosenbaum’s strong leadership. The team is in rebuilding mode, and morale is good. Next, Dave believes he has his administration’s support for the work that lies ahead in no small part, that’s probably due to the great job he does reporting and managing up. Dave has created detailed strategy documents for his administration that lay out both the challenges and opportunities the press faces, and that identify a clear path forward. Consequently, his university understands that the recent disruption in press activities will impact the frontlist (or lack thereof) for at least three more catalogues. Which leads to my final observation: in order to at least partially offset the lack of a frontlist, the press is implementing some solid specific tactics–including discipline-specific catalog sheets and targeted marketing campaigns–in order to try to improve sales from the backlist. Especially the recent backlist, which necessarily was under-promoted during the press’ months of turmoil. All in all, the team at Mizzou is making great progress toward an even greater comeback!

upinspace_mitpressOne small step for collaboration

by Ellen Faran, Director, The MIT Press

March 20 marks the liftoff of “University Presses in Space,” a website promoting university press books about outer space and space exploration. The site, www.upinspace.org, features 30 titles selected by the 15 participating presses as among their best space books. These titles are cross-linked with the individual book pages in presses’ web catalogs so that we may share web traffic. In addition, all the presses and their authors may share links to the site through catalogs, email, social media, and at exhibits and meetings.

The MIT Press conceived of this joint promotion in conjunction with our lead Spring 2014 title, Marketing the Moon: The Selling of the Apollo Lunar Program. We worked closely with three partners—the University Press of Florida, Purdue University Press, and the University of Nebraska Press—to develop the idea and then invited all AAUP member presses to join as participants. MIT designed and launched the site; Nebraska will then take over the site after it enters its regular orbit. Nebraska has arranged to bring “University Presses in Space” to the attention of attendees at SpaceFest (“THE event for the space enthusiast”) in Pasadena this May.

We believe that space buffs, as well as general readers interested in space, don’t stop at just one book. We believe that they appreciate the quality of university press publishing. Thus we hope that the discovery experience provided by “University Presses in Space” will stimulate sales, both for the featured titles and the many more space books to be found by exploring university press lists. The site includes a link to AAUP’s Books for Understanding which has a Space Flight category.

This is a modest experiment in collaborative promotion; modest in part because the site does not offer a combined shopping experience. But we hope that the response to “University Presses in Space” will point us toward effective ways to promote books in specific fields across our community, throughout the galaxy, and beyond.

Please share the news with any space explorers in your part of the universe. Our Twitter hashtag is #upspacebooks.

Peter Berkery visits Alabama, Mississippi, and Lousiana State UPs

Since the beginning of his tenure in March 2013, AAUP director Peter Berkery has been visiting member presses as part of a “listening tour” to introduce himself to the community, accelerate his learning curve, and create an opportunity for in-depth exploration of the ways in which the organization might help university presses embrace the challenges and opportunities presented by a rapidly changing landscape—in publishing and in the academy. While it appeared the tour would wind down in the summer, it has continued. Peter will be chronicling highlights from his visits on the Digital Digest.


by Peter Berkery, AAUP Executive Director

The “southern leg” of my Listening Tour found me motoring through Alabama, Mississippi, and Louisiana shortly before the holidays. While each of my three stops–Tuscaloosa, Jackson, and Baton Rouge–was unique, I’m going to depart from my usual convention of discussing each press separately, focusing instead on some strong common themes that emerged during my conversations.

The first common denominator in my meetings at the University of Alabama Press, the University Press of Mississippi, and Louisiana State University Press echoes a theme by now common in my visits: three presses clamoring to embrace the digital disruption head-on, but without the benefits of scale. This led to the usual lively discussion about the potential for increased consortial activity and shared services within our community. In particular, I was impressed with the amount of time our colleagues in Alabama have devoted to thinking about how scholarly communication’s digital future will require increased collaboration among university presses.

A second commonality: I’m happy to be able to write that each of the three presses I visited is well-integrated into its campus. Or campuses, as the case may be. For example, as a system press, Mississippi faces the customary array of challenges accompanying that status, but our colleagues in Jackson work hard to maintain a high profile both on the eight member campuses they “represent” and within the state’s rich literary community. At LSU, a Press Advisory Board (separate from the press’s editorial board) comprised of campus and community supporters serves the dual role of raising visibility and fundraising.

The next recurring topic of conversation was decidedly unhappier: the lack of a press at any of the nation’s HBCUs (Historically Black Colleges & Universities) since the closure a few years ago of Howard University Press. While several AAUP member presses have commendable publishing programs in Black History and African American Studies, including the three on this segment of the Listening Tour, it must be recognized as a deficiency that there is no HBCU with a university press. In answering Philip Cercone’s call to found new university presses, addressing this gap would be an excellent place to start.

Each visit also saw extensive discussion of how the potential migration of our business model from pay-to-read to pay-to-publish (pay-to-publish in many ways being another way to think about open access) could impact the work we do. Not surprisingly, there was no shortage of perspectives on what such a future might hold, but there was a common denominator: assuming a stable source of pay-to-publish funding (an enormous assumption itself, as all were quick to observe) we’d be trading the prospect of greater financial stability and revenue predictability for a host of unknowns. Would publishers eventually come to compete for authors through publishing terms? How should the potential loss of backlist revenue from course adoptions factor into pay-to-publish business models? Similarly, what about textbooks, as well as the titles with cross-over trade potential? Or our regional publishing programs: the critical role of university presses in documenting the natural and cultural history of the communities we serve must be protected. As the seemingly inevitable march toward open access continues, advancing more squarely into our publishing programs, these are questions that need answers, or at least more considered evaluation, and it’s incumbent upon us to make sure that enquiry occurs. There’s opportunity here for many of our members, but clearly there’s also risk.

I can’t close without noting one final common theme: gracious southern hospitality. From lunch at Alabama’s Faculty Club to a private tour of Eudora Welty’s Mississippi home (with AAUP Book, Jacket, and Journal Show catalogs proudly on display) to a truly lovely dinner party at the Baton Rouge home of an LSU Press Advisory Board member, I was received with genuine warmth everywhere I went. Thanks to everyone who made me feel so very welcomed.

The generous hospitality I received bodes well for our upcoming Annual Meeting in New Orleans. I stopped by our host hotel on my way home from Baton Rouge, and I’m happy to report that we will be well cared-for during our stay in The Big Easy!

Berkery at the Eudora Welty House in Jackson

Berkery at the Eudora Welty House in Jackson

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