Peter Berkery visits U of Nevada Press and Beacon Press

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

Two very different Listening Tour stops reminded me how important the perspective from AAUP’s “front lines” can be: our smaller member presses sometimes can feel most acutely the twin challenges of the technology disruption and corporatization of the academy.

A late October visit to Reno allowed me to meet the small but extraordinarily dedicated staff of the University of Nevada Press. UNP is a state-system press, and I could sense some of the special challenges that come with that status. It can be particularly difficult for system presses to maintain mindshare with their administrations (and faculty), and it may be useful for AAUP to continue to explore ways both to leverage successes and undertake advocacy initiatives specific to the needs of this group.

The other important learning to emerge from my time in the Silver State: university presses fulfill missions in ways beyond academic credentialing. To be fair, this isn’t exactly news, but it was elegantly emphasized by the publishing program at Nevada. I think sometimes it can be easy for our colleagues in the academy to overlook that a university press well may be the sole curator of the history and culture of a region. That’s certainly the case in Nevada, where series on the urbanization of the American West inspired by the explosive growth of Las Vegas, and on mining history–growing out of Nevada’s mining heritage–would otherwise have little to no scholarly record without the hard work of Joanne O’Hare and her team. It’s a vital function, and one that deserves more credit than it sometimes receives.

Fast forward from a glorious autumn day in the Sierras to early December, the first wintery day in New England, when I found myself crossing a slippery Boston Common to visit Beacon Press.

Beacon is an AAUP Associate Member, whose mission is linked to its host institution, the Unitarian Universalist Church. Consequently, titles related to social justice figure prominently on their list: for example, an exclusive partnership with the MLK estate to publish “The King Legacy.” And although many of these titles result in course adoptions, the retail market is critical to Beacon’s performance. The conversation that flowed from the orientation of Beacon’s list highlighted how important certain copyright issues–permissions, piracy–remain, even in a world where many of us are beginning to incorporate Open Access into our publishing programs. What a challenging dynamic that creates for our association!

Another common theme between these two different members: the recognition that greater consortial activity would benefit their programs. Interestingly–and this is a theme that’s been common throughout the Listening Tour–that doesn’t necessarily translate into agreement regarding which specific activities might productively be accomplished cooperatively. There are solid reasons for the various perspectives taken by each individual press, but at the organizational level this will pose a challenge for AAUP when the time comes to set priorities.

In the end, I think the most striking similarity between these two very distinct presses is their common desire to identify new and better ways to engage a very specific sector of the consumer market: the educated reading public. In Nevada’s case, it’s to preserve a history and a culture; in Beacon’s, it’s to advance the human condition. Such endeavors are other important parts of a university press’s mission, and expanding the ways programs that support them should continue to be a part of AAUP’s mission as well.