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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. 

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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

This post has been shared across organizers blogs, and at the Peer Review Week site.

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

November 10-16 is University Press Week 2013! All week long, presses around the Web will be hosting special posts as part of a UP Week Blog Tour. The Digital Digest will be following the tour with a daily round up in the afternoon!

MONDAY | TUESDAY | WEDNESDAY | THURSDAY | FRIDAY

Stories along the Road to Innovation from the Johns Hopkins University Press

by Becky Brasington Clark and Claire McCabe Tamberino

Our consumer health editor, Jackie Wehmueller, had turned up a promising opportunity. She had contacted a prominent dermatologist about writing a book on chronic itch, a condition that affects millions of individuals. The market potential for the book was enormous and the dermatologist was renowned. He liked the idea and agreed to write the book with one key condition: it had to be a fully interactive e-book with patient videos and three-dimensional graphics, and it had to be published as a multi-touch iBook.

The author was coming to Baltimore in a few weeks. Did we want to meet with him and learn more?

The answer was an enthusiastic yes. As a longstanding publisher of titles in consumer health—including the bestselling Thirty-Six Hour Day—the Johns Hopkins University Press was the natural home for this path-breaking project.

There was a small twinge of anxiety over the fact that we had never before used iBooks Author—the multi-touch platform that seamlessly incorporates video, audio, 3-D graphics, and other interactive features directly into the e-book file—but that kind of anxiety is familiar in an industry where change is the only constant. “We’ll figure it out,” we said, and quickly got to work.

Meet the JHU Press screenshot

JHUP medical publishing: from manuscript to iBook.

Figuring it out is the charge of the Online Books Division (OBD)—a big name for a three-person operation within JHUP’s Books Marketing Department. We seek commercially promising opportunities for digital innovation and figure out how to integrate them into the Book Division’s workflow. Since 2010, we’ve developed and posted supplemental material on CD and online for dozens of titles, we’ve incorporated 3,000 new pages to our online reference, The Early Republic, and we published the 2nd edition of the Johns Hopkins Atlas of Digital EEG (a proprietary software product accompanied by a print book). We’ve also digitized our course adoption campaigns, expanded and refined our list-serv, and segmented 20,000 e-mail subscribers by subject area preference—all while adding new vendors and territories to our e-book program.

We’ve learned a few things along the way, perhaps nothing as important as this: innovation requires not only a willingness to learn, but a stomach for frustration and occasional failure. It requires us to engage fully with that which we do not know, and to begin anew the long journey of mastery. It requires us to add new challenges to already heavy workloads, disrupt routines, and make new kinds of mistakes. And sometimes it requires that we say “yes” to a project before we are 100% certain that we know exactly how to get it done.

Learning iBooks Author

A couple of weeks in advance of the author meeting, two members of the OBD staff—Claire McCabe Tamberino and Michael Carroll—enrolled in a two-day training course on iBooks Author. They came back full of enthusiasm for the platform and confident that we could master it quickly.

We all agreed that we needed a beta project that would allow us to become proficient with iBooks Author in advance of using it for our first commercial endeavor. The search for a practice project came in the midst of a press-wide strategic communications discussion, in which we had identified the need for multi-media collateral material for JHU Press. That’s when it hit us: why not use iBooks Author to develop a multi-touch iBook about the Press?

Turning the Camera on Ourselves

Screenshot of Meet the JHU Press

Interactive maps invite readers to explore the history of the press.

With that, Meet the Johns Hopkins University Press was born. The vision was simple enough: repurpose descriptive copy about the Press and its four divisions—Books, Journals, HFS, and Project MUSE—and enhance it with multimedia.

Inspired by the video UNC Press had recently released to highlight the appointment of director John Sherer, we decided to conduct video interviews with Press leaders. That’s where things got a little tricky. We didn’t have a resident videographer on staff, and we couldn’t afford the steep rates charged by the university. So we decided to do it ourselves.

With another small investment in software and training (iMovie), we were ready to start shooting video using the Press’s newest iPad. We wrote scripts, scheduled video shoots, and called “action.”

The shooting went smoothly enough, but we quickly discovered two unanticipated problems. First, the interviews were far too long. Second, the video quality was compromised by the lack of professional lighting. Reshooting all of the interviews simply wasn’t an option. We were already on a tight schedule and the budget was even tighter.

They say necessity is the mother of invention. In this case, it led to creative thinking and innovation. We decided to shorten the video interviews considerably, and since the audio quality was better than the video quality, we decided to use small snippets of video, then continue the audio with still shots and animated B-roll.

Nearly a dozen people[1] came together to finish the project. We published Meet the Johns Hopkins University Press in April and made it available free of charge in the iTunes store. We’ve been using it to introduce the Press to university stakeholders, prospective clients, funders, and authors, and the reaction to it has been overwhelmingly positive.

Lessons Learned

Meet the Johns Hopkins University Press helped us achieve our primary goal: becoming proficient in iBooks Author in advance of our first commercial project, Living with Itch, which will be published in August (more on that project in a future column). But the beta project bestowed some additional benefits that we found instructive.

First, we gained confidence in our ability to master new ways of publishing. When faced with a challenge like publishing in iBooks Author, it can be easy to assume that we aren’t big enough to handle it, that such opportunity is better left to trade houses and large commercial publishers. That simply isn’t the case.  University presses are staffed by smart, adaptable professionals who master new challenges every day. Why worry that we can’t when we demonstrate day after day that we can?

Second, the project forced us to share information across divisions, a process that has been encouraged via our Press-wide strategic messaging efforts. Not only is it interesting to learn more about the work of our colleagues, but this kind of information sharing helps us leverage our collective strength and identify new responses to industry and market challenges.

Third, we were reminded of the value of professional services. Sure, we can shoot and edit video on the iPad, but it isn’t going to be of the same quality as work from professional videographers. For future book-length projects requiring video, we’ll ask the author to deliver high-quality video or we’ll hire a pro.

See for Yourself

Meet the JHU Press screenshot

A stop on JHU Press’s digital journey.

Meet the Johns Hopkins University Press incorporates the multi-touch functionality of iBooks Author, with text, three-dimensional graphics, interactive maps, video, audio, and a self-grading quiz. If you’d like to see it for yourself, go to the iTunes store and download a free copy. We’d love to get your feedback. Feel free to email Claire McCabe Tamberino with your comments and questions at cmt@press.jhu.edu. And watch this space for a future column on Living with Itch: A Patient’s Guide and an update on how we’ve used Meet the Press in our strategic communications.


[1]Bill Breichner, Davida Breier, Greg Britton, Glen Burris, Michael Carroll, Jack Holmes, Kathleen Keane, Mary Lou Kenney, Dean Smith, Claire McCabe Tamberino

Excerpted from Peter Givler’s Farewell Address

Peter Givler retired in June 2013, after 15 years as Executive Director of the Association of American University Presses. His farewell address was the keynote of our 2013 Annual Meeting, one that touched the deep personal, intellectual, and humane commitments that tie our individual selves to our “accidental profession.” Read the whole thing.

Back in 1970, in the Dark Ages before the internet, when I got my first publishing job, people spoke of publishing as “the accidental profession.” They meant they believed it was a profession, just not one people were trained for, like dentistry, or veterinary medicine. Publishing was something you just fell into, somehow, and then, if it really was for you, it became a vocation.

Publishing as the accidental profession had another, and contradictory, implication as well. That most of us had just fallen into it also meant that that the only was to learn it was to do it. The only credential needed for an entry-level job in publishing was a bachelor’s degree. It wasn’t supposed to matter what the degree was in, but in fact a high percentage of us had been English or History majors. In other words we had read a lot and were reasonably literate. Our bosses, who had read even more and were, for the most part, even more literate, assumed that we had all the basic equipment they could ask for, and that, presumably, we could learn everything else we needed to know the same way they did: by just doing it.

I’m oversimplifying here, but only a little. Manuscript editing, then as now, was a technical skill unique to publishing, a body of principles and conventions that could be learned, and therefore taught, more or less systematically, from texts like The Elements of Style and The Chicago Manual. In New York, NYU ran a Publishing Institute whose evening courses trained generations of editors in the basics of their profession.

People whose interests were broader than editing could also take courses in management accounting, or copyright, or contract law. But the purpose of these courses wasn’t to train us as lawyers, or accountants; it was to give us enough basic knowledge to know when it was a good idea to consult our accountants and lawyers, and what questions to ask them.

Because it was assumed that publishers were entrepreneurs: talent-spotters, risk-takers, enterprise managers; people with broad interests who weren’t themselves necessarily expert in anything, but who had a certain talent for seeing a new opportunity in an author or manuscript, and for harnessing the expertise of others to realize it. This, I cheerfully admit, is a romantic conception of what it is to be a publisher. It also contradicts the idea of publishing as a profession, whether accidental or deliberate. It’s the publisher as anti-professional, the publisher as amateur, the person who does it for love.

You describe what you do as mission-based publishing, which it is, but for me, that formulation is too abstract. You are the beating heart of that mission. It only exists to the extent that you believe in it, and that your actions are guided by it.

Read the full address.

Writing in the Sunday New York Times, Jennifer Schuessler (“In History Departments, It’s Up With Capitalism”) examines the focus on the history of capitalism by a new generation of scholars. The support of university presses has been key to the new discipline’s development, as editors see innovative scholarship and exciting new topics in recent dissertations. (This is no surprise to AAUP: the work of university press editors has often been foundational to emerging disciplines, such as African-American studies, postmodernism, queer studies…the list goes on.)debtor-nation

Schuessler features a number of UP books and series, including:

And there are, of course, more such titles from these and other university presses that are helping to shape the new history of capitalism.

The study of the history of capitalism is deeply intertwined with other topics in historical scholarship, and readers will find much that is relevant in several AAUP Books for Understanding resources, including book lists on Financial Crises, Economic Inequality and Justice, Slavery and Jim Crow, and the social safety net.

November 11-17 marks University Press Week 2012! All week long, presses around the Web will be hosting special posts as part of a UP Week Blog Tour. The Digital Digest will be following the tour with a daily round up.

MONDAY | TUESDAY | WEDNESDAY

The University of Chicago Press: “Scott Esposito on Wayne Booth”
To read literary critic and editor, Quarterly Conversation, Scott Esposito’s persuasive case for the enduring importance of Wayne Booth’s Modernist Dogma and the Rhetoric of Assent is to know that it is the power of the ideas we publish that is  “why university presses matter.”

The University of Minnesota Press: “What Was a University Press?”
Read excerpts from Press Director Doug Armato’s recent plenary talk at the Charleston Conference, by all accounts a stimulating exchange of ideas between Doug, California Press Director Alison Mudditt, and the conference’s overflowing audience of librarians and publishers.

The University of Illinois Press: “Write for the World”
Musician and writer Stephen Wade (author of Illinois’ Fine Print* selection, The Beautiful Music All Around Us) riffs on the words of former UI Press Editor Judith McCulloh and celebrates university presses’ “commitment to humane scholarship” as embodied in such storied projects as the Music in American Life series.

The University of Nebraska Press: “Why University Presses Matter”
UNP’s Bison Books Manager Tom Swanson looks at how the Bison Books imprint embodies the regional commitments of university presses and how presses such as Nebraska give us “a voice for our place.”

Syracuse University Press: “Why University Presses Matter”
Laurence Hauptman (SUNY Distinguished Professor Emeritus of History, SUNY New Paltz, and scholar of Native American, New York, and Civil War History) explains what university press editors and staff meant to his development as a scholar and author, and to the development of essential fields of research in Northeastern Native American history.

Thursday’s leg of the tour begins at Princeton University Press.

November 11-17 marks University Press Week 2012! All week long, presses around the Web will be hosting special posts as part of a UP Week Blog Tour. The Digital Digest will be following the tour with a daily round up.

MONDAY | TUESDAY

The MIT Press: “Thoughts for the Day After University Press Week”
MIT Editorial Director Gita Manaktala surveys some of the major shifts in scholarly publishing, from a university press at the leading edge of many of those transitions.

The University of California Press: “Why University Presses Matter”
Rachel Lee (UC Press Library Relations Manager) looks at why university presses should matter to librarians: as a “partner engaged in work that sustains academic research.”

The University of Hawaii Press: “Why University Presses Matter”
Barbara Watson Andaya (Professor of Asian Studies, University of Hawaii; Editorial Board Member, UH Press) examines the importance of university presses for smaller disciplines and developing fields of knowledge. The UH Press editorial commitment to Southeast Asian Studies, publishing both within the English-speaking world and reaching out to the local region, is a snapshot of the “global university press.”

Wilfrid Laurier University Press: “University Press Week Feature: R. Bruce Elder”
Film scholar Elder (whose latest book Harmony & Dissent is WLUP’s Fine Print* selection) discusses the urgent need for a humanistic study of technology; and holds up the university press monograph as the form best suited to support this kind of sustained intellectual endeavor.

The University Press of Florida: “Hands-on Education”
Three UPF interns—Claire Eder, Samantha Pryor, and Alia Almeida—reflect on what they brought to and what they’ve learned from their work at the Press. From falling for a book as its marketing campaign is developed, to seeking and finding greater challenges and strong mentorship, to the delights of “Death, Deformity, Disembowelment, [and] Dismemberment”, the day-to-day work of university presses is revealed through fresh eyes.

Wednesday’s leg of the tour begins at The Chicago Blog.

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