AAUP 2010: A State of ‘Perpetual Transition’

Salt Lake City — In a lively lunchtime talk only briefly interrupted by a fire drill, Richard Brown, the new president of the Association of American University Presses, made it clear from the outset that he had no time for talk of crisis in scholarly publishing.

“It’s not crisis,” said Brown, director of Georgetown University Press. “It’s perpetual transition. That’s what we’re in, and we’ll be in it for the rest of our lives.”

After getting the audience laughing with references to “Cleveland, a misunderstood city,” and tales of how he was once talked into going to the beach instead of to an AAUP meeting, Brown got serious. He called scholarly publishing a moral and ethical enterprise and urged his listeners to think hard about what sorts of organizations their presses should be. That, he said, involved looking hard at their economic, social, and cultural orientations.

First, he said, there’s the economic orientation to consider. Presses need to be open to getting revenue from a mix of sources. They need to sort out where they stand on copyright issues. And they need to be clear with administrators about what open access costs.

“There is no free in free access,” Brown said, echoing a note heard elsewhere at the meeting. “This is a message we need to convey to our institutions with missionary zeal.” If universities value open access, he suggested, they should help pay for it.

Then he turned to presses’ social orientation—their relationships with other members of academe. For instance, it’s time to “recognize librarians as a kindred community” with similar problems, Brown said. “Our fates are linked.” He emphasized that building good relationships with librarians will be a priority during his presidential year. The association’s Library Relations Committee has been resurrected and will be led by Patrick H. Alexander, director of Penn State University Press.

The third orientation Brown wanted his audience to think about was their own workplace culture. Presses must constantly reassess and reorganize what they do and how they do it and how effectively they’re working with their institutions, he said. He added that the association ought to think about whether it should add new categories of members as well.

The association’s new president ended on what he called “an orientation of hope.” University presses will encounter “bumps, lurches, setbacks, maybe an occasional crisis, yes,” Brown said. But he remains convinced “that what we do matters,” now more than ever, and that it is still possible for university presses to flourish.—Jennifer Howard

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