A collaboration of college libraries across the country, including Bowdoin, are starting up a new publishing outfit that aims to shake up the world of academic publishing.
By making its titles available for free on the Internet, the new Lever Press will fulfill the library group’s objective of widening access to new scholarly books and offering an alternative publishing venue, particularly for scholars who teach at liberal arts colleges.
Lever Press is an outgrowth of the Oberlin Group, a consortium of 80 libraries of liberal arts colleges. Nearly half of the members have teamed up with Amherst College Press and Michigan Publishing to establish the new open-access, peer-reviewed publishing venture. Lever will initially focus on books in the social sciences, the humanities and the arts.
Lever’s being an open-access press means that its published works can be read for free online, downloaded as a pdf, or printed on demand (for an additional cost). Unlike many publishers, Lever Press will charge authors no fees to make books open access.
Interim Dean for Academic Affairs Jen Scanlon said she finds the start-up exciting. “I’m grateful to Marjorie and to the faculty and staff on the library committee who have explored options for open-access publishing,” she wrote in an email. “The Lever initiative provides us the opportunity to join many of our peer institutions — and others — in a collective experiment with innovative approaches to academic publishing and its ever-escalating costs.”
Librarians have for years been frustrated by the steep cost of information, according to Marjorie Hassen, director of the Bowdoin College Library. Lever, by taking advantage of digital publishing platforms, has the potential to increase access to scholarship at the same time as increasing the value and impact of library collection expenditures, she explained.
A recent survey of faculty members undertaken by the Oberlin Group found that scholars supported the idea of an open-access publisher that could handle more experimental works or books containing digital or multimedia content, and disseminate this work via the Internet. According to the survey, faculty said they felt disenfranchised by publishers that focus on more traditional works and which charge processing fees for open-access privileges.
As a new venture, Lever Press does face the challenge of gaining traction among scholars, who feel pressured to publish with established, well-respected publishers. To help attract authors, the press will gather an editorial board of distinguished faculty from top-ranked liberal arts colleges. The Press will be run by an oversight board made up of staff from participating libraries. “It is an experiment,” Hassen said. “It is pushing the envelope a bit.”
The partnership with Amherst College Press, which began as an open-access venture in 2014, and Michigan Publishing, which is part of the University of Michigan, “is viewed as a way to combine the weight of an established, well-respected press with a new liberal arts college press,” Hassen noted. Amherst will solicit contributions and take the lead on the editorial side of the business, while Michigan will move publications through the production process and provide the platforms for digital publishing.
All the costs of acquiring, editing, developing, and producing the work will be borne collectively by the supporting institutions. So far, nearly half of the Oberlin Group’s 80 members and two nonmembers, Allegheny College and Ursinus College, have committed to support the press with more than $1 million. The goal is to publish 10 books by the end of the second year and 60 new titles by 2020. “Specific projects will be selected as ‘digital innovation titles,’” which could incorporate multimedia and data, Hassen said.