Library Publishing Forum 2016

Emily Stenberg, Digital Publishing and Preservation Librarian, and I attended the Library Publishing Forum 2016, the annual conference for the Library Publishing Consortium, in May. This group formed in response to increasing numbers of academic libraries that have become involved with digital publishing over the last several years. The LPC does many things to support these activities during the year, but the Forum provides the opportunity to exchange ideas and enter into conversations in person—even in the digital age in which we are all fully engaged, something that is invaluable.

This year, Washington University in St. Louis was especially engaged in this exchange and focused on concerns around publishing undergraduate research. We brought this discussion to the forum in two ways: in a panel presentation and in a discussion section.

Emily Stenberg organized and led a panel on, “Publishing Undergraduate Scholarship: Should You Be Afraid?” featuring herself and two co-panelists: Jeffrey Rubin from Tulane University and Allegra Swift from the Claremont Colleges. (A third planned panelist, Kelly Riddle, from the University of San Diego, was unable to attend the conference.) ( The idea for the panel was prompted both from incidents where undergraduates exposed research before formal publication, and the Libraries’ efforts not only to address the issue for faculty, but to do so while still promoting the publication of undergraduate research and addressing the factors that led to the exposure of the data. The measures we took to help assure data is not inadvertently exposed in the future were appreciated, but additional efforts to address contributing causes have yet to gain traction. We see the underlying cause for this unintended exposure being primarily a lack of understanding on the part of students both of their roles in research (as a part of research teams, especially in labs) and more particularly, a lack of understanding about publication as part of the research cycle. We see publication and scholarly communication as an inherent and integral part of research, and believe some education on publication—and especially given the significant changes in publishing opened up by the web—would be a valuable piece to undergraduate research. To that end, Emily Stenberg, Micah Zeller (Copyright Librarian) and Ruth Lewis (Scholarly Communications Librarian) developed a short course (1.5-2 hour) to introduce undergraduates to these issues, which could be presented in and adapted to a number of contexts. We have made contact with both undergraduate-run and administrative groups and are still in the process of finding the context for it.

The panel presentation was in the main hall of the conference and was both well-attended and followed by many questions. The consensus on the question of undergraduate research was that its publication posed unique problems but also represented unique opportunities. Allegra Swift noted in her presentation that one student had received a job offer based on the work she had submitted to the repository. Swift in particular underscored the point that students’ work in the repository should be seen in the context of an individual’s digital footprint. With few exceptions, it is not a question of whether or not one will leave a digital footprint, but what that footprint will consist of: it could include Facebook posts potential employers might view unfavorably, or a thesis in an institutional repository that demonstrates the individual’s research and analysis skills. This is a valuable perspective on what undergraduate publishing in university repositories can do for students and places research publication in a broader context—the question is not only one of whether or not to expose a given work on the internet, but what how that work can reflect on the student. In most cases, it constitutes a unique opportunity for the student to cast him or herself in a positive light. This is a perspective we will bring back to Washington University.

The panel was followed up by a “Birds of a Feather” discussion section led by Emily Stenberg and myself the following day titled, “Negotiating Prospects and Perils of Publishing Undergraduate Research.” We noted in submitting both proposals that panel presentation and discussion section were intended to complement each other, especially to allow for further discussion of questions raised at the panel presentation. There were 17 people present for the discussions—a very good number for a discussion section and for a relatively small conference. The group divided into two and both discussed issues from a prepared list of six questions—but questions were not needed to move discussion along. Everyone who attended participated and was engaged and the discussion covered a wide range of perspectives and institutions, and raised many important considerations on the specific questions raised arising from the subject of undergraduate publishing.

Washington University had an impact at the LPC Forum, and the information and perspectives we take away will have significant impact on our ongoing library publishing activities.

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