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Penrose Library Blog

International Open Access Week 2018

October 22-28, 2018 celebrates International Open Access Week!  Open Access Week highlights the potential benefits of Open Access (OA) to make scholarly research available in digital forms online, free of charge and free of many copyright and licensing restrictions.  This year’s Open Access Week theme is “Designing Equitable Foundations for Open Knowledge” emphasizing the importance of open systems being inclusive and equitable as OA becomes more prevalent to share research.

Dalia Corkrum, Library Director, shares news about Lever Press, an open access monograph publishing imprint, supported primarily by the Oberlin Group of Academic Libraries.

Lever Press : A Game Changer Facilitated by Liberal Arts College Libraries

 “Give me a place to stand with a lever,” said Archimedes, “and I can move the whole world.”

Several years ago, a group of liberal arts college library directors, despairing over the crisis in academic publishing, wringing their hands over failed efforts to reform the system, and kvetching about the millions of dollars they dispatch annually to the coffers of presses whose practices they oppose, decided to repurpose some funds and create the lever they lacked.

The result: The Lever Press was launched in 2016.  Whitman College through Penrose Library was one of the founding members.

Fifty-four liberal arts college libraries, most of whom are members of the Oberlin Group of Libraries, spent two years studying the problems associated with current models of scholarly publishing, identifying alternatives, surveying faculty regarding their publishing needs and finding publishing partners who align with our vision.  We made a financial commitment to pledge ½ of 1% of our acquisitions budgets for five years in order to develop a digitally native press that places transformational scholarship at its core. Our member institutions focus on, and are renowned for, excellence in teaching and scholarship. We expect no less from our press.

For members of the Oberlin Group and a few other selected institutions to embark on launching a press was no easy task.  Few of us had previous experience with academic publishing and no one had excess funds to devote to the project. It was our deep understanding of the flawed publishing system and our commitment to equity of access to scholarship that propelled this project.  We currently fund the press and elect representatives to govern it. The Amherst College Press runs the editorial side of the operation, and Michigan Publishing runs the production side. But the Oversight Committee, which sets policy, consists of library directors. The Editorial Board consists of established scholars with tenured appointments at supporting institutions.  

How is Lever Press different from other Open Access initiatives?  The founding members of Lever Press made a commitment to totally funding the press – there are no submission fees, no download fees, no access fees – no fees of any kind.  Only print-on-demand services involve a monetary exchange.

The liberal arts ethos and the conviction that the liberal arts remain relevant to all people undergirds the Lever Press’s open-access commitment. All works published by the Lever Press are freely available to readers online, immediately upon publication. I think it bears repeating that the Lever Press goes one step further: unlike most open-access presses, the Lever Press charges neither readers nor authors.  All the costs of acquiring, editing, developing, and producing work are borne collectively by supporting institutions—not by individual authors or granting agencies. The Lever Press will never charge an author or her institution for publishing with Lever. Platinum open access means the Lever Press considers works solely with regard to that work’s scholarly merit; because Lever covers the costs of producing the work it acquires, it selects work only because it has deemed that work worthy of its investment.

The Lever Press aims for rigor in all matters. Although it rejects traditional practices that limit access to scholarship (pay walls, subscriptions, author fees and subventions), it embraces traditional practices (practices fading at some traditional presses) that mark good publishing: active recruitment of good scholars, the commissioning of new work, vigorous and transparent peer review, developmental editing, stringent copy editing, and professional production. Our first publication, reflecting all these commitments is Robin Truth Goodman’s Promissory Notes: On the Literary Conditions of Debt, was just published on October 17th.  In addition to citation and access information, each title receives clear indication of the level of peer review received.

Lever Press’s editors explore intellectual connections across academic disciplines and divisions, champion works whose methods and modalities reach beyond the standard 100,000-word monograph, and inspire the close collaborations between faculty and undergraduate students to develop path-breaking ideas communicated with clarity and creativity into publications that “teach what they know.”

The Lever Press offers a case study in how a group of librarians can seize the initiative and make the changes they wish to see in an industry—in this case, the scholarly monograph publishing industry—changes that have a big impact on our work as librarians and on the communities we serve. The Press devotes itself to producing the highest quality scholarship in an economically sustainable model, embodying and reflecting the values of the liberal arts, and leading the way in establishing best practices for born-digital, peer reviewed, open access monograph publishing. It embraces diverse voices and viewpoints, it hews to the principles of equity and social justice, and it predicates its work on collective decision-making, working with communities of its members and beyond.