From the Desk of Tom Helleberg: The Charleston Conference

2016_charleston-conferenceThe first week of November, I was fortunate enough to travel across the southeast visiting with printers in Tennessee and representing the University of Washington Press at the 36th annual Charleston Conference in South Carolina.

The Charleston Conference is billed as an “informal gathering of librarians, publishers, consultants, and vendors to discuss issues of importance to them all.” While the conference may have humble origins, with a scant twenty participants in early meetings, 2016 featured over 1,600 attendees spread across a dozen hotels and venues with a program as thick as a phone book and as many as twenty concurrent sessions at any given time. This was a big to-do, even in comparison to the annual meeting of the Association of American University Presses.

Since 2014, there has been an increasing publisher presence at Charleston, with many attendees from the AAUP as well as academic publishers. This has been driven by publisher-focused pre-sessions; by an increase in publisher panels and presentations (such as the “What’s the Big Idea” talk by the directors of Michigan, Mississippi, and National Academies); and by the growing realization that university presses and libraries not only share a mission, but are often approaching the same challenges from different directions.

I attended the meeting to talk about some of these shared challenges with Michael Zeoli of YBP Library Services and Bryn Geffert, Librarian of the College at Amherst College. Michael and I looked at some of the trends in scholarly publishing, in particular focusing on how Demand-Driven Access and Short-Term Lending (models ostensibly designed to allow libraries to acquire more books on tighter budgets) have resulted in gaps in library collections and made it increasingly difficult for presses to support the production of scholarship on declining sales alone. For his part, Bryn injected some optimism by discussing how the new, fully open access press at Amherst College is a reaction to these unsustainable trends. Funded in part by the college and in part by the Lever Initiative, Amherst College Press represents a fearless leap into open access publishing in which the library recognizes that there is a good deal of cost and effort involved in transforming a manuscript into a book and decides to fund production of scholarship instead of paying to consume it.

In addition to our panel, there were a number of other university press sessions, including a discussion of the new AAUP Handbook on Best Practices for Peer Review and a review of the ongoing Mellon/Ithaka/AAUP studies on the costs of scholarly communication.

All in all, it was a great opportunity to catch up with old acquaintances and to meet a lot of new people who I might not have thought of as colleagues, but who are certainly fighting the same fight.