Imagine that Amherst College, through its library, became a leader in transforming academic publishing. Imagine that the library resolved no longer to limit itself to collecting knowledge, but to producing knowledge as well, to creating and running a press committed to the free, electronic distribution of high-quality literature and scholarship.
But first pause and reflect on the pages and pages of scholarship that Amherst funds and Amherst faculty produce every year, and the reams and reams of scholarship that other academic institutions and their faculty fund and produce. Now think about what happens to this scholarship: having spent millions to support research, we at Amherst and our peers at other institutions give it away—without compensation—to commercial presses, which in turn sell it back to us through our libraries. Ponder this surreal model: the millions we spend to produce scholarship, and the millions we then spend to buy it back. Consider, too, the millions of people in the United States and the billions around the world who, despite these expenditures, still have no access to this scholarship, i.e. no access to the fruits of research and artistic work meant to serve the common good.
Now imagine that Amherst did something inspiring and visionary. Imagine that we acted from both altruism and ambition, emboldened in part by the merger of libraries and presses at a few major research institutions to produce “open-access scholarship,” i.e., electronic publications freely available to all, without regard to location, affluence, or affiliation. Imagine that Amherst became the first liberal arts college producing publications rivaling those of the top academic presses—publications solicited from scholars around the world and subject to the same level of peer review, editing, design, and preservation. But imagine one, big difference: Amherst did so in accordance with its motto, Terras Irradient, by making these publications available not just to scholars camped in the shadows of academic libraries, but to anybody with an Internet connection, anywhere and anytime.
Now imagine the good this press would do for Amherst College: promoting the institution to prospective students, generating gratitude among those less fortunate, cultivating pride in our alumni, fortifying in powerful ways Amherst’s claim to be not merely a college but a “research college,” and signaling to the public at large that Amherst is committed to the common good.
A donor could either (a) fund the entire press with a major endowment; or (b) fund the director through an endowed position, with the library contributing two full-time positions to the endeavor. The result in either case: a three-person staff consisting of a director and two editors, plus funds for ancillary expenses such as design work, software, and servers.