Wednesday, December 5, 2012

AMHERST, Mass.—Amherst College is launching a new digital publishing venture that will offer peer-reviewed books written by leading scholars in the humanities and the social sciences that are then carefully edited and made available for free online.

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Conceived by Amherst College Librarian Bryn Geffert, Amherst College Press will be housed in the college’s Frost Library and will solicit manuscripts from scholars who may be especially receptive to new publishing paradigms at a time when traditional academic presses are reducing the number of titles they publish.

“We will be the first university or college press to publish books solely under an open-access model,” said Geffert. “Although several university presses publish a few books each year under such a model, I do not know of another university press in the United States doing all books, all open-access.”

Geffert observed that the endeavor exemplifies the college’s motto, Terras Irradient, a Latin phrase that means “Let them give light to the world.”

Amherst College

“We take this ‘light to the world’ motto seriously, and we’re determined to provide academic knowledge to everybody, everywhere, free of charge, with no restrictions,” he said. “Current models of scholarly publishing do far more to lock down information than to disseminate it to those who need it. We aim to change that.”

The project has the strong support of the college’s president, Biddy Martin, who serves on an American Academy of Arts and Sciences commission that encourages research in the humanities and social sciences.

“There are not as many online venues for high-quality writing and scholarship in the humanities as there are in the sciences,” Martin said. “Our open-access press will place Amherst at the forefront of a movement that we hope will be embraced by leading scholars in the humanities.”

Additional incentives for scholars to participate in this model will be much wider readership, a rigorous peer-review process and a level of editorial collaboration not typically available in traditional academic publishing houses.

“We want an editing process that works closely with authors to provide not just copy editing but real content editing,” Geffert said. “I trust that a hallmark of this press will be good, interesting prose.”

At the outset, Amherst College Press will publish solely in liberal arts disciplines such as political science, literary studies, history, economics and anthropology—areas for which Amherst is well known. The press will produce books in formats that will be suitable for most e-readers; print-on-demand may be available. The press will not focus on print production or distribution.

Plans are in place to hire a director and two editors to staff the press.

Funding for the press will come from the Frost Library and from an endowed position for which the college is currently raising money. The college also expects that the content of the Amherst College-affiliated literary magazine The Common will be freely available online under the open-access model governing the press, while The Common will continue to use its own resources to produce the publication’s print version.

An academic librarian who headed the library of the U.S. Military Academy at West Point  before joining Amherst in 2010, Geffert said the new press represents his attempt to conceive of a more equitable and sustainable model of academic publishing. He first publicly outlined his proposal for a model like this in two essays: one published in the The Chronicle of Higher Education titled “Libraries, Publishers, and a Plea for Shotgun Weddings” (March 20, 2011) and another published in Inside Higher Ed titled, tongue firmly in cheek, “How to Succeed in Publishing Without Really Trying” (Aug. 24, 2012).

“It’s time for libraries to begin producing for themselves what they can no longer afford to purchase and what they can no longer count on university presses to produce,” he said.

Several academic presses, including those at the University of Michigan and Penn State, have started doing just that, joining forces with their libraries to produce a limited number of digital, open-access titles. With time, Geffert hopes more colleges and universities will empower their libraries to adopt the open-access model that Amherst College Press is pioneering.

“We look forward to a tipping point,” he said. “The hope is not only to make academic literature universally available but to create a model which saves libraries and our institutions significant amounts of money.”


About Amherst College

Founded in 1821, Amherst is a highly selective, coeducational liberal arts college with 1,800 students from most of the 50 states and more than 30 other countries. Considered one of the nation’s best educational institutions, Amherst awards the B.A. degree in 37 fields of study.

High-resolution images: Photo of Bryn Geffert, Amherst College Press logo

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