plenary 4—press, parent, library

Plenary 4: press, parent, library fit tightly within the context of plenary 3, on the crisis in the humanities, as if to say: we’re all in this thing together. Earlier in the meeting, we were selling to libraries; here we were reminded of how we also live alongside them within the larger university community—invited to consider the overlaps, inter-dependence, and inherent benefits.

Ann J. Wolpert, Director of Libraries, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, gave us a candid view of life from within the university budget—as a fully-subsidized unit. What the university calls a cost center. A unique position among our subject trio; presses and parent institutions have considerable recourse to extramural funding and multiple revenue streams. Amid fiscal pressures on us all, libraries are often caught in the resulting crossfire: “spend less!” and “buy more!”

Hence, their pleas to us: "We’d like to buy more …with less" began to make sense. One fact clearly delivered: the budgets of old that allowed for nigh-limitless book buying from their favorite u presses were long gone, never to return. A not unfair takeaway: We will have to fish new waters, in addition to these, to reach sales figures of old.

Wolpert pointed out that in the campus ecosystem, “faculty endure.” They were doing the best they could to integrate themselves in the faculty’s research life cycles in support of the greater mission of the parent institution and advised u press to do the same.

Daniel Greenstein, (Vice Provost, Academic Planning, Programs, and Coordination at University of California, Office of the President) spoke to the financial pressures on universities today as well, reinforcing much of what Wolpert said. He closed, however, with a hopeful vision for the future, wherein universities might successfully safeguard the health and vitality of their presses by drawing them within the scope of their overall brand; i.e., the university press would be seen not as complementing the parent’s brand—as we so clearly do and in so many ways—but rather as completing it.

Discussing ways in which we three (press, parent, library) could improve our collective self-awareness, as a single, strategically-cohesive community, plenary 4 seemed a natural outgrowth of MaryKatherine Callaway’s speech at lunchtime—wherein Callaway noted we u presses have been “keeping our heads down” too long within our respective communities, and dovetailed with the breakout session to follow, Presses Under Pressure: Best Governance Practices for University Presses, wherein directors added to their collective toolkits for working effectively with their boards, public relations experts, independent advisors, and campus administrations to improve outcomes and options for their presses.

The gestalt of the afternoon: optimism leading into the meeting carried forth into plans for action.