Publishing as Pedagogy: Connecting Library Services and Technology

Key Takeaways

  • Libraries increasingly offer the technological capacity and staff expertise to support student publishing, but this activity tends to happen in isolation from other library activities.
  • Harnessing publishing as a pedagogical tool improves student learning outcomes through high-impact learning practices: extensive writing, teamwork, service learning, undergraduate research, and experiential learning.
  • Partnering with students to achieve their publishing ambitions clarifies the requirements that the next generation of digital scholars may have for library technology infrastructure designed for preservation and access.
  • The University of Michigan Library connects scholarly communication and instruction by focusing on publishing as pedagogy, as illustrated in three case studies.

The provision of publishing services — a relatively new area of library engagement — arises from an increased focus on faculty needs as authors and users of scholarly information. It also provides opportunities to leverage the technological infrastructure of the institutional repository. The Library Publishing Coalition, created in 2014, includes 115 library publishing programs in its latest directory. Subject specialists and informationists find that they achieve enriched interactions with faculty when they can connect them with publishing innovations. Organizationally, a connection often exists between the provision of data services and publishing support, with both pursued in the context of library scholarly communication or research programs. However, the synergy between publishing and the information literacy/instruction side of the library's programs has been less well explored.

Using examples from the University of Michigan Library, we see rich opportunities for librarians engaged in instruction to collaborate with their publishing services colleagues. Using the term "publishing as pedagogy" intentionally shifts the emphasis from the products librarians engaged in publishing services create (journals, books, exhibits, etc.) to the processes by which they create them. The production of a publication provides a nexus for a number of high-impact educational practices. As well as involving intensive writing and collaboration, creating a public output encourages students to do their best work. Communicating outcomes to a wider audience requires them to reflect on their own learning experiences. When students engage in undergraduate research, service learning projects, or the creation of capstone theses, a final publication also provides a tangible record of achievement — valuable for graduate school and employment applications.

In the following three case studies we profile three student publishing outputs (a journal, a book, and an exhibit) from the University of Michigan Library. Beyond describing the products themselves, we identify the opportunities that the librarians involved found to emphasize particular learning experiences during the creation process. The act of publishing is a means to an end rather than an end in itself. In describing the case studies, we also identify the technologies we used in these various publishing activities, the functionality gaps we experienced, and plans for future infrastructure investments.

The Michigan Journal of Medicine

During the 2015–2016 academic year, the University of Michigan Medical School and Michigan Publishing, a division of the University of Michigan Library, collaborated to produce and publish the Michigan Journal of Medicine. The student senior editors (all fourth-year medical students) enrolled in a yearlong credit-based course through which they gained experience with all aspects of medical publishing, from contracts and copyright to peer review. Parallel to their coursework, the editors recruited, reviewed, and accepted submissions for the first issue of the journal. Michigan Publishing worked with the students throughout the year to plan and execute the first issue, and then hosted the open-access online journal (figure 1); they also produced a print issue for distribution within the medical school.

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Figure 1. Online posting of the Michigan Journal of Medicine

The online version of the journal is hosted on the DLXS platform, which was built internally at Michigan over 15 years ago to support digital library resources. Now heavily customized, the system works well for staff at Michigan Publishing and provides a clean and accessible user experience. It lacks some crucial functionality provided by platforms such as Open Journal Systems and Digital Commons, most notably the ability to manage manuscripts through the process of submission, review, and editorial selection. We filled this gap through a subscription to Submission Manager from Submittable, which provides a user-friendly experience for both authors and editors. With support from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation we are working to design a new publishing platform based on the Hydra/Fedora framework that will allow us to more seamlessly connect applications built for particular functions.

While the Medical Editing course was firmly run from within the medical school, and the production and hosting of the journal were managed by the library, we worked closely together to ensure the best possible outcomes. Some concrete examples include:

  • Medical school faculty, librarians, and Health Systems Publishing staff met several times to plan the scope and needs of the project.
  • Medical school staff consulted with librarians in developing the syllabus in order to ensure that topics were presented in an order that would mesh with activities editors would need to undertake for the journal (e.g., putting a discussion of author guidelines early in the semester so that a call for papers could be publicized).
  • The lead librarian met with the student editor-in-chief to set a schedule for the year to ensure that a print issue would be ready to distribute at graduation.
  • Upon invitation, the lead librarian attended and co-led some class sessions.
  • Medical school faculty made orientation/training sessions with librarians a mandatory aspect of the curriculum, to ensure that students became familiar with all necessary technology, schedules, and plans.
  • Librarians and medical school staff highlighted the course and journal at a local health professionals education showcase.

Although the journal is at an early stage, we observed the following impacts:

  • The course creates an opportunity for the medical school faculty to experiment with their new, revamped curriculum, which deliberately creates more space for electives for medical students.
  • The journal creates a venue for medical students (including those not enrolled in the course) to have their research peer-reviewed and published. Medical students enrolled in the course gain hands-on experience with the scholarly communications lifecycle, better preparing them to effectively publish in, review for, and potentially even edit a medical journal in the future.
  • Through this collaboration, the library is developing a replicable model for how to work closely with a school, college, or department to establish a sustainable student journal that positively contributes to the professionalization of its student authors and editors.
  • Finally, the journal is another beneficial way to build active relationships and goodwill between the medical school and the library around new types of partnership.

The Cafe Shapiro Anthology

One successful ongoing library/student/faculty partnership is a program called Cafe Shapiro, which takes place every year in the Shapiro Library at the University of Michigan. The library invites faculty to nominate students with exceptional creative writing skills in either poetry or short story writing, and those students are invited to read at the annual event. Cafe Shapiro takes place in a public space in the library, and the library offers free coffee or tea to those who participate in the event or those who stop by to listen to the readings (figure 2).

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Figure 2. Student reading at Cafe Shapiro event

Cafe Shapiro started in 1997 as a partnership with a creative writing course. Over the past 18 years it has grown to a partnership with more than 30 faculty from several departments. In total, 332 students have participated in both the public reading event and an anthology (a printed collection of students' work).

The multi-step process through which students participate in this annual event takes them through the various experiences that a professional writer might experience. Students face the challenge and uncertainty of reading to a public audience outside of classroom space; we watch them work through the process of engaging with an audience, using a microphone, projecting their voices, and waiting for applause. Increasingly, we have seen students incorporate media into their live readings; we provide support as they develop those capabilities through media consultations provided by our learning technologists. We observe the students learning from each other through the course of an evening. At the event, the students also receive a contributor's agreement to sign in order to be published in the anthology. Some students sign without question, while others read the document carefully and ask questions about what signing the document means. They often ask, can they still publish in other places? Some students struggle with getting works to us on time, or they want to make changes to a version turned in before the reading and send us edits. Over time we have also started to ask for a headshot and biography, with a deadline for those materials.

The agreement that students must sign for inclusion of their work in the anthology has three clauses: a grant of both print and digital publishing rights, a warranty that the contribution is original and nondefamatory, and a deadline (within 10 days) for return of the manuscript proofs once it has been edited by the librarians coordinating this program. The document, although simple, mirrors publishing agreements the students might encounter later in their writing careers. It does not ask that they give copyright to the library for the publication, but rather that the students grant the library a nonexclusive license to publish their work. In reviewing the agreement with the students, this distinction provides an entry point into a conversation about copyright and publishers' business practices that can help the students understand these questions before they encounter a publishing contract on their own. Such a conversation not only advances the library's scholarly communication agenda (emphasizing the importance of retaining author rights) but also provides an example of applied information literacy (encouraging close reading of legal documentation).

Once files are delivered, the first provision allows the library to deposit a PDF of each anthology in its institutional repository, Deep Blue, and make it publicly available for free. The Deep Blue collection includes the last six years of anthologies. Students can point to this online, open-access version of their work as part of their portfolio, resume, or CV. Deep Blue is currently a DSpace repository offering limited functionality, but it does deliver monthly download statistics via e-mail, and we recently added Altmetric buttons that track mentions on the open web of items that have a stable online identifier. As we migrate Deep Blue to the Hydra/Fedora framework, we anticipate adding better support for publishing, including branded collections and richer usage statistics.

Additionally, in 2010 the library began using the Espresso Book Machine (EBM), an all-in-one book printer housed in the Shapiro Undergraduate Library, to print bound copies of each Cafe Shapiro anthology. The EBM can print, trim, and bind a copy of the anthology from a PDF file in about five minutes, including a full-color cover (figure 3). The machine adds another dimension to the Cafe Shapiro program: in addition to reading before an audience, the students leave with a tangible object representing their work. The library has cumulatively printed 215 anthologies since we had this capability in house.

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Figure 3. Printed copies of the anthology

In future years printing will likely be done remotely, since the library will retire the EBM at the end of 2016. Print-on-demand technology has advanced so quickly that a commercial printer can produce a full-color book within a few days at a lower cost and higher quality than the black-and-white version printed on the EBM. While we lose the element of theater that on-site production involves, the machine is poorly adapted to serve a large class or an event like Cafe Shapiro where multiple copies are needed simultaneously.


Learning in Real Life: Stories of Impact Through Engagement

As scholars increasingly use digital technologies during research, the formats in which they publish work are changing. Especially when a work includes a lot of visual imagery, the lines between a book or journal and an exhibit start to blur. Organizing an exhibit of student work offers many of the same pedagogical opportunities as publishing a journal or book would, especially if we capture the end result and preserve it online. The creation of an exhibit requires that students focus on translating their personal experiences into a form that an audience can connect with, and sometimes they have to convey quite technical information in a way that a broader range of visitors/viewers can comprehend. Like writing a journal article or book chapter for publication, the pressure of creating an exhibit for public consumption requires students to clearly understand the work they have done in order to communicate it clearly. Sometimes an exhibit also involves a greater emphasis on teamwork and collaboration than a more traditional publication.

Poster symposia organized as capstones to undergraduate research experiences are perhaps the most common example of using exhibits as pedagogy. A number of libraries attempt to capture some of the outputs through their institutional repositories, but third-party permissions can raise hurdles. Some faculty advisors also hesitate to let student authors make the posters available outside the institution, since posters often report on work-in-progress not yet ready for more formal publication and that might be misinterpreted or scooped. The case study presented here comes from a different exhibit tradition.

In winter 2015, a group of librarians reached out to faculty across the University of Michigan in a call for projects that would be represented in an exhibit entitled, "Learning in Real Life: Stories of Impact Through Engagement." The idea was to showcase the broad spectrum of engaged pedagogy happening in both graduate and undergraduate classes across disciplines. We also wanted to explore and represent the various ways the library had a role in a variety of these projects.

The projects submitted for consideration met our hopes in terms of representation and scope, and an exciting development took shape: Originally we had planned to work directly with faculty to represent these projects in an exhibit, but some of the faculty actually put their students forward as partners in creating the exhibit.

One such student, a senior in Spanish and International Studies named Alison Climes, was nominated by faculty in International Studies to share her work. The exhibit documentation describes her project as follows:

"During summer 2014, Spanish and International Studies major Alison Climes participated in the Design for Global Development Program in Accra and Kumasi, Ghana. She worked with two engineering students to complete a 'design ethnography' in which they immersed themselves in the daily lives of doctors and nurses in two teaching hospitals to better understand maternal health and identify needs that could be addressed through an engineering design project. They chose to focus on designing a device to treat primary postpartum hemorrhages. During the fall, Alison worked with the engineering team to prototype the device and write an accompanying report to share with the hospitals."

Alison herself provided this project information and photos to accompany the exhibition text. The final product was a graphic representation of her work (figure 4).

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Figure 4. Student Alison Clime's final exhibit graphic, in collaboration with Carrie Luke

A senior in U-M's Art and Design program, Hillary Butterworth, was nominated by the faculty member who had taught the class in which she completed the project. The exhibit documentation described her project, entitled "Combating Plant Blindness," as follows:

"The inability to understand the integral role of plants in the earth's ecosystems and their crucial link to our own survival is a result of 'plant blindness.' Art and Design student Hillary Butterworth created an art light installation that could combat 'plant blindness' by enabling plants to communicate with humans in new ways. As a child climbs the trunk of a tree at night time, accelerometers tied to the branches detect movement and tell a micro-controller to illuminate boughs above. The tree lights the easiest climbing path into its upper reaches and only turns off once the child lands safely on the ground."

Hillary also included a video of her installation, which ran continuously on a digital screen in the exhibit space. Towards the end of the exhibition, an additional digital component of the project was added to the library's separate digital exhibit space. This version of the project has lived on in links on the library's website.

Much like the Cafe Shapiro project, students had to work within deadlines outside of a specific course to be included in the exhibit and think carefully about how they wanted to represent their projects visually. Some of the students included in this exhibit were also invited to speak as part of a panel in order to share additional details of their work, in partnership with the faculty with whom they collaborated on their projects. All of this lent weight — or an element of "real life" — to their work in ways that helped them see its significance and the contributions made to their community.

As the examples show, the students participating in the "Learning in Real Life" exhibit had a variety of rich media materials they wanted to share. The library continually experiments with approaches to providing support for either helping students make technology design choices while creating their exhibits or hosting the end products in a stable environment. We have experimented with Omeka for other library exhibits, and the library's focus now also includes Hydra/Fedora as an enterprise-wide solution for which we are building out the requirements for various Hydra heads. We also launched a Design Lab at the heart of the Shapiro Library space to provide an opportunity for more engagement with student creators and for us to more fully understand their infrastructural needs for multimodal publications such as exhibits. We want to build partnership capacity at the intersection of engaged learning and digital scholarship.

Lessons Learned

Connecting "publishing" with "pedagogy" not only encourages collaboration among staff across divisions of the University of Michigan Library but also gives us a new frame within which we can offer value to students and faculty as they pursue engaged and experiential learning. Based on the early experiments, we are creating a list of strategies for successful future engagement.

  1. Position the library as a partner, not just a service provider.

    We find that projects achieve more success when the relationship between content creators and the library publishing program is a partnership rather than that of a client and service provider. This mirrors what our colleagues in other areas of the library already know. Just as research instruction proves more successful when teaching librarians have input on assignments and learning objectives, publishing projects are more successful when both parties work together to match available resources to the needs at hand.

    In order to direct content creators to a partnership rather than simply a service relationship, we use robust intake procedures for new publishing projects: creators must fill out application materials, participate in at least one consultation, and describe their commitments to the project's success beyond financial resources. By setting the tone of a partnership from the beginning, proper intake procedures can help socialize publishing partners to do just that — partner, rather than dictate. In addition, intake procedures and application materials can act as a "reference interview" of sorts, ensuring that the desired product (be it print or digital, a book-like object or a serial publication) helps content creators achieve their goals. It is exceedingly rare for partners to come to us with a fully-fledged idea merely in need of execution, so we strive to treat all our interactions with content creators as an opportunity for mutual exchange and understanding.

  2. Establish shared expectations to avoid misunderstandings.

    Additional tools for reinforcing this ethic of partnership include memoranda of understanding, service-level agreements, contracts, and other established avenues for describing commitments and expectations. When written to describe the activities of both content creators and publishing units, such documents provide an opportunity to discuss a project in detail, often revealing areas in need of attention or further planning. Such documents also allow for frank discussions of what each party brings to the relationship and the opportunity to address misconceptions or misunderstandings.

    While we might assume that colleagues in academia have an adequate understanding of what publishers do, the value they provide, and the limits of their professional generosity, we do so at our own peril. We have found that even frequently published senior scholars sometimes have mistaken ideas about what a traditional publisher (let alone a library publishing program) can do for them. Many of our biggest challenges in working with publishing partners have originated from the fact that we increasingly operate on a cost-recovery basis, and thus cannot provide services (beyond consultation) without reasonable fees. However, once partners understand that they must pay for certain things, they sometimes think paying for a service means they can dictate the terms of that service. This is not the case. Publishing partners must understand that while library publishing is a mission-driven activity meant to serve their needs as members of a campus community, it has costs and practical limitations.

    While it is important to manage expectations in all areas of library service provision, it is especially important when money changes hands. Every institution will have specific rules regarding setting recharge rates, collecting or transferring funds, and invoicing partners. At the outset of any new publishing program, the library must follow all appropriate procedures mandated by the campus. Meeting directly with staff at the campus finance office early and often can help avoid problems later on.

  3. Embrace the intersection of engaged learning and technology capabilities.

    Emergent technologies — learning technologies, enterprise solutions, cloud-based services, or mobile applications — enable scholars and students to reach audiences and share expertise in new ways, promote collaborations across boundaries, and exchange knowledge. These possibilities garner our collective attention and enable innovative partnerships to advance the creative process. Examples are abundant, from using Omeka to reimagine course assignments to incorporating visualization services in the publication cycle to teaching WordPress as a way to promote students publicly sharing their work. As we increasingly find ourselves at the intersection of engaged learning and technology capabilities, it becomes apparent that we can maximize the opportunity to incubate digital scholarship, leverage both technical and subject expertise, and realize authentic learning.

Build Frameworks to Sustain Student Work

While libraries place a strong emphasis on preservation and continuity-of-service in the area of technological infrastructure, the social aspects of sustainability hold equal importance. Student work and student-run publications present a unique set of challenges to a publishing program. While any serial publication can wither and die, student publications need special attention to ensure their success and longevity. Succession planning will be a constant task, as new student authors and editors replace their predecessors. Faculty involvement (and potentially oversight) must be cultivated and can contribute to student publications' resilience.

Student authors and editors do not typically possess strong knowledge of authoring and publishing practices, such as peer review, copyediting, editorial management, and author communication. These skills must be taught, and editorial authority and oversight must be transparent, allowing publication staff, authors, and readers to understand who is responsible for what.

Finally, student publications must connect to reward systems that will motivate participation, as they do not benefit from the typical tenure and promotion practices that compel faculty to participate in a scholarly conversation through publication. Aligning student publications with programmatic activities such as honors programs, undergraduate research opportunities, and specialized learning communities can help recruit interested student editors and authors to benefit from publishing experience.


Laurie Alexander is associate university librarian for Learning and Teaching at the University of Michigan Library.

Jason Colman is director of Michigan Publishing Services at the University of Michigan Library

Meredith Kahn is Women's Studies & Publishing Services librarian at the University of Michigan Library.

Amanda Peters is University Learning Communities librarian at the University of Michigan Library.

Charles Watkinson is associate university librarian for Publishing at the University of Michigan Library and director of the University of Michigan Press.

Rebecca Welzenbach is director of Strategic Integration and Partnerships, Michigan Publishing, at the University of Michigan library.

© 2016 Laurie Alexander, Jason Colman, Meredith Kahn, Amanda Peters, Charles Watkinson, and Rebecca Welzenbach. The text of this EDUCAUSE Review article is licensed under Creative Commons BY 4.0 International.