2021 Cross-Pollination Reports: Hannah Brooks-Motl

The AUPresses/Library Publishing Coalition Cross-Pollination program provides registration waivers at both organizations’ annual conferences for members of the other to attend, in order to foster cross-professional knowledge sharing. In 2021, Hannah Brooks-Motl and Maia Desjardins received registration waiver grants to attend the virtual Library Publishing Forum; Robert Browder and Sarah Wipperman received registration waiver grants to attend the virtual AUPresses 2021.

Hannah Brooks-Motl, Assistant Acquisitions Editor, Amherst College Press & Lever Press

Amherst College Press and Lever Press are library-funded fully open access members of the Association of University Presses; they exist in both university-press and library-publishing worlds. A common way to put it—that there are different “worlds” of UPs and libraries. “I’m learning a lot about the library world,” I’ll say. “In UP world” is sometimes “in press world” or “in the world of publishing.” While the two presses orbit both planets, it’s not always intuitive navigation. One key takeaway for me from this year’s Library Publishing Forum was “infrastructure” and the opportunities for press and library worlds to think and act infrastructurally together.

Infrastructure, as Kaitlin Thaney (Executive Director, Invest in Open Infrastructure) put it in her Forum keynote, is having a moment. This year’s panels attested to that. And yet I appreciated the granular details from the panelists, their micro-histories of projects attempted, initiatives brokered, mistakes made. Infrastructure may conjure vast impersonal systems but these dispatches often seemed to counsel: slow down, stay small, sometimes say no. In fact, there was a whole panel about the power of saying no, led by Karen Bjork (Portland State University Library) and Johanna Meetz (Ohio State University Libraries). The panelists and attendees were candid about how difficult it is to stop business as usual and find time to consider the invisible structures that make everything “go”—for now, for some. But not forever and definitely not for all. 

Editors love to say no (supposedly), but this was a different kind of “no,” said to a different end. The power of refusal—to break with toxic systems, tend to yourself or another, reorganize and commit to something more important than what is currently being done—threaded through many of the presentations, comments, and chats and gave me a lot to think about. But it was most clear in the keynotes, plenaries, and those panels explicitly addressing systemic racism and white supremacy.

Elaine Westbrooks (UNC-Chapel Hill Libraries) in her opening plenary connected a lot of dots that (for me) had previously not been legible as dots in the first place. In particular, she highlighted the role of scholarly societies, which as she put it are struggling AND problematic. While her comments were situated “in” library world, much of what she said resonated with conversations happening at university presses now, which are also mission-driven, nonprofit, important to research, support the disciplines and academics—but which are also historically white spaces with deeply problematic legacies of exclusion too often cloaked in rhetorics of prestige, status, and “excellence.” 

Westbrooks noted that reckoning and equity work need to go all the way down: to the metrics we use, our cost structures, the peer review processes we initiate—all of it. Infrastructures are not neutral, Thaney would remind us in the keynote at week’s end; they are built and maintained by technologies but they are human decisions with human costs.

In “No More Apologies: LIS Publishing Reimagined,” Megdi Abebe, Joyce Gabiola, Sofia Leung, and Kristina Santiago—editors and members of up//root, a publishing collective that “challenges what LIS puts forth as legitimate knowledge”—called on all publishers to “think about the ways in which you care for what you’re doing, reflect on your processes, the questions that you ask each other…is your care centered on the product or the person?” That may not be an either/or question for those of us in the UP world, or in the library world either. Instead, I took it as an invitation to think critically about care as potentially underwriting all the processes we rely on. 

Care can potentially connect library/press infrastructures, in lots of ways. Care for our authors, peer reviewers, and faculty boards might mean caring for products—the technologies we rely on to do our work together and ensuring those are accessible and ethical. Care for a product, a book or an article, should mean care for how it is accessed, read, used, who it reaches—care for the people who might need it most.