Book Reviews

Sustaining and Enhancing the Scholarly Communications Department: A Comprehensive Guide. Kris S. Helge, Ahmet Meti Tmava, and Amanda R. Zerangue. Santa Barbara, CA: ABC-CLIO, LLC, 2019. 164p. Paper, $70.00 (ISBN: 978-1-4408-6699-9). LC 2019031275.


Rarely does a resource speak as candidly and frankly about the experience in the field as Sustaining and Enhancing the Scholarly Communications Department. This volume communicates with the reader like a trusted colleague, anticipating potential questions and interweaving a generosity of wisdom. It also fearlessly leans into forthright conversations on management, a topic less frequently explored and developed in the literature of the discipline.

The authors bring a wealth of knowledge and experience to the volume. Assistant Dean Kris S. Helge leverages administrative experience, a JD, MLS, and PhD in information science, and prior service as a scholarly communications librarian. Ahmet Meti Tmvara, as assistant professor at the School of Library and Information Studies at Texas Woman’s University, draws on 10 years of academic library experience and a PhD in information studies. Amanda R. Zerangue brings her JD, MLS, and past practice of law to a career in librarianship where she currently manages digital services and offers a suite of scholarly communications services. The combined experience of the authors adds a weight and authority that is palpable throughout the resource and is particularly evident in the treatment of subjects benefiting from a legal viewpoint.

The organization of the book immediately speaks to its broad range of utility. Divided into three parts, the book begins with six chapters that provide an introduction to scholarly communications and open access concepts that serve as a useful primer for anyone seeking to understand the field. The next section offers guidance on building a scholarly communications department/team. The volume ends with a concluding segment discussing modes of engagement with the campus community. Each chapter can be taken as a complete whole, offering a brief overview and ending with a conclusion and references. This makes for chapters that are modular as reading assignments for teaching and learning purposes and also serve as an excellent reference. The cost of this modularity is the need to be mindful of scanning the table of contents to verify whether a topic of interest is developed more fully elsewhere in the book. While the quality of print and production leaves something to be desired for the price, the typesetting is clear and easy to scan for quick reference, with clear section headers and ample spacing.

The seasoned practitioner will at once be familiar with the discursive identity of the authors; they present as seasoned experts in the field, clearly anticipating questions a newer practitioner may have. Their treatment of the material will please the novice and expert alike, as many of the topics covered are augmented by evidence-based research and offer real-world examples that could be leveraged by the practitioner as a means of turning an argument with stakeholders. This volume is also ideal for someone new to the field, or for a colleague covering a sabbatical replacement or leave in this area. A variety of divergent viewpoints are identified and discussed with care, preparing the reader with a greater sensitivity to the potential concerns of campus users. This is done exceptionally well in chapters 5 and 6, which speak to the challenges and controversies of open access publishing and open educational resources.

The creative commons (chapter 2) and author rights (chapter 3) chapters are also worthy of special note, as this is where the legal backgrounds of the authors are particularly valuable. While the book is written within a US copyright context, much of what is presented applies internationally. The reader will find terminology and the particulars of reading a publication agreement clearly laid out without the crowding of complexity. The seasoned practitioner will appreciate relevant references to important precedents in the field, and this is true for the broader volume. Also notable from an author expertise standpoint is chapter 5, which tackles head-on faculty resistance to participation in OA repositories, discussing challenges such as awareness, effort, copyright, plagiarism, academic reward, culture, status, age, and discipline. The treatment of this topic is particularly extensive and well researched.

Libraries in the process of strategic planning and/or restructure will find “Building and Maintaining a Scholarly Communications Department” (chapter 7) essential to informing their deliberations. The chapter offers options for consideration, covering the affordances and potential concerns of a sole practitioner model in contrast to a larger scholarly communications group. The reader is prompted to consider the possibilities and drawbacks of each and is armed with arguments to sway higher levels of administration. There is also extensive treatment pertaining to the examination of credentialing of staffing and the specificities of qualifications one expects from different degrees. The need for an MLS and the value of a PhD are examined, followed by an extended discussion around whether key staff should be in possession of a JD and why someone with this credential might find a job in this field attractive. This is a compelling and useful viewpoint that draws on the lived experience of the authors themselves.

A warning of the potential for a turf war with the General Counsel’s office is explored in chapter 8. The mitigating strategies offered are astute and well worth the read. This chapter also stands apart in its discussion of management strategies, covering a wide variety of topics including internal recruitment and selection, blue ocean strategy for service planning, a management primer on how to shoulder risk and create trust, and the discussion of working environments that nurture and promote innovation. In particular, one finds an appeal to administration to favor autonomy and to support the freedom for failure. This topic is discussed at length, and it is fair to caution administrators, should this be the case locally, to be prepared to speak to why an institution’s climate may preclude the ability to allow for the level of autonomy suggested in the book.

Chapter 9 further expands on publishing supports introduced in earlier chapters. From the publication supports paradigm, the authors chose to focus on journal hosting and publishing, inclusive of open access journal funding models and institutional open access funds. On the topic of journal hosting and publishing, in recognizing the breadth and complexity of this area, a subsequent edition would benefit from a discussion pertaining to the breadth of costs shouldered in the scholar-led publishing context, as well as a mention of additional monographs and resources. Alluding to the politics of starting up a library publishing enterprise where an institution has its own university press would also serve to sensitize and prepare the reader.

At various places in the book, the reader will encounter inspired thoughts and suggestions for advancing the field. Chapter 8 includes a discussion of burgeoning technologies and how they might be leveraged to rethink current practice, and the concluding chapter is devoted to the future of scholarly communications (chapter 11). As an example, in chapter 11, the reader is guided through a discussion of privacy concerns and is offered a proposed statute in response. The statute is written in favor of users having greater control over their personal data, informed by an expanded knowledge of how their data is being used. These discussions speak to the creativity of the authors and the thorough treatment of this topic through a variety of lenses, something that speaks to the added value of this book.

Reading through the volume, this reviewer was struck by the breadth and depth of the domains of expertise under the scholarly communications umbrella. Those on the front lines as this movement was developing may not regularly have the opportunity to appreciate their accrued knowledge over the years, but seeing these topics brought together underscores and validates the need for this volume, particularly for those seeking an introduction to the field. Overall, readers will be enriched and rewarded by this engaging book, which reads as a celebration of where we are as a discipline and hints at what we may yet achieve on our shared path.—Andrea Kosavic, York University

Copyright Andrea Kosavic

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