By Porter Anderson, Editor-in-Chief | @Porter_Anderson
‘To Counter Censorship and Bigotry’As Publishing Perspectives readers know, interests in the commercial trade side of the international publishing industry can at times show remarkable parallels to those in the academic publishing world. Sometimes the twain shall meet, after all.
An example of this today (August 14) is in the release of the first collection produced by a new collaboration called the Big Ten Open Books project, a collaboration between the university presses and libraries of the Big Ten Academic Alliance. The university presses participating in this first collection comprise:
- Indiana University Press
- Michigan State University Press
- Northwestern University Press
- Purdue University Press
- University of Michigan Press
- University of Wisconsin Press
The project’s first released collection—all publications having been “reformatted using the latest standards in accessible publishing,” by the way—is available now free of charge, a 100-title curation of gender and sexuality studies. In each case, there’s an opportunity to buy a specific title in print, but there also is a PDF and EPUB edition waiting for your free download. Each work was previously published in print by a partnering university press. And, even better, “Each title has undergone a rigorous selection and quality certification process,” the program pledges, “that allows readers and users of this collection to trust the veracity of the content made available.”
In an era of disinformation and rampant far-right efforts to suppress and otherwise cut off access to targeted published work, particularly in the fields of sexuality and gender, this is a volley fired across the bow of a virulent censorious dynamic seen in the States and many other markets.
In responding to Publishing Perspectives’ “why now?” question, Kate McCready—the visiting program officer for Academy Owned Scholarly Publishing at the University of Minnesota—says, “The answer is simple: The libraries and university presses of the Big Ten are committed to equity, freedom of expression, and unfettered access to information. We have always stood by these principles and are especially proud to do so now.”
“As a librarian, I’m outraged by the challenges across our nation to the free exchange of ideas. The labeling of titles written or featuring members of the LGBTQ+ community as ‘banned books’ is unacceptable.”Kate McCready, Big Ten Academic Alliance
McCready’s two-year appointment charges her with advancing the building of the “BIG Collection,” an umbrella coordination intended to see the Big Ten’s library deans and directors manage the separate collections of the Big Ten university libraries as a single collection—an exhilarating flash of unity in a world we all spend so much time describing as divisive.
Working to make the new effort “a sustainable program,” she says, “We have many other future collection areas under discussion.”
She’s an apt choice for her current role. Previously, McCready served on the libraries senior leadership team, responsible for the goals and work of the collections and content strategy area of the University of Minnesota Libraries’ collections—which include more than 7.7 million print volumes and millions of digital resources. That and prior work in directing content services that included interlibrary loans, digital delivery, open scholarship, and publishing services. So while she’s well-versed in the management and preservation of libraries’ physical collections, she also knows these institutions’ enterprise systems, digitization protocols, and the interlocking elements of library management, acquisitions, borrowing, licensing, description, and discovery of content.
And you get how deeply committed she is to what she does when you ask her about this first collection: “As a librarian,” she says, “I’m outraged by the challenges across our nation to the free exchange of ideas.
“As president Obama just wrote in his recent open letter—published by American Libraries Magazine on July 17—’Not only is it important for young people from all walks of life to see themselves represented in the pages of books, but it’s also important for all of us to engage with different ideas and points of view.’
“The labeling of titles written or featuring members of the LGBTQ+ community as ‘banned books,'” McCready says, “is unacceptable.
“In the Big Ten libraries and university presses, our strong support and advocacy of inclusion and diversity center us in our efforts to counter censorship and bigotry.”
The First Collection
The collection breaks some ground in how it’s put together, producing what its team calls “a distinctive model for open-access publishing of scholarly manuscripts” that may well interest a lot of practitioners in the vast academic publishing world.
Describing this, the program writes, “It creates open content that is immediately and universally available, on open infrastructure, Fulcrum, hosted by the University of Michigan, using open distribution models (including Project MUSE, JSTOR, and OAPEN) to envision a robust programmatic future for open monograph publishing.
“This work is aligned with the Big Ten Academic Alliance’s development of the BIG Collection’s ambition of uniting the collections of the libraries of the Big Ten Academic Alliance and is supported by the Mellon Foundation’s Public Knowledge program. The partner presses are Indiana University Press, Michigan State University Press, Northwestern University Press, Purdue University Press, University of Michigan Press, and University of Wisconsin Press.
Starting with “Maytag Washer, 1939” and going well past “The Microphone Erotic,” Joyce Dyer’s and Jennifer Cognard-Black’s From Curlers to Chainsaws: Women and Their Machines (Michigan State University Press, 2016) features the work of 23 writers who not only look at “objects we take for granted” but “also on their powers to inform identity.
“For each writer, the device moves beyond the functional to become a symbolic extension of the writer’s own mind—altering and deepening each woman’s concept of herself.”
From Indiana University Press (1990), the collection includes Bonnie Time Scott’s incisive anthology of writings in The Gender of Modernism: A Critical Anthology.
Its work comes from Katherine Mansfield, DH Lawrence, Gertrude Stein, Jean Rhys, Marianne Moore, Hugh MacDiarmid, and many more in a compendium that already has that feel of “modern classic” because it pulls from a discussion that developed largely in the 1970s.
If for nothing else than Scott’s introductory clarification of what sex and gender are, the volume may be helpful to many catching up to a conversation so many missed or ignored–only to find it in their faces at times today.
“Gender is a category constructed through cultural and social systems,” Scott writes in that introduction. “Unlike sex, it is not a biological fact determined at conception. Sociology has long discussed sex roles, the term roles calling attention to the assigned rather than determined nature of gender.
“The latter term is gradually and appropriately replacing sex in the designation … . Gender is more fluid, flexible, and multiple in its options than the (so far) unchanging biological binary of male and female.”
Published in 2011 by the University of Wisconsin Press, Bronson Lemer’s The Last Deployment: How a Gay, Hammer-Swinging Twentysomething Survived a Year in Iraq is described as “a moving, provocative chronicle of one soldier’s struggle to reconcile military brotherhood with self-acceptance.”
In his prologue, Lemer writes, “I entered the Iraqi desert with a mission: to prove to myself—and to others—that I didn’t have to choose one or the other; I could be both—a soldier and a gay man. I returned with so much more.”
The full collection of 100 works includes writings from cultural studies, sexuality studies, history, theater (and nearby performative constructs), media gender, literature and criticism, public policy in political science, biography and letters, race and ethnicity, and many more large and small categories, with good filtering capability for quick discoveries.
And as it turns out, this first collection’s appearance isn’t only timely but it’s part of an intentional energy running through the full project’s releases to come.
They are, McCready says, “The goal for this and all of our future collections will be to focus on subjects that address areas of inequity, promote greater diversity, and examine social justice topics.
“The rise in attacks on free speech only bolsters us in our commitment to ensuring access to information to all who seek it.”
Collectively, media messaging says, the Big Ten Academic Alliance has in its collective purview more than 50,000 faculty members supported by more than US$11 billion in research funding.
A programming note: The Publishing Perspectives Forum at Frankfurter Buchmesse on October 19 at 1 p.m. will feature a discussion with a current working title, “Too Hot to Handle: Publishing in the Era of Cancel Culture,” with speakers to be announced and a focus on the controversies around contemporary selections of authors and works in a highly politicized environment. In academic publishing, our forum is also presenting the Charleston Conference in a 2.5-hour program starting at 9:30 a.m. on Frankfurt Friday, October 20, with topics including sustainability, scholarly communication, and research integrity.
More on the Forum and its programming is here, with speakers being added as we confirm them and programming descriptions being developed as they’re ready.
More from Publishing Perspectives on book bannings is here, more on censorship more widely is here, more on the freedom of expression and the freedom to publish is here, more on academic and scholarly publishing is here, and more on issues in libraries is here.