We are pleased to re-blog these essays by our staff that originally ran on The Scholarly Kitchen blog last week. The posts were solicited and are introduced by our Digital Marketing Coordinator, Kasia Repeta.
Since COVID-19, scholarly communication professionals have rapidly moved their focus from predefined road maps and modes of operation to actively responding to the ongoing global health crisis, and more recently, the anti-racism protest movement. Both called for actions and awareness-building efforts. Featuring, or even freeing related content from behind paywalls, creating reading lists, and organizing webinars and discussion groups with experts on related topics are just a few examples of how our community is educating people about the issues, building their awareness, and providing them with access to research results.
The question arises: when the direct threat to global health and economies cease, and protesters leave the streets, will publishing communicators keep up this momentum and continue to rapidly utilize research-driven content to illuminate topics like climate change, racial injustice, minority rights, social justice, and sustainable development that require ongoing global attention? While it’s reassuring to know that there are already many programs and tools focused on increasing research discoverability and providing support for scientists to effectively convey the value of their research, there has never been a more important time to move from reacting to acting. This is a call to action for our colleagues in scholarly communications worldwide.
We’re Just Getting Warmed Up: Embracing Pandemic Chaos with Calls to Action
Dean Smith, Director, Duke University Press
“Economics should not be the first concern when thinking about health care. The cost in human lives should be,” wrote Priscilla Wald in an op-ed piece for the Charlotte Observer in late February. She is a professor of English at Duke, an author, a journal editor, and a humanist working at the intersection of science and the humanities.
Wald reached out to me to make sure that, as her publisher, I knew that her book Contagious: Cultures, Carriers, and the Outbreak Narrative, published in 2007 was once again part of a growing pandemic discussion.
In her piece, entitled “The Best Way to Prevent an Outbreak like Coronavirus,” she also states that universal access to health care will lead to fewer sick people making it easier to contain the virus.
We now know she was clearly onto something regarding access — and so were we. A few days later, our marketing and sales department made Wald’s book freely available on our website and mobilized resources to create several open access syllabi related to the pandemic.
On March 10th, Amazon suspended the ordering of our books to focus on medical supplies. Our planned Spring Sale began on the same day as the Amazon announcement. The next day, we closed our warehouse. How does any publisher continue a Spring Sale without a warehouse and with one of our main distribution chains suspended?
Faced with being unable to sell any books at all, our sales and marketing department, editorial design and production team, and our digital publishing unit worked quickly to reinvent our supply chain and create more than 2,000 print-on-demand titles in just two weeks. Lightning Source and Ingram Publishing Services assisted in our transition to becoming a fully virtual publisher.
The pandemic created a call-to-action across Duke University Press. The staff embraced chaos with innovation and change. Designers organized virtual poetry readings with authors. Acquisitions editors engaged their communities on social media. The customer and library relations team offered trial access to content for institutions to help serve students who found themselves sheltering off-campus.
The 2020 Spring Sale broke all previous records. Orders went through our website. As the news changed each week, our list resonated in the moment. Books like Necropolitics by Achille Mbembe, The Black Shoals by Tiffany Lethabo King and In the Wake by Christina Sharpe became must-reads.
The pandemic syllabi resource center has generated 17,000 views. Contagious has generated 14,000 views on its own and tripled its print sales since January.
Professor Wald has been a great colleague since I joined Duke University Press last June. She taught me about what constitutes a Duke University Press book through an article by Patricia Hill Collins in the journal Social Problems (published by Oxford University Press in 1986) entitled, “Learning from the Outsider Within: The Sociological Significance of Black Feminist Thought”. In it, Collins argues that many Black female intellectuals have made creative use of their marginality — their “outsider within” status—to produce Black feminist thought that reflects a special standpoint on self, family, and society. Wald served as our faculty board chair for 12 years because she is intensely dedicated to the Press’s mission.
Many of our authors, like Collins, work to center historically marginalized perspectives and knowledge (e.g., ideas from the Global South, from racially marginalized communities, and from outside of heteronormative culture). By publishing their work, we draw attention to authors with compelling and progressive ideas, and to writers who are shaping the future of their disciplines.
The killings of Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor, and George Floyd hit our staff hard. Once again, we mobilized for change. Our Equity and Inclusion Task Force has organized conversations and trainings. Duke University President, Vincent Price, posted his Message about Racism and Inequality to members of the Duke community — an urgent and detailed call to action couched in the language of anti-racism. The work before us in the coming weeks is to align this call to action with every aspect of how we run our Press and to integrate an equity lens into our strategic plan.
University presses are publishing essential books that people need to read right now. Our publications strive to make the world a better, more informed, and more equitable place. How do we break down the barriers of access to ensure that everyone who needs to can access our publications?
As publishers, we must invest in openness and accessibility to peer-reviewed knowledge. We must also ensure that anti-racism guides our policies, practices, and publications. As stated in the recent Statement on Equity and Antiracism from AUPresses:
Our task now is to reimagine the audiences and communities we seek to serve, the author and reviewer networks we rely on, the vendor and supplier networks we enlist, and the other structures that have excluded marginalized communities from our industry. We need to reconsider unpaid internships and low-wage entry points to our industry, as well as the recruitment and promotion strategies that have historically resulted in pay gaps and other inequities. Perhaps most important, we need equity training at the organizational level, so that those from underrepresented communities who join our industry are welcomed and empowered to lead our organizations forward in new directions.
In short, we must build a culture of introspection, honesty, humility, inclusion, and trust.
Despite this essential work, we still constantly hear the familiar refrain that university presses are facing an existential threat. That’s become a rallying cry as we move forward together as a community. Humanists like Priscilla Wald will be publishing books and journal articles about the catastrophic response to the pandemic and the global effort to end racism for the next one-hundred years.
We’re just getting warmed up.
An Internationalist Vision for Scholarly Marketing
Alejandra Mejía, Editorial Associate and Student Worker Program Manager, Duke University Press
Internationalism is an ideology that advocates a greater political and economic cooperation among nations. While the relationship between internationalism and scholarly marketing may not be immediately apparent, I propose that approaching our scholarly marketing work with an internationalist lens, or at the very least with a sensitivity toward global power dynamics and cross-cultural accessibility and connection, can make us more ethical, socially responsive publishers who can contribute towards positive global change.
In order to move in this direction, we must first acknowledge that American scholarly publishing does not exist in a vacuum. We live in a society that was built on indigenous genocide and the forced enslavement of African people and which reproduces inequality and violence. We are witnesses to the continuation of these injustices today, for example, with the soaring rates of COVID-19 cases ravaging the Navajo Nation, which lacks the proper infrastructure to handle the crisis, as well as with the state-sanctioned police violence disproportionately affecting poor and working-class Black people. We must continue to reckon with and correct this history at an institutional and societal level and, beyond that, we must also think about the role that the United States occupies in a larger global context.
For instance, brain drain, or the emigration of highly skilled workers like academics from low-to-middle income countries to wealthier ones, flows from south to north internationally (with a few notable exceptions like India and South Africa). This has contributed to the prestige of the American, Canadian, and various European academies and we as American scholarly publishers also benefit from the intellectual contributions of these migrant scholars. However, this south-to-north migration pattern has inevitably resulted in an asymmetry of knowledge production, which privileges the academic contributions coming out of the Global North.
To move forward in a more ethical, culturally-responsive manner that is self-aware of global power dynamics, I propose creating scholarly marketing strategies that are accessible in multiple ways, and building relationships of collaboration with international publishers, particularly those in the Global South. It is essential to continue creating and publicizing open access content that bridges class divides as well as webinars and podcasts that engage audiences in creative ways. Publishing and publicizing multilingual content and engaging in multilingual marketing strategies, particularly in the United States, where there is a growing demographic of Latin American migrants, can serve as a culturally-responsive strategy that will meet the needs of these communities. Furthermore, developing sustained collaborations with both academic and non-academic publishers in the Global South, especially those in Latin America, Asia, and Africa, should result in a multidirectional learning and exchanging of resources that breeds an international sense of solidarity in the face of challenges like this global pandemic, climate change, and worldwide social and economic injustice.