We’re happy to feature this employee spotlight on Rob Dilworth, the journals director at Duke University Press. In this interview, Rob describes his responsibilities here at the Press, discusses our journals program, and talks about current priorities and challenges in scholarly publishing.
Tell us a bit about yourself.
I grew up in the suburbs of Washington, DC. In college, I double majored in English and economics. I moved to North Carolina in the early nineties to follow my girlfriend (now wife), who was in graduate school. I answered an ad in the newspaper for a job at Oxford University Press’s office in North Carolina and was hired, though I had no publishing experience at the time. I’ve always been attracted to both the humanities and business, so scholarly publishing has been a good career path for me. And having a career in a mission-driven field has been wonderful—something that has given my life a great deal of purpose and meaning.
Outside of work, I spend time with my wife and two daughters, read, watch films and TV (I love shows about celebrity chefs, such as Chef’s Table on Netflix), and am a soccer maniac. I coached both of my daughters’ soccer teams when they were younger, currently play on an over-forty team, and closely follow my favorite professional team in England.
Describe your career path and current responsibilities at Duke University Press.
At the beginning of my career, I worked at Oxford University Press for about five years—first as an editorial assistant and then as a production editor. Then I came to Duke University Press—first as the managing editor of our journals program and then as the partnership manager for our humanities and social science journals. Since 2015, I have been DUP’s journals director. I’ve been at the Press for over twenty years. As journals director, I’m ultimately responsible for acquiring new journals and for retaining journals that we already publish. (I work closely with Erich Staib, our senior editor, and Steve Cohn, our director, on these activities.) I’m focused on the Press continuing to have a competitive journals program, and I spend a lot of my time on partnership management. That is, I try to make sure that the editors and sponsors of our journals are having a good experience, that we’re working collaboratively with them, and that we’re answering their questions and resolving concerns quickly.
What do you like best about your role as journals director?
It would be hard to name one thing. I enjoy working with editors and society officers, whom I often get to know personally, and I’ve enjoyed my role in helping to develop strong journals over time. Again, I’ve been at the Press for over twenty years, so I’ve been able to watch journals grow over the long run—in terms of intellectual reputation but also in terms of circulation, online usage, and economic sustainability. This is very satisfying to me.
I also get to work with some talented colleagues. The success of our journals program is a collective effort, involving many staff members from different groups and with different areas of expertise. And I’ve had the honor to work with some close colleagues for many years. These are people that I truly value and trust.
Describe the current priorities and challenges for the journals program at Duke University Press.
We have a lot of strategic priorities at the Press—refining a new online content platform that combines the content from our books and journals, growing international sales, improving our capabilities in managing rights and permissions, creating efficiencies in our editorial-production workflows, etc. As journals director, I see it as my job to help DUP achieve its organizational objectives while still maintaining good relationships with our editorial offices and society partners.
Contemporary publishing is dynamic. For instance, there’s pressure to reduce costs to maintain financial sustainability, to standardize so that our content works well in digital environments, to ensure that rights and permissions are accurate to distribute content effectively, and so on. We try to navigate many issues in ways that work not just for us as the publisher but also for the editors of our journals and our society partners.
We want our journal partnerships to be beneficial and energizing for both parties.
What organizations and digital resources do you find valuable for your career?
I’ve gained a great deal from my involvement with the Association of University Presses throughout the years. I’ve met many talented colleagues from university presses via AUP, particularly a couple of years ago when I was chair of its annual conference. I have collegial relationships with journals directors at peer presses and often reach out to them to get feedback or ask how they’re dealing with specific issues. I think the main digital resource that I use every week is the Society for Scholarly Publishing’s “Scholarly Kitchen” blog. It’s an invaluable resource for being informed about trends in scholarly publishing and helps me stay connected with the greater publishing community.