A University Library as a Publisher – Workshop, Discussion and SWOT Analysis


SWOT Analysis Exercise
SWOT Analysis Exercise


The Repository Fringe, an event which has become renowned for its informal, ‘un-conference’ approach and its friendly atmosphere, was held at the University of Edinburgh 30th & 31st July. This year’s event welcomed a record number of 150 attendees and saw over 20 speakers give their time to prepare and deliver innovative presentations and workshops covering various aspects of Open Access repository development and management.

On the second day, Angela Laurins and Dominic Tate led a workshop to explore the idea of Library as publisher. We looked at our experience of managing the University of Edinburgh’s Journal Hosting Service which uses the open-source OJS (Open Journals System) software to host journals on behalf of students and researchers.

Angela provided some background information to the service, highlighting the key milestones and challenges which have shaped the (free) service we offer at Edinburgh. She asked the audience if the Library has evolved, albeit unintentionally, yet, perhaps inevitably, from its role as distributor to become a publisher?

The Library;

  • provides training and support
  • provides default policy text eg take down policy
  • commits to deal with any complaints regarding copyright infringement
  • advises on copyright and licensing
  • manages ISSN application
  • has acquired a  DOI prefix (registered with CrossRef as publisher) and manages DOI exports
  • advises on & provides journal design
  • advises on article layout
  • advises on promotion and marketing
  • helps analyse analytics
  • digitises back issues (See Res Medica – the journal of the Royal Medical Society)
  • registers journals with DOAJ

However, there are services which we don’t provide…… yet

The Library doesn’t:

  • advise on peer review
  • proof read or copyedit content
  • check copyright
  • intervene if (some) advice is not taken
  • do any quality control of new journals or content


What do you think: are we a publisher or a distributor?

To help answer this question, Dominic put the Journal Hosting Service into the wider context of the University and its portfolio of Open Access services. He then presented the Library’s options to the workshop:

  • Should we continue as we are?
  • Should we start to charge for the service?
  • Should we offer the service to other universities?
  • Should we formalise our role as a publisher?

There is no question that we have the skills in the Library to provide the additional publisher-related services, the question we wanted to ask the workshop was, just because we can, does that mean we should? So next, it was over to the audience to break into groups and conduct a SWOT Analysis (strengths, weaknesses, opportunities & threats) on the concept of the University Library as a Publisher.

Participants responded enthusiastically to the task and generated a great deal of discussion in their groups. Here’s what we came up with:



  • Open Access Zeal
  • Good networks & subject knowledge
  • Good governance
  • Trustworthy
  • Library already a distributor of information (& doesn’t censor)
  • Library strength as an Open Access publisher
  • Access to technical expertise
  • Raising profile
  • Continuity (of service)
  • Good metadata
  • Neutral
  • Key Player
  • One-stop shop for publishing expertise
  • University of Edinburgh brand
  • Scalability

  • Could make publishing better than the current state
  • Could grow current reputation
  • More flexible for users (editors)
  • Marketing – library skills
  • Long tail of journals need help
  • Can publish material that may not be of interest to a mainstream publisher
  • Opportunity to get special collections material into an online format
  • First mover – early adoption



  • Get lost in list of priorities
  • Could be conservative
  • Resources: staff time, money etc
  • Do we understand the needs of our colleagues that well?
  • No current credibility as a publisher
  • No barrier to entry – any university can set up OJS – could errode OJS brand
  • Need to be open to non-Edinburgh journals & academics
  • No funding or resource
  • Scalability: can the model be sustained?
  • Confusion with current University Press
  • Would adopting an APC pose a threat to EUP?
  • University of Edinburgh brand
  • Scalability

  • Added responsibility if responsible for the content
  • Senior management might see as a money-making exercise
  • Legal implication of being responsible for the content
  • Inundated with stuff.
  • Increased responsibility to host this forever.
  • Confusion with current University Press
  • Would adopting an APC pose a threat to EUP?


The University brand was considered to be both a strength and a weakness and confusion with the University Press as a weakness and a threat although there is also opportunity there to share expertise and work together to fulfil the University’s OA aspirations.  Scalability was an issue raised, as was the increased responsibility and liability of the Library if it were to formally adopt the role of publisher.

Unfortunately, we ran out of time. However, the SWOT analysis started the beginnings of a conversation that will continue both at the University of Edinburgh but also across other UK campuses as Libraries continue to expand their role in OA publishing.

At the end of the workshop we asked, ‘Based on the evidence, should University Libraries be publishers? The overwhelming majority voted ‘Yes’. Votes counted, the result was:  Yes 14, No 2 and Undecided 1.


About the Repository Fringe

The Repository Fringe is an annual event held at the University of Edinburgh which brings together repository managers and developers from across the UK. The event is jointly organised by EDINA, the DCC and Library and University Collections.  Repository Fringe 2014

About the University of Edinburgh’s Journal Hosting Service

The University of Edinburgh’s Journal Hosting Service uses the open-source software OJS (Open Journal Systems) to provide a platform for students and academic staff to publish Open Access Journals. Journal Hosting Service


Dominic Tate – Project Manager, LOCH & Angela Laurins, Library Learning Services Manager, University of Edinburgh

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