Academic journal article Alexandria

Libraries as Publishers: Turning the Page?

Academic journal article Alexandria

Libraries as Publishers: Turning the Page?

Article excerpt


This article seeks to provide an overview of the publishing activities of some national and major libraries from across the world. At a time when the publishing industry is experiencing profound challenges to its established business models and the traditional divisions between libraries, publishers and booksellers are becoming more fluid, it is timely to see how libraries are faring and to what extent - if at all - these seismic developments are changing libraries' publishing outputs.

Although the published output of major libraries is multifarious, this article will focus on what we might consider conventional publishing outputs: principally the book in print or electronic format, audio products and exhibition catalogues. The production of current bibliographies and financial accounts, annual reports and so on are therefore excluded as are other digital products and services, such as online galleries, educational resources and digital collections. These resources might arguably be considered publishing outputs but for the purpose of this article they are out of scope.

Through a content analysis of library websites the article reviews the publishing programmes of the British Library, the Bibliothèque Nationale de France, the Bodleian Library, the Biblioteca Nacional do Brasil, the State Library of Victoria and the National Library of Australia. The libraries selected are discussed in the context of the following issues:

* whether there is an 'active' publishing programme in the library

* the subject range of books published including exhibition catalogues

* the sales channels available to obtain these books (the library store, availability through online retailers and conventional book retailers)

* digital access to published content


It is not surprising that libraries as repositories of content have sought to promote their collections through the publication of various specialist catalogues, illustrated books, monographs and exhibition guides and there is a fine tradition of publishing taking place by libraries, be they national, university or special. Indeed national libraries have, often by law, a requirement to produce bibliographies of publications in print or electronic format. Many libraries have a long and proud tradition of producing books, for example the Library of Congress started a publishing programme shortly after it was founded (Kniffel, 1989) and the British Museum Library (one of the forerunners to the British Library) has been active since its earliest days.

In 1983 the International Group of Publishing Libraries (IGPL) was founded as a home for major libraries that had active publishing programmes and the membership included the British Library, the Bibliothèque Nationale de France, the Library of Congress and Harvard University Library amongst others. The IGPL met biennially and discussed issues of mutual concern, with the last meeting held in 2007.

Libraries and publishers have always had a symbiotic relationship, with the former providing a place to access the output of the latter. However, these neat delineations are fraying as technological developments in the past decade have seen the publishing barriers to entry lowered, particularly for services such as print and distribution. This has led to an explosion of published material as activities previously the preserve of the publishing industry are made accessible to everyone. It is no exaggeration to say we are witnessing a revolution in the way information is produced, disseminated and accessed and these developments are arguably changing the face of the information world and library business models as a consequence.


The British Library (BL) arguably has the most active publishing programme of the world's major and national libraries and it can trace this back to 1780 when the British Museum Library first started producing catalogues based on the collections (British Library Publishing). …

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