Interview with the Director – Behind the Scenes at AU Press

Fellow undergraduate students might or might not know about the university press for AU called AU Press. It is an important resource for the representation of the academic and scholarly aspects of the university. Recently, Scott Jacobsen interviewed the acting director and marketing and production coordinator, Ms. Megan Hall.

What are the tasks and responsibilities of your position?
Ms. Hall: The role of acting director is one that I took over in October 2015, but I have been the marketing and production coordinator at the Press since 2012. The tasks and responsibilities of the marketing and production coordinator include the last two phases of the publication process, the design, layout, and printing of a book and the promoting of a book once it is published. The duties are varied. I write the descriptive copy for each book which appears on our website and elsewhere on the web, I coordinate with cover designers and interior designers to create the right look and feel for our publications, I collaborate with authors to determine the specific audience for the book and how to reach them, and I organize the appearance of both the Press and our authors at book launches and conferences.

In the role of acting director, I work alongside Pamela Holway, senior editor, and Connor Houlihan, associate editor, to shape the Press? list of publications. I also spend a good deal of time applying for grants and arranging for publication funding for our titles in addition to advocating for the open access movement in Canada and managing the budget for the Press.

What are the criteria for the inclusion of materials for AU Press?
Ms. Hall: All AU Press books, journals, and website publications must be peer-reviewed in order to receive our imprint?so that forms the basis of our criteria. When an author or journal enquires about publishing with AU Press we first collect some information about the project and evaluate whether it fits our mandate and our mission. We have cultivated a strong list of publications in the areas of online education, labour studies, indigenous studies, and the environment, but we also consider manuscripts outside these subject areas when we feel that the work makes an important contribution to scholarship.

How is AU Press funded?
Ms. Hall: Although the operational funding we receive from provincial and federal granting agencies is key to running a complete publishing program what is far more important and significant is the financial support provided by AU. Acquiring, shaping, curating, certifying, editing, promoting, and disseminating scholarship requires investment and although we make the culmination of all of these efforts?the book, the journal, the website?free, the costs of producing it are in no way reduced by an open-access mandate. Our publishing activities are subsidized by AU and we could not distribute the publications in the way we do without this support.

You also mentioned grants. What is the grant-writing and submission process for AU Press?
Ms. Hall: We apply for grants from both provincial and federal funding agencies. We receive operating grants from the Alberta Media Fund and the Department of Canadian Heritage’s Canada Book Fund and we receive specific title-funding from a number of different sources including the Awards to Scholarly Publications Program offered through the Federation for the Humanities and Social Sciences. Applying for grants includes describing our publication program, our evaluation process, and our open-access mandate as well as laying out our publication plans for the forthcoming year.

In 2014, for open access week, you wrote, “inasmuch as the need for knowledge is fundamental to human culture, that knowledge should be shared rather than restricted to those who can pay for it” (Holway & Hall, 2014). Nearly two years have passed since you wrote these words, would you say that this still reflects AU Press’s mission and mandate?
Ms. Hall: We are still very much committed to the mission upon which the Press was founded?in fact, I might argue, that an economic downturn is just the time to continue the conversation about how the future might be shaped by the sharing of knowledge. In a recent AU Press publication, Alberta Oil and the Decline of Democracy in Canada, the authors discuss the potential for the erosion of democracy in single-resource economies while the authors of Scaling Up describe the potential that the social economy has to create a more sustainable way of life. These two books cover some of the most pressing challenges of our time and It’s important that policy makers, citizens, and educators know what the leading edge discussions are on these issues. The information and knowledge contained in our publications are valuable to the advancement of scholarship and to the betterment of our society and we believe that by making them freely downloadable from our website we are reducing one of the significant barriers to valuable work of this kind.

Why was AU Press founded as an open access press, and what challenges do you face because of your chosen publication model?
Ms. Hall: The founding of AU Press as an open-access publisher grew out of Athabasca University’s mandate?its commitment to excellence, openness, flexibility, and accessibility. In 2007, at the time of our founding, there were very few open-access presses in North America, in fact we were the first scholarly monograph publishing house, but since then the open-access movement has grown and we have three university presses in Canada that are regularly publishing open-access monographs. Experimenting with an open-access publishing model does bring with it particular challenges which include reduced revenue. Our solution is to watch our budget closely, to use next-to-free marketing techniques and platforms, to seek out funding for each title, and engage in partnerships with other presses and organizations when possible. Our commitment, first and foremost, is to scholarship and quality and we hope that AU Press helps to promote the open access movement by proving that open and free material can and should uphold all the hallmarks of good scholarship.

AU Press also runs a blog, the Open Book Blog. How does that fit in with what you do?
Ms. Hall: Yes, we’ve started a blog. The idea was to create a space where we could feature the work of our authors in an accessible style. There has been a notable decline in the coverage of books in print media so our blog is an opportunity for the general public as well as the AU community to find out more about who we are and what we publish.

What future initiatives are in-progress for AU Press?
Ms. Hall: We have a new catalogue coming out in a month announcing the titles planned for next season?we can’t wait to let people know about the forthcoming books we’re excited about! We will also be building on already established partnerships with the University of South Africa Press and the Canadian Committee on Labour History. In addition, we’ll be displaying our books at the Congress for Social Sciences and Humanities being held in Calgary this year along with the University of Alberta Press and the University of Calgary Press. Students, staff, and faculty will also have a chance to see our books on display at Convocation in June in Athabasca, a wonderful chance for us to meet the people of AU in person.

Thank you for your time, Ms. Hall.

References
AU Press. (2016). AU Press.
Retrieved from http://www.aupress.ca/index.php/.
Holway, P. & Hall, M. (2014, October 24). AU Press, the first open access university press in North America.
Retrieved from http://www.ideas-idees.ca/blog/au-press-first-open-access-university-press-north-america.

Scott Douglas Jacobsen is an AUSU Councillor. He works with various organizations, and runs In-Sight: Independent Interview-Based Journal, and In-Sight Publishing.

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