Library adjacent: One librarian’s journey in academic publishing (non-traditional/alternative library jobs)

If you’ve been following my writing for any length of time here, or you’re someone with an interest in non-traditional and alternative paths to librarianship then you are probably already familiar with one or both of my earlier pieces on this topic. This month I wanted to probe into a library adjacent area I haven’t covered yet – publishing! I work at a university that has an academic publisher that is connected to the library and I am lucky enough to have a very good friend who has her MLIS and happens to work in that unit, Maia Desjardins. When I told her I wanted to talk about academic publishing as a lead-up to a post on the different niches within the umbrella of scholarly communications she was more than happy to answer some questions for us.

Some quick background info on Maia; she received her MLIS from Western University, which I believe is the most popular MLIS program in Canada, in 2018. Before that, she earned a Bachelor of Arts in Fine and Studio Arts. I first met Maia when she came to work on the team that I supervise in February 2019. She started at the WLU Press right at the start of the COVID-19 pandemic.

First, I wonder, when you went to library school what career path did you originally have in mind?

Not publishing – in fact, most of the alternatives mentioned in my MLIS courses were related to law, computer systems and museums and archives; so I hadn’t really even considered publishing. I was determined to be an academic librarian, ideally in a liaison position with connections to either a visual art department or an art history department. That is still a dream of mine but it’s now not the only one and I could see myself in either publishing or academic libraries long term as long as I can still be creative in my role.

This answer isn’t surprising to me as I know from my experience that many of the possible opportunities and avenues available to us as information professionals aren’t properly covered in library school, it’s why I keep revisiting this topic! What Maia didn’t mention in this answer in relation to her dreams for academic librarianship is how small and competitive the niche of art librarianship really is! So it’s definitely important to have a backup plan or other paths in mind if that’s an area of librarianship that really does interest you. A good alternative, in that case, is to consider gallery work as well which can tie closely into museum work.

From there I moved directly on to questions about Maia’s work with the press, starting with a pretty big one, I asked her about what actually led her there since she hadn’t been considering it during her time as a student.

Tell us about your job path that led you to work at an academic publisher?

Most recently, I had been working as a Copyright and Reserves Associate for course reserves at Laurier Library [as I mentioned above :)]. Having worked on the Scholarship@Western repository, I was already quite passionate about copyright and scholarly communications so the course reserves role was a natural fit. Unfortunately, it was a contract position which meant I was keeping an eye out for other opportunities. When the Digital Projects Coordinator role opened up at WLU Press I was intrigued but worried I’d be out of my element. What really encouraged me was that the role was shared between the Press and the Library and the library portion was specifically related to the institutional repository. The repository and focus on digital formats and metadata made me feel like maybe I would have a solid foundation to work from whilst also learning more about publishing. It turns out that having an MLIS is not a unique CV item in academic publishing or even in WLU Press itself. It’s allowed me a unique perspective in some cases and offered skill overlap in areas like metadata standards, accessibility, and digital storage and preservation.

Maia and I talked a little bit more about this and she reminded me that her boss, Lisa Quinn, the director of the press, has an MLIS. What she didn’t know until that conversation was some background information that I had from being at Laurier longer than she has been. Her role had had 4 incumbents since it was created, and in that time only one Digital Projects Coordinator didn’t have an MLIS.

What does a typical day or week look like in your role at the WLU Press and the Laurier library?

Oh boy, it really depends on the week! We’re getting into conference season and that means something new every day – the last couple of weeks I’ve been editing a 2D virtual booth so that it doesn’t look like a mash-up of RuneScape and The Office. One big difference between publishing and libraries is that it’s less tied to the academic calendar and more to the fiscal calendar and catalogue “seasons”. Those calendars dictate my weekly activities to a degree but throughout the year you can find me monitoring and editing our ONIX metadata exports to ensure they display correctly across retailers, reviewing and editing the conversions of our digital titles to ensure they’re accessible and Benetech compliant, distributing said eBooks as well as our audiobooks and, updating the site and other digital platforms as needed. That is all along with my work on the repository which can overlap – recently a publication came out of the Amplify Project (a WLU Press and SFU collaboration) and that title, A Guide to Academic Podcasting (McGregor & Copeland, 2021), is now housed in the Scholars Commons repository.

The Benetech compliance that Maia mentions briefly there is actually something really special and she deserves to get a shout out for the work she did in helping the WLU Press to become a Benetech Global Certified Accessible Publisher! That’s a big deal that we’ve really been celebrating at Laurier this year. I serve on the Accessibility Committee with one of Maia’s co-workers, Lindsey Hunnewell who was integral to the project and who I know has also been a mentor to Maia in publishing. Maia also spends a LOT of time working in Excel which she didn’t mention here.

What’s been your favourite part of working in academic publishing so far?

Generally speaking, building on existing knowledge and skills. I’ve had more opportunities for professional development in the press environment [she means compared to the library unit she was in, the library units don’t tend to offer much professional development support for support staff at our institution sadly!] which has kept my knowledge current but also sparked my passion for new systems and possibilities. I think a more specific example is accessibility. Accessibility came up often in my MLIS, especially in terms of the physical and perceived library environment and it’s also been important in my previous work in terms of the AODA. However, at the Press, I feel like I’ve really been able to build more practically on my digital coding and metadata skills to really strive for something I care about in researching and working towards WCAG 2.1 AA and born accessible standards. It’s exciting because I can instantly see the difference I’ve made when I open an edited EPUB or even a PDF.

It might just be down to the differences in provincial legislation (Ontario has an Accessibility statute, Alberta doesn’t), but my MLIS program, at the University of Alberta, didn’t ever bring up accessibility unless an individual student brought it up. It’s interesting to think about the differences between content across all of the available program options! We’re really lucky at Laurier in that, as I mentioned above, accessibility is a huge focus for us, especially within the library. The library and the press have been highlighted by the Accessible Learning Services as a standout unit on campus for the work we’re doing in many different aspects. As more publishers get on board with Benetech certification it’s definitely something you’re going to want to learn about, especially if you end up working at an institution where accessibility legislation like the ADA or AODA are applicable!

How do you think your position in the press might shape your future in the LIS industry?

It’s really opened my eyes to roles that are library hybrids or just outside of libraries entirely. Working beyond libraries was often discussed throughout my MLIS but, because my previous work is so tied to libraries, I never really took it too seriously – I didn’t think it really applied to me. In my current role, I can admit I was wrong and I think this role has really furthered my interest in digital media and platforms to the point where these are things I want to continue to make part of my career. At the same time, it has deepened my love for books and knowledge sharing as it’s given me a chance to be part of those stages in a book’s lifecycle before it even appears in WorldCat.

It often takes force to cause us to take our library blinders off, I had a similar experience with fundraising and prospect research. It’s why I keep writing pieces like this that explore those alternative paths. Because for every program like Maia’s where it was discussed a lot, there is a program like mine where it was mentioned once in passing in the first semester and then basically never again unless you sought it out. The earlier you become aware of other options the more open you’ll be to exploring them and the more prepared you’ll be to create a broad enough skill set to be applicable across them. Library school teaches us so much that can be applied to these library adjacent positions, it’s all about figuring out how the skills translate.

Okay, finally, what tips or recommendations do you have for LIS students who might be considering jobs in publishing?

I know cataloguing isn’t for everyone but, pay attention in your cataloguing courses! These days, it’s not often that I directly edit a MARC record but that skillset was a huge advantage when learning the ONIX standards of the publishing world. Additionally, copyright and vendor contracts are great areas of focus because understanding them from a library perspective will give you valuable insight when you are looking at licenses with authors, estates and vendors/distributors as a publisher. Lastly, (and this applies to any specialized area of information sciences) if it’s something you already are interested in, start making those connections now; contact people in the field for research projects and use open access publishing and metadata management platforms as case studies. I based so many MLIS projects on my background in the visual arts and, while I don’t regret that, I think it can be better to look forward to what you want to be doing so you can show future employers that the passion and knowledge their work is something you already have. 

Maia’s not wrong about your cataloguing course, I’ve talked about the way these skills translate in one of my previous pieces, but they transfer in so many more ways. Organization of information is applicable across the board to any type of information for so many organizations, and understanding the different standards used in LIS makes it easier to learn the standards used in other industries as Maia highlights with learning Onix. I also don’t edit MARC records in my current role but I still spend a lot of time manipulating bibliographic metadata, so even if you’re working in a different area of the library your organization of information class is going to be so, so important. There is a reason that it’s always a foundational course!

I hope you found this peek into academic publishing to be useful and I hope it’s given you some new ideas for avenues to explore!

In addition to being a Contributing Writer here at Hack Library School, Lauren (she/her) will be graduating with her MLIS from the University of Alberta in June 2022She holds an honours BA in English/Religion & Culture and a BEd, both from Wilfrid Laurier University. Her interests are copyright; open education; scholarly communication; accessibility; and diversity, equity, and inclusion in LIS. Lauren is the Copyright and Reserves Supervisor at Wilfrid Laurier University, serving on the Library’s Accessibility Committee, and the Student Advisory Council. She also co-hosts a bi-weekly Twitter chat on library issues and trends (#lisprochat) and was a research assistant on the Opening Up Copyright project in 2020-21. Find her: @rendages, @lisprochat |

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