University Press to go digital despite difficulties

For students like first-year Sopeab Voeun, the Internet serves as a better tool for research than books at the library.

“The libraries are only really helpful if you know how to use them or else you’ll just get lost,” she said.

The University of Minnesota Press is looking for ways to better serve students who would rather click a mouse than crack open a book.

Despite publishing 2,000 titles since 1925, the University Press is addressing the need to make its books available online.

While the technology exists to convert the current collection, the economics and political battles make the process more difficult, said University Press Director Doug Armato.

With 85 university presses in the United States and thousands of four-year colleges that depend on the books produced, the challenge is getting every press to agree on one method of digital production, he said.

Because the University Press is self-sufficient and supported largely through sales, Armato said “the presses just don’t have the money to do this alone.”

He said there is also a concern about a decrease in sales if the published work is accessible online.

Armato said 70 percent of the press’s books are searchable through Google book search but that the Web site isn’t perfect. The program allows people to search the contents of books and view some complete texts.

“A Web search is far too broad for books,” he said.

Armato said, for example, if someone types in “George Washington,” the return will be enormous and will list results based on usage, which might not lead anywhere.

University librarian Wendy Lougee said the switch to digital production also would affect the library’s job on campus.

“The challenge for libraries is twofold: to provide access to an increasingly complex and sometimes chaotic world of digital information and also to integrate our resources and systems into other tools our users employ,” she said.

Lougee said many publishers already have switched to producing their media in a digital form, and University Press publishes some of its works digitally.

Scholarly journals have been produced digitally for several years, and all books published since 1996 were converted to prepare for complete digital publishing.

Ideas for published works are submitted by scholars and the general public from across the country, Armato said.

Jennifer Doyle, a professor at the University of California at Riverside, had her book “Sex Objects: Art And The Dialectics Of Desire” published through University Press.

She said the press “has a good history of publishing feminist and queer scholarship on visual culture as well as interdisciplinary and theoretically adventuresome work.”

Doyle said publishing digitally would make books such as her own more accessible to students.

But she said market-driven decisions such as going digital usually make it harder for authors publishing academic work.

“It’s hard enough as it is to survive in this country as an artist,” she said.

Freelance Editor Emily Kaiser welcomes comments at [email protected]