Statement in Support of University Presses

The Executive Council approved the following statement at its May 2013 meeting.

The MLA regards university presses as vital to the dissemination of scholarship on languages and literatures and to the scholarly accreditation process, which is important to the academic community. University presses play a key role in encouraging and refining the work of new scholars through the publication of journal articles and first books that establish credentials, develop authorial presence in the field, and shake up intellectual conventions. Through a rigorous peer-review process and a faculty publication-committee review, university presses test the validity and soundness of scholarship and maintain the highest standards for academic publication. These presses cultivate authors—junior and senior—and work with them to develop their books so that their ideas are presented in a clear and intelligible manner to reach the widest readership possible, without sacrificing intellectual rigor or richness of ideas. University press editors also notice trends and emerging areas of research and publish the resulting work before a field has been established in the academy or has become widely accepted as an important topic and before anyone knows how much a part of the general conversation it will become.

University presses curate, edit, shape, and design; they launch an author’s ideas into the wider world and generate conversations around them globally. They extend the reputation of their universities since their books and journals are found in libraries, bookstores, and on Web sites that are frequented by scholars on all continents. Finally, and most important in today’s rapidly changing digital world, university presses innovate and experiment with new forms of publication, most recently with digital-only, short-form writing; enhanced e-books; and large scholarly sites—often in collaboration with their own research libraries and with scholarly associations, so that they can disseminate scholarship in whatever format is most suited to the work. University presses and research libraries together facilitate scholarly communication, the lifeblood of the university.

We are therefore deeply alarmed when budget cuts threaten the continued existence of a university press. The loss of a press means a narrowing of publication options for scholars and the increased likelihood that their work will not be noticed. Presses are partners with their university administrators, faculty, and libraries, and though they strive to be economically self-sufficient through revenue from book sales, they usually need a fairly modest amount of support from their home institutions, especially at a moment when university libraries suffer from budget cuts that preclude the purchase of books published by university presses and subscriptions to academic journals. University support of presses and libraries represents an investment in innovative research and creative work that is critical for the development of the humanities, just as university subsidies for laboratories and materials represent investments in the sciences. The return on that investment is immeasurable: participation in and the opportunity to influence the worldwide system of scholarly communication.