The Value of University Presses, Then and Now

Press Director Douglas Armato has been a leader in scholarly publishing long enough that the Association of University Presses has asked him to help define the central values of the field—twice.

The Value of University Presses, Then and Now


Press Director Douglas Armato has been a leader in scholarly publishing long enough that the Association of University Presses has asked him to help define the central values of the field—twice. In 2000, he worked with Steve Cohn of Duke University Press and Susan Schott of the University of Kansas Press on “The Value of University Presses,” a statement of how scholarly publishers benefit society, scholarship, and their parent institutions. In 2019, Armato was asked to form a group to revisit the document. Alongside colleagues Lisa Bayer (Georgia), Mahinder Kingra (Cornell), Erich van Rijn (California) and Stephanie Williams (Ohio), he worked on a renewed statement that will be used by AUPresses to guide outreach and communication efforts and educate new member presses on the core principles of the field.

On the occasion of the statement’s re-release, Press Outreach and Development Manager Eric Lundgren sat down with Armato to discuss the creation and revision of this key document. The full text of “The Value of University Presses” follows.

You have a unique perspective on “The Value of University Presses” as a lead author of both the original 2000 version and the 2019 revision. What caught your eye when you returned to this statement after 20 years, and what were some of the changes your group made?

I was struck by both the changes and the continuity. The 2000 statement was drafted before there were ebooks and before open access to scholarship was even a discussion. Google was only recently launched and Amazon was a minor and quirky presence in the bookselling world. Awareness of diversity and accessibility was mostly limited to our editorial programs—not our hiring and publishing practices. On the other hand, working with a younger generation of university press leaders on the 2019 revision, I was struck that every single item from the original list was retained. Those original items needed to be updated, and we added six new ones, but university presses have adhered to their mission and, in fact, expanded it.

The statement is broken down into three sections, “University Presses and Society,” “University Presses and Scholarship,” and “University Presses in the University Community.” Could you speak a little bit about how the University of Minnesota Press finds the right balance of providing value in these distinct but overlapping areas?

As you say, they are overlapping. And ideally, everything we publish should in some way simultaneously serve society, scholarship, and our parent institutions. We balance our lists among publications directed mostly to scholars and students, those that aim for a wider audience of readers, and works directed to our state and region. But all share a commitment to knowledge and toward advancing social conversation and debate. A scholarly work may be referenced by journalists or policy makers or be drawn upon by the author of a bestseller years later. A regional novel or memoir will help people think about their own positions in our society. And one of our children’s books will help spark interest in nature or history or other people’s lives in a way that helps them develop into thoughtful, inquisitive students and potentially into tomorrow’s scholars, researchers, and leaders.

Given continued consolidation of the publishing industry, pressure on humanities departments at universities, and political attacks on the media, one could argue that university presses are even more important today than they were in 2000. Are there things you would like to see university presses do to better articulate their value to their universities and communities?

The primary responsibility of a scholarly press is to publish verified knowledge and informed, fact-based debate. And yes, that is more critical now than ever. In the two decades since the original “Values” statement, we’ve all witnessed the rise of clickbait media, the hollowing-out of news and opinion sources under profit-driven corporate ownership, and the suppression of knowledge and open debate by political interests. The message university presses most need to get out there—and we’re beginning to do so—is the collective impact of our 100+ member presses. At a time when facts are literally under siege, we demonstrate the importance of verified knowledge and the university research mission. Universities and our society at large don’t always realize it, but they need us.

“The Value of University Presses” has become a guiding document for scholarly publishers. What might the next update look like in another twenty years?

I think the continuity of mission will still be there. You can look back even further than the almost twenty years between the two versions of “The Values of University Presses” to the founding of the Association of University Presses eighty years ago, and see how consistent our programs and guiding principles have been, even as we’ve adapted to constant changes in technology, bookselling, scholarship, and higher education. We’ll certainly see a new economic paradigm emerge for publication of scholarship, but university presses and libraries will be at the center of it. Bookselling will change, but university presses will still find ways of bringing their publications to broad global audiences. Scholars will find new ways of presenting their research, but university presses will help develop tools for making it available. Universities will diversify their faculty and student bodies and university presses will be part of that change and will benefit from it. So in another twenty years—maybe sooner—we’ll be updating this list again, and probably expanding it, but I have no doubt the values it lists will still guide us.


The Value of University Presses


University Presses are at the center of the global knowledge ecosystem. We publish works and perform services that are of vast benefit to the diverse scholarly network—researchers, teachers, students, librarians, and the rest of the university community. Our work also reaches out to a broad audience of readers, and ultimately to the larger world that depends on informed and engaged peer-reviewed scholarship published to the highest standards. Each University Press brings a distinctive vision and mission to its work. Yet we are all guided by, and united in, core values—integrity, diversity, stewardship, and intellectual freedom—that define who we are, the work we do, and the goals to which we aspire.

University Presses and Society

1: University Presses make available to the broader public the full range and value of research generated by university faculty and by scholars outside the academy.


2: University Press books, journals, and digital publications present the foundational research and analysis that is drawn upon by policymakers, opinion leaders, nonprofits, journalists, and influential authors.


3: University Presses contribute to the abundance and variety of cultural expression at a time of continuing consolidation in the commercial publishing industry.


4: University Press publications provide deep insight into the widest range of histories and perspectives, giving voice to underrepresented groups and experiences.


5: University Presses make common cause with libraries, booksellers, museums, and other institutions to promote engagement with ideas and expose the public to a diversity of cultures and opinions.


6: University Presses help draw attention to the distinctiveness of local cultures through publication of works on the states and regions where they are based.


7: University Presses seek a wide readership by publishing in formats from print to ebook to audio to online and by making publications available in accessible alternative formats for those with print-related disabilities.


8: University Press translation programs make available to English-language audiences vital works of scholarship and literary importance written in other languages.


9: University Presses rediscover and maintain the availability of works important to scholarship and culture through reprint programs and through revival of key backlist titles, often via open digital editions.


10: University Presses encourage cultural expression by publishing original works of fiction, poetry, creative nonfiction, and the visual arts.


University Presses and Scholarship

11: University Presses, through their rigorous peer review and faculty board approval process, test the validity and soundness of scholarship in order to maintain high standards for academic publication.


12: University Presses add value to scholarly work through careful editorial development; professional copyediting and design; extensive promotion and discoverability efforts; and global distribution networks.


13: University Presses include in their community a wide array of institutions – including scholarly associations, research institutes, government agencies, museums, and international presses – thus representing a diversified research culture.


14: University Presses recognize important fresh perspectives in scholarship by sponsoring work in emerging and interdisciplinary areas that have not yet gained wide attention.


15: University Presses sponsor and develop the work of early-career scholars through publication of their first books, which establish credentials and develop authorial experience.


16: University Presses publish established and start-up scholarly journals in the humanities, social sciences, and STEM disciplines that contribute to a thriving ecosystem of article-based scholarship.


17: University Presses actively promote the translation of works by English-speaking authors into other languages, making their scholarship available to researchers, students, and readers worldwide.


18: University Presses commit to multivolume publishing projects and dynamic digital resources, partnering with librarians, foundations, and other organizations on works of wide scope and enduring importance.


19: University Presses collaborate with learned societies, scholarly associations, and libraries to explore how new technologies can benefit and advance scholarship.


20: University Presses publish books, journal articles, and digital projects used in undergraduate and graduate courses as essential components of well-rounded syllabi and reading lists.

University Presses in the University Community

21: University Presses extend the mission, influence, and brand of their parent institutions, making evident their commitment to knowledge and ideas.


22: University Press publishing programs span the humanities, arts, social sciences, STEM fields, and professional schools, representing the full expanse of university research.

23: University Presses demonstrate their parent institutions' support of research in essential academic fields – particularly in the humanities and social sciences – that are rarely supported by federal or corporate funding.


24: University Presses extend their parent institutions’ efforts at community engagement and outreach by publishing books of interest to their local communities and to a broader regional readership.


25: University Presses raise the public profile and reputation of their parent institutions by generating positive news coverage and reviews, receiving book awards, and maintaining active social media presences.


26: University Presses play a leading role in experimenting with and developing new platforms for delivering and engaging with scholarship.


27: University Presses partner with campus libraries, digital humanities centers, and other university departments to advance non-traditional initiatives in scholarly communication.


28: University Presses provide distribution and other publishing services to other university units and also act as distributors for independent publishers, ranging from established presses to innovative scholar-led initiatives.


29: University Press staff act as local experts for faculty and administrators, providing guidance on intellectual property, scholarly communication, and the publishing process.


30: University Presses engage in the teaching and learning mission by providing substantive work study, internship, and apprenticeship experiences for undergraduate and graduate students.

This essential document, articulating the value of university presses, was originally created in 2000 by a working group of three Association board members, Douglas Armato (Minnesota), Steve Cohn (Duke), and Susan Schott (Kansas). In 2018, the Association of University Presses invited Armato to form a new author group to update it. Our thanks go to him, Lisa Bayer (Georgia), Mahinder Kingra (Cornell), Erich van Rijn (California), and Stephanie Williams (Ohio) for this renewed statement.

Approved by the AUPresses Board of Directors June 2019.


"The Value of University Presses" is available in a downloadable PDF.