With this post we continue the series of perspectives from some of Publishing’s leaders across the non-profit and for-profit sectors of our industry. How did these leaders get into publishing? What excites and drives them? What is their vision for the future of publishing, and indeed for the business and careers of all those working at their organization? We rarely gain these insights so we are excited to give voice to some of the key leaders in the academic publishing world.

Today, I talk to Barbara Kline Pope, Director of Johns Hopkins University Press (JHUP), one of the nation’s largest university presses, annually publishing 130 new books and 110 journals across the life, health, and social sciences, public health, and humanities. At JHUP, Barbara is also responsible for Project MUSE, an aggregation of nearly 100,000 books and 800 journals from 400 scholarly publishers across the humanities and social sciences and for Hopkins Fulfillment Services.

What was your route into publishing? What barriers did you have to overcome?

Barbara Kline PopeLike so many of us, I fell into publishing. My dream was to become a fashion designer. As a teenager, I would design and sew most of my clothes. My undergraduate degree was interdisciplinary, with wide-ranging classes from textile science and apparel design to marketing and economics. Upon graduation, I landed a job as an assistant buyer for a major department store in D.C. But I wanted to attend graduate school at the University of Maryland, and that job left no time for school. I found the perfect position — marketing assistant at the National Academies Press (NAP), the publishing arm of the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. It was a place that valued learning. I thought I’d get a graduate degree and then go off to work for Levi Strauss. That didn’t happen. By the time I finished that degree, I was marketing director at NAP and in love with publishing, science, and the knowledge environment at the Academies. A few years later I became NAP’s Executive Director and then later added Executive Director for Communications to my role, running programs to engage public audiences in science. I was at the Academies for 34 years and proud that we were making a huge impact on people’s lives. Even so, I decided I wanted to try leading a university press and landed at Johns Hopkins in 2017.

I haven’t encountered too many barriers in my career but did suffer my share of insults. An author raging at me, “I’d like to talk to a man!” A prominent scientist proclaiming that I should be allowed to attend a certain meeting because of the “decorative value” I would bring. I had supportive leadership at the National Academies, including an impressive woman as a boss. After she left, I was at times the only woman in the room, although that changed dramatically over the years.

Could you tell our readers a little about what drives you as a leader of Johns Hopkins University Press?

I care deeply about workplace culture. Early on in my tenure at Hopkins Press, the staff and I discussed the kind of culture we wanted for ourselves. We asked how that culture would allow us to live our values every day, prepare us for change and continuous advancement, and lead to overall success in meeting our mission to bring the benefits of discovery to the world. After much collaborative work, we decided we wanted a culture more heavily weighted to learning, caring, and job fulfillment. We set about doing the hard work to make it happen. I firmly believe that if the culture isn’t right, moving forward can be an endless uphill battle. If the culture promotes collaboration, allows people to generate aspirational ideas and see some of them through to implementation, rewards creativity, and builds an inclusive environment, we have an excellent chance of succeeding no matter our ambitions. Undergirding our culture is the concept of dignity, so beautifully detailed by Donna Hicks in her book Leading with Dignity. And now we are integrating into our culture many diversity, equity, inclusion, and access (DEIA) programs. We created an executive-level position called director of people, culture, and equity a couple of years ago. While we all recognize that culture work is never done, I believe our current culture positions us well to capitalize on the opportunities before us.

As a leader in academic publishing, what most excites you right now?

I’m most excited about the promise of AI. In the early 1990s at NAP, we took advantage of the benefits of the early Internet for science publishing. I see AI as transformative as the Web. I believe it will affect publishing more than any other industry. We are ensuring that Hopkins Press is well positioned to use AI to become more efficient in its operations, allowing people to concentrate on more creative work while AI completes more repetitive tasks. As we are well aware, AI has the ability to dramatically boost our capacity to connect authors with readers through speeding up so much of what we do and enhancing discovery of our peer-reviewed content. I recognize the downsides of AI related to the training of our intellectual property on large language models (LLMs). Sometimes I think we should worry more about obscurity than piracy, but we do need to determine exactly how to ensure we are discoverable through these new tools while remaining financially sustainable and protecting our authors’ work. Is allowing training of our content the right thing to do to fulfill our goal to impact people’s lives with high-quality peer-reviewed work? What happens when it’s “all out there”? And when might it be too late to make a deal with the LLM owners to ensure our authors benefit financially from the use of their work? These are all questions that are intellectually interesting to me and that we are contemplating now.

AI is all around us, be it in publishing workflows, or in the promise and potential threats of LLMs. How do you see AI affecting your publishing life, and the communities you serve?

I think AI is the most important technology for publishing since the Internet. The impact on our publishing life will be profound. We need to ensure that we take every advantage of it to propel our own missions (financial and impact) forward. But we also need to be wary of the ways in which it can negatively affect our lives more generally. The last thing we need is another technology that can further mask untruths on the Web, polarize us even more, and lead to further degradation of democracy. We absolutely need to work to counteract the negatives as we embrace the positives, learning from the unintended consequences of social media.

How is Johns Hopkins University Press positioned to serve the next generation of students, researchers, and professionals?

We are well positioned for the future. Our staff are energized, having just contributed to a refresh of our strategic plan. They are prepared to embark on a major innovation plan that is centered on sustainable and equitable open access so that global citizens can benefit from our humanities and science scholarship. Together we are identifying the specific areas in which we will invest so that we can continue to grow and thrive. We have so many tools to draw upon given the breadth of our portfolio — Project MUSE, which is a massive aggregation of journals, books, reference works, case studies, and more; a robust journals program; a books program that leads in many areas of scholarship; and HFS, a client- and technology-centric books distribution business. It’s truly exciting to be leading Hopkins Press at this time.

What do you anticipate the major challenges will be for Johns Hopkins University Press, and indeed the publishing industry, over the next five years?

Depending on how AI goes, it could pose a major challenge to our business models. I am concerned about how AI will or will not include the references/links to the output it generates. We are dependent on people coming to our sites for additional information and then accessing the content either through their library or directly from us. If AI cuts that link, we need another way of covering the costs of the high-quality publishing and distribution that we do. Tools like Perplexity include references and links in their output, but we don’t often see links in the broader AI products. So much of what we do now (and were focused on even before the advent of the Web) is about driving discovery. We adapted to new ways to make our work discoverable when the Internet came along. I think we are smart enough to confront the challenges brought on by AI. Another exciting challenge is finding the best open access (OA) model for humanities and social sciences scholarship. We are piloting Subscribe to Open — an OA model that relies on library subscriptions to make content open without APCs — for nearly 90 journals on Project MUSE, of which 35 are from our own journals program.

As Open Access/Public Access mandates evolve across all forms of content, what does this all mean for your business?

Given my early and extensive experience with OA at NAP, you might imagine that I am all for sustainable and equitable open access. I relish experimenting with models that allow us to share our important, peer-reviewed work freely with the world. Most of our authors yearn to make a positive difference in people’s lives. We can grant that wish via open access. We envision a world where knowledge enriches the life of every person. That’s our vision statement at Hopkins Press. OA is a tactic that can help us attain that vision. And so, even without the mandates, we have been on the path to making sustainable and equitable open access possible for the scholars and researchers we serve and for the readers who need their work.

Even though Hopkins Press publishes works in the sciences and medicine, we have focused on what the federal mandates could mean for the humanities. This is because our journal content at Hopkins Press, including in Project MUSE, falls mostly under this domain. We have learned that the National Endowment for the Humanities funds research that results in about 100 articles a year. That’s not going to make a difference in the amount of scholarship that reaches the world’s citizens. And so, our own mission and values and those of our authors and libraries propel us to move toward OA rather than federal mandates.

What publishing innovations are you most proud of?

I’m most proud of the in-depth, iterative, real-time research that our team at the National Academies Press and researchers at the University of Maryland conducted to make all the books at NAP free for the world to read in a financially sustainable way. We started this research in 1999, determining the effect on sales of e-versions of our books at varied pricing levels, including free. The results of that research informed our pricing decisions and encouraged us to make small amounts of content free to read in downloadable PDF formats. We then conducted more research before making more content free until, in 2010, all the books published by NAP were free to read upon publication. This research earned us a major marketing science practice prize and guided changes to our business model over time. And that model allowed everyone in the world with a computer or smartphone to access for free every single one of our books the day it was published. Talk about impact. Looking back on it, it’s fun to think about how the design for the live online experiment needed to take into consideration that many people didn’t know what a PDF was. We were online with our books in 1994 in page image format — before Amazon, before PDF. I think this is one of the reasons that I am so drawn to AI and want to be out front in embracing its benefits.

What is the future of office/hybrid/remote working at Johns Hopkins University Press?

We managed our way through a pandemic, and our business not only survived but thrived. We need to be flexible as leaders. We understand the value of in-person collaboration and are intentionally facilitating these interactions. But we have demonstrated that we can accomplish much remotely. We are a hybrid business now. This model has served most staff extremely well, enhanced our culture, and allowed us to recruit exceptional people.

What do the next generation of academic publishing jobs look like to you? How will publishing jobs evolve in an AI ecosystem?

Let me pick just one job — one I had years ago — to illustrate the opportunity I believe AI offers. There is a fear that entry-level jobs will go away, with AI taking on the mundane work. But who says that entry level equals mundane? My first job in publishing was as a marketing assistant. I can see myself then, sitting at a desk wearing a blouse with huge shoulder pads, typing away on an electric typewriter and answering phones for the entire office. Delivering pink message slips would have made my Fitbit happy if that technology had been around back then. Enter computers, voice mail, and email, and the job of a marketing assistant changed for the better. It didn’t go away. Now assistants write descriptions for books, choose BISAC codes, tweet, buy Facebook ads, and so on. Marketing is never-ending. AI can make our marketing assistants and everyone else across publishing more productive and more fulfilled in their roles in ways we aren’t even imagining now.

If you were to pick one part of your daily job as your favorite, what would it be?

Extrovert Barbara loves running up and down the stairs visiting with people in our four-story building that is a beautifully renovated historic Catholic church. And, yes, there are people in our building on most days. Introvert Barbara likes to analyze data.

Robert Harington

Robert Harington

Robert Harington is Chief Publishing Officer at the American Mathematical Society (AMS). Robert has the overall responsibility for publishing at the AMS, including books, journals and electronic products.


10 Thoughts on "Chef de Cuisine: Perspectives from Publishing’s Top Table – Barbara Kline Pope"

Barbara has created the best workplace culture I’ve ever experienced. She inspires both excellence and compassion, encouraging not only a deep understanding of our business, but one another.

Thanks for your kind words. So grateful for your dedication and compassion, Davida.

Barbara was one of the most collaborative, creative – and fun – colleagues I ever had. Our years partnering as heads of Hopkins’ press and libraries were a model of how these symbiotic roles can make a difference in access to knowledge.

Great to hear from you Winston! Thanks for your comment. I agree, our time together at Hopkins was enjoyable and productive. I keep hoping you’ll turn up at a CNI meeting.

Many scholarly publishers seem threatened by innovations in artificial intelligence or by different access and business models. It’s refreshing to read about someone who explores these ideas with an open mind *and* with eyes wide open.

I’m proud to serve on the Hopkins advisory board under Barbara’s inspirational leadership. Her intellectual curiosity, devotion to innovation, and passion for the Hopkins mission–which she has been instrumental in revising and reshaping in the 21st century context–are a model for the industry.

Terrific interview with a truly inspirational leader. Thanks for putting her in the spotlight!

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