Get to know the MIT Press’s new Director, Amy Brand, in this two-part Q&A series. Editorial Director Gita Manaktala conducted the interview.
You earned your PhD at MIT and worked at the Press during the 1990s, during which time you acquired our linguistics list, as well as cognitive science books for the prestigious Bradford Books imprint. When did you first realize that you might like to return to the Press in some capacity?
I had been in discussion with leaders at the Institute about returning to MIT for several months before the Press Director job was officially posted. Although I was very happy as VP at Digital Science, working at the Press in the ’90s had been the most professionally rewarding time of my life, so I was very open to being wooed back.
This suggests an optimism about the future of university press publishing. You mentioned your previous post at Digital Science, a software company whose products support the work of scientific researchers and publishers. How will this experience (and others) inform your approach as MIT Press Director?
Yes, I’m indeed optimistic about the future of university press publishing. Clearly, there are huge challenges in academic publishing. Not least, how do we maintain our traditional book and journal models while simultaneously inventing the future—that is, new models that align with how some scholars now research, discover, and communicate?
But the opportunities are tremendously exciting. I’ve been immersed for a long time, in different capacities, in efforts to shape the future of scholarly publishing, whether from the vantage point of linking infrastructure like CrossRef and ORCID, open access in my role launching Harvard’s DSpace repository, faculty appointments and tenure from the perspective of Harvard’s provost’s office, and most recently at Digital Science where I had the opportunity to work with some of the best new research technologies in a culture that lives and breathes innovation.
Part of what’s so exciting for me about the MIT Press Directorship is the chance take what I’ve gleaned over the years working in book and journal publishing, on information infrastructure, in higher ed administration, on research software…and apply it in leading the Press into that future. Another thing that makes being at the helm of the MIT Press today so appealing is the mandate to work much more closely with other parts of the Institute than we have in the past.
What surprised you during your first week on the job?
I was very pleasantly surprised to be reminded of how easy going and friendly the culture of the Press is. Everyone has been extremely collegial, open-minded, and gracious.
What is the most challenging thing so far?
Reining in my energy and ideas! There are so many compelling new directions I want to explore, hence it has been a bit challenging in my first weeks here to keep my mind focused on the nuts-and-bolts stuff. I’m confident I’ll find the right balance soon.
How do you see the role of university presses changing during the next five to ten years? What about the MIT Press in particular? Do you predict closer collaboration among the Press and the MIT Libraries, which also have new leadership in Chris Bourg?
While I don’t see the role and mission of university presses changing, the obvious changes in the way people produce and consume information compel us as university presses, as distinct from other academic publishers, to be more closely aligned with other scholarly communication functions on campus. The Libraries and the Press under our new leadership will be working together much more, certainly, but I also envision the Press playing a more central role in the scholarly communication efforts of Institute departments and centers.
What advice do you have for the MIT Press’s acquisitions editors about the projects they seek?
Because I worked in book acquisitions for ten years, I have strong opinions about acquisitions editors as recognized thought leaders in their areas. The ideal model is actively recruiting the best authors to write the books you recognize a particular field needs, perhaps before the author herself realizes it, and definitely before your competitors realize it. There are of course always wonderful unsolicited projects, and those improve too as the editor’s own reputation grows. So my advice is, be out in the field and on campus as much as feasible, and cultivate a social media presence.