Susan Murray; the Manager and Publisher at Sydney University Press, is the winner of the 2023 Mike Horsley Award for longstanding, dedicated service to the educational publishing industry.
How did you first get your foot in the door of the publishing world?
I originally trained as a Librarian, so I have always been involved with the world of books. My first job after university was in the editorial library of the Sydney Morning Herald, where I read the paper from cover to cover every day, cut it up and then filed the ‘clippings’ into subject-based manila folders. I was great at trivia during those days!
From there, I moved to the State Library of NSW, where I worked with CD-ROM databases, until a fabulous new thing called the internet came along. Part of a group that gave demonstrations on the use of the internet to NSW parliamentarians – in 1993, politicians mostly wanted us to look them up to see if they were ‘on the internet’.
My next job, as a library Web Coordinator at the University of Sydney, allowed me to learn about digitisation projects the library was doing and create searchable text collections of early Australian books. The opportunity arose to restart Sydney University Press as a print-on-demand scholarly publisher, and I have been here ever since.
Your nominators highlighted innovation as a key contribution to the industry. Is there an initiative you are particularly proud of?
While I haven’t always been the driving force, there are a couple of projects I have been involved in and become the ‘face’ of.
In the first edition of the open access textbook, Australian Politics and Policy, which is written and edited by over 40 politics academics across Australia; we had a customised function, where academics could select which chapters they wanted in a bespoke edition of their course. We could do this because we have a completely online layout system, from which we generate all versions of our books – print and online PDFs, ePubs and websites. SUP has now partnered with the Teaching and Learning committee of the Australian Political Science Association for later editions.
Having the academics drive the revision of the content, and the creation of new chapters that work with their teaching has meant we have the best of both worlds. Professionally edited textbook content that aligns to course material. I would like to see other OER initiatives partner with Australian educational publishers to get the benefit of their expertise and ensure the longevity of the books.
Although not currently available, another project highlight has been the Australian Poetry Library (ALP). This joint venture between the university and the Copyright Agency aims to make Australian poets and poems more readily available to students and readers. The Copyright Agency negotiated with its members to get in-copyright poems, and we provided the older material from our digital collections.
The APL could be searched by word, theme (e.g. bush poems, sad poems), or poetic form (e.g. acrostic) and users could create a custom PDF of their selected poems for a small fee, which then went to the poets. The website has suffered technical difficulties in recent years, but steps are afoot to get it back online in the near future, with more poets and features.
Accessibility seems to be an important value in your work at SUP. What advice would you give to other publishers hoping to improve in this area?
I encourage publishers to read the new Books without Barriers guide. Work out what you can implement and start there. We started with alternative text, and now we provide our authors with a spreadsheet where they fill in the image file name, caption and alternative text. Our Author Pack further provides instructions on how to write good alternative text, with examples.
There are also ePub accessibility checkers (like Ace Smart from DAISY) that you can run your books through, to ensure that they are compliant. Having a sound understanding of HTML and its tags is really useful – if you can see where a tag isn’t closed or nested correctly, you can fix things quite quickly.
What’s your vision for the educational publishing industry in the next 5-10 years? What would you like to see change?
I would like to see more opportunities for educational publishers to work with education to co-develop the resources that Australian students need. As in the open textbook example above, schools and universities are funding projects like Open Educational Resources, which are great, but will also need revision and revamping down the track.
Educational publishers are experienced in this area and could provide great benefits to students and academic institutions.
What advice would you give to someone starting out in the educational publishing sector?
Try your hand at everything, and say yes if opportunities arise. We offer work placements to students in the Master of Publishing program here at The University of Sydney, who often are not really interested in a career in educational or scholarly publishing. But we offer them a varied program according to their interests, and they walk away with useful skills that will help them in their career, no matter where they end up.
It is gratifying to see graduates doing interesting work at a variety of publishers, and I like to think we had a little hand in helping them get there.
The Mike Horsley Award is chosen from a list of nominations made by the industry, read more about previous recipients.