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Many teachers at my university have produced custom course books for their students. These books contain all original content, written by the teacher, and tailored specifically for the course and students. The school does publish a trade journal, but to provide the lowest costs available, and perhaps to keep things simple, the school administrators always simply takes the teachers' course books to the school's print center, photocopies them in the necessary numbers, and staples the pages together with a cheap construction paper cover. I am currently preparing some custom textbooks for my own courses.

  • If these books are prepared in this same way by the university, is it considered “published”?
  • How might such a work be presented in an academic CV?
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  • 1
    If it's a textbook with no ISBN, I think the accepted term is "privately printed." Note that if it is a monograph published by the university, you might want to call it a "technical report." May 8 '12 at 10:32
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    I don't understand the first question. Is it considered "published" by whom, and for what purpose? I have no idea whether my lecture notes count as a "publication" in any formal sense, but I do include them in my CV (under "Other publications") and I'm certain they helped my recent promotion.
    – JeffE
    May 8 '12 at 17:51
  • I'd answer Question 2 by a general rule that seems to summarize the corresponding part of Anonymous Mathematician's answer: Tell the truth. In more (perhaps unnecessary) detail: Don't lead the reader to think it's refereed if it isn't. Don't lead the reader to think it's more widely distributed than it actually is. Don't do anything else that makes it look better or more important than it actually is. Mar 10 '18 at 14:25
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"Published" is a vague word, since for example you can even self-publish a book.

Ideally, a published book will have been carefully selected and edited, widely distributed, archived in many libraries, etc. How close it comes to this ideal varies, of course.

I don't know whether what you are describing would meet a formal definition of publication, but I'd be careful about how you describe it.

For example, if your book has an ISBN, is labeled with a publisher like "X University Press", and is publicly offered for sale (perhaps only through the university's website and university bookstore), then I would consider it published, even if only on a small scale. (It may be cheap, but there's no requirement that a published book must have gilded pages.) However, that sounds unlikely to be true in the case you've described.

Instead, you could describe it in other ways:

If anyone who wants a copy can buy one by getting in touch with your department, then you could describe it as a "book distributed by the Department of ... at University X".

If your book is not offered for sale to anyone except students in the course, then you might describe it as a "book prepared as course materials for ... at University X".

You might also want to specify something like the number of pages, to help distinguish between a lengthy book and shorter lecture notes.

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This is more a question of definitions, and I disagree with the 2 current answers.

Publish is a more general word than print, but the 2 words are not even really related.

To publish a book means to have it printed and to make it available to the public (which could be for free, or for sale).

Printing is only related to printed press, so note that publishing an article in a scientific journal may require no printing.

You can publish a game on steam, which requires no printing.

So publishing something really means to "ship" it. Publishing means saying "this is the final (or maybe just the first) version, and it's ready for you guys to read". And to make it available to the world. Publishing something means it's no longer your private information/document/product/program etc - it is available for purchase/free.

Note that the definition require that the content be made "public". Some may interpret this to mean that because only students at your university can buy it, it is not really public, so you can't use the word "publish". This is not accurate. Even in such a case the book is considered published and is considered publicly available to the whole world because anyone in the world could become a student of your university and could then purchase the book. Note that some scientific journal articles which "publish" their journals, only sell their articles selectively to users who have a specific subscription from a research body or a university. These are still considered published, because anyone could get access to such a subscription and would then be able to purchase the articles.

Regarding the specific details of your situation: your book would be considered published. Since you would have a finished book ready for print, you could consider contacting other publishers and getting a deal for them to publish it further, nationwide or worldwide.

So yes the book would be published, just as when I hit "Post your answer" I am publishing my answer. The difference is that I am publishing an answer, while you are publishing a book to your university book shop. So congratulations and please consider contacting other publishers and expanding it further.

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The "vernacular" meanings of "publish" and "print" overlap quite a bit, but academically and legally, there are significant differences. Academically, "publish" implies a level of peer review, endorsement, and selectivity that "print" does not. Otherwise, the term "published author" would be a meaningless term. Legally, "publish" also implies a level of editorial discretion and endorsement that "print" does not. If you write a book making a bunch of assertions about someone, then not only you but also its publisher are liable in a libel suit if the claims can be shown false. But if the "publisher" is simply a print shop that allows the general public to print anything for a fee, and it does not exercise any control over the content of the material, then it will not be liable. An issue in the early days of the internet was in what category sites like Stack Exchange fall: is this answer that you are now reading "printed" by SE, or is it "published" by SE? This has been largely resolved towards "printed" by Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act:

No provider or user of an interactive computer service shall be treated as the publisher or speaker of any information provided by another information content provider.

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