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Edwin Mellen Press suing McMaster librarian in $4.5 million libel lawsuit

An online petition is calling for professors, librarians, and other academics to stand by Dale Askey, an associate university librarian at Hamilton’s McMaster University. Askey is being sued by U.S. academic publisher Edwin Mellen Press for allegedly libellous comments he made about the company on his personal blog.

Edwin Mellon is suing Askey and McMaster University for $3.5 million and Askey alone for another $1 million. Although Askey wrote the post while employed by Kansas State University, the suit was filed with the Ontario Superior Court of Justice shortly after Askey moved to Canada. On Feb. 8, McMaster released a statement defending “its commitment to academic freedom and freedom of speech as the case proceeds before the courts.”

The 2010 blog post, titled “The Curious Case of Edwin Mellen Press, is no longer available on Askey’s website, but is included with the lawsuit document. In it, Askey questions the quality of Edwin Mellen’s books, editorial standards, and author contracts. The blog post concludes with Askey writing: “Given how closely Mellen guards its reputation against all critics, perhaps I should just put on my flameproof suit now.”

In an interview with the academic-news website Inside Ed, Askey defends the post, saying, It was, as such, my job to assess the quality of books, and I did so based on many years of experience in the field. As budgets decrease, the necessity to be more discerning increases, yet libraries have reduced their qualified staff numbers over the years. As a qualified and experienced librarian, I was sharing a professional opinion for consumption by peers.

This isn’t the first time Edwin Mellen has gone after a critic. In 1993, the publisher sued Lingua Franca magazine over an article that referred to the company as a quasi-vanity press cunningly disguised as an academic publishing house. Edwin Mellen lost the case, but did publish a book about it.