A U.S.-based academic publishing company is suing a McMaster librarian for a blog post he made while working at a Kansas university.

Edwin Mellen Press has filed two lawsuits against Dale Askey and McMaster University, claiming a total of $4.5 million in damages. The claims have yet to be proven in court.

In first filing, submitted in June of last year, the company alleges that statements Askey made in a Sept. 2010 blog post were both "false" and "defamatory in its tone and context."

In his entry "The Curious Case of Edwin Mellen Press," which has since been removed from the website, Askey referred to the company as a "dubious publisher" and a purveyor of "second-class scholarship."

The librarian went on to advise that, "in a time when libraries cannot purchase so much of the first-class scholarship, there is simply no reason to support such ventures."

Askey began working at McMaster two years ago, but the post remained on his website into 2012.

The suit claims that McMaster is also liable for allowing Askey "to continue the publications" and for refusing to force him to take the posting down.

In an email to CBC Hamilton, Gord Arbeau, McMaster’s director of public and community relations, confirmed that, prior to the filing of the lawsuits, the university had received several letters from EMP demanding that the blog post be taken down.

"McMaster considered that the complaints and demands made of it to be wholly without merit," Arbeau said.

"Subsequent letters were received from the Press and became, in the University’s view, increasingly inappropriate in tone. Given this, McMaster determined that a meeting with the Press was not merited and would not be a fruitful use of time."

Business 'badly hurt'

"That badly hurt our business," said EMP founder Herbert Richardson, referring to the post. "People looking for a publisher see that and read it and they just decide not to publish to us."

In addition, he said Askey's comments are an affront to the scholars that EMP publishes.

"I'm less concerned about it hurting our business than it hurting the reputation of our authors."

'As a qualified and experienced librarian, I was sharing a professional opinion primarily for consumption by peers.' —Dale Askey, McMaster University

In an email exchange with CBC Hamilton, Askey, who has worked at McMaster for two years, refused to comment on EMP's allegations.

However, he gave some context to the comments he'd made in the blog post and defended his professional credibility.

"As budgets decrease, the necessity to be more discerning increases, yet libraries have reduced their qualified staff numbers over the years," Askey wrote. "As a qualified and experienced librarian, I was sharing a professional opinion primarily for consumption by peers."

Company founded in Toronto

Richardson founded Edwin Mellen Press in 1972 during his time as a religious studies professor at the University of Toronto. He moved the business to Lewiston, N.Y., in 1979, but chose to reside on the other side of the Canadian border, in Niagara Falls, Ont.

EMP, Richardson said, is a niche firm that takes on authors who might not otherwise get their books published. He said each title his company releases generally sells fewer than 100 copies.

He said comparing EMP to a larger academic publisher, particularly those that are affiliated with big-name universities, is unfair.

"McGill would never publish books that we would do, and we would never publish books that McGill would do," Richardson said.

His company, he added, might choose to publish topics as obscure as the spread of tuberculosis in one Indian city or a religious studies professor's radical reinterpretation of the biblical Book of Job.

Richardson said he decided to file the lawsuit after sending as many as eight letters to McMaster asking to meet with university officials to discuss Askey's writings.

"The only reply we received was threatening letters from their lawyer," Richardson said. "The Edwin Mellen Press decided that all we could do is start our own suit."