Monday, 14 September 2015

The Academic Book of the Future?

Much discussion of scholarly communication is dominated by scientific and (especially) serials concerns. This session aimed to redress the balance. Richard Fisher chaired a distinguished panel of academics to discuss the recent trends and data on monographs and the current AHRC project on the Academic Book of the Future. These are natural starting points for an extended discussion of what still remains the major currency of both communication and esteem in many academic subjects in the humanities and social sciences.
Simon Tanner from King’s College London and the AHRC Academic Book of the Future project provided an overview of the work completed to date and some highlights from the research data. The first stage of the research project has focused on finding out what the roles and purposes of academic books to serve scholarship and wider learning for all groups involved in this area and then to sense check that back to those groups.

The REF2014 submissions provided a rich data set as a means of learning more about the academic books created and deemed worthy of submission in the last REF cycle (2009-2014). They focused on the Main Panel D for Arts and Humanities. Within this Panel the data can be investigated by Unit of Assessment Subject Area and by Research Output Type. They hope to look at various areas including author gender, book format or length, books per submitting institutions and open access books. Tanner shared some initial analysis that threw up surprising findings including how chapters still feature in REF submissions and how few publishers submit more than 10 titles.

Michael Jubb has been working with the Academic Book of the Future and initial findings from the research suggest books remain a critical part of the scholarly infrastructure in analogue form, but we haven't yet articulated how to present the broad range of scholarly resources in the humanities in an effective and user-friendly way. More will be discussed during Academic Book Week in the UK 9-16 November 2015.

There seem to be powerful incentives to write and to publish books, even as volumes of sales of individual titles fall. Are we publishing too many books?
Professor Peter Mandler from the University of Cambridge and President of the Royal Historical Society observed that technology is making more of an impact on publishing and it's right to reflect on effects on monograph publishing for good or evil. The high cost is a barrier, but it's not practical to totally remove price as a good deal of work goes into it - including remunerated peer review. However, he believes that the sooner we can reduce cost through use of ebooks, the better. New initiatives including 30-60,000 length monographs are to be welcomed.

It's interesting to note the funders don't discuss that the average score for a monograph was much higher than for chapter or article. There are implications for the future of the academic book driven by changes to productivity in output, measurement and metrics around research, and generational changes (younger generation often prefer chapters or articles than long form research).

Professor John Holmwood, University of Nottingham and Past President of the British Sociological Association noted there are some social sciences that hardly submit any books. He reflected on a decline in cultural scholarlship in some social science disciplines. He believes the move across to a linear, cumulative form of journal output perhaps lacks the reflection and transformative impact. The commercialisation of higher education and the development of publishing business models suggests a link in government actions. On the one hand there is a radical ambition to create a democractic open online library, but how does that fit with the commercialisation (and underlying privatisation) of universities?
Holmwood observed there is disruption of the curriculum and the book as a result. Publishers are disrupting both as well with innovation with education delivery and digital provision of learning materials. He feels monographs and journals are moving at different speeds and this is now becoming a problem. Article based disciplines have citation patterns that show a short life of an article compared to disciplines that tend towards long form research which can be cited for decades.

There is no doubt the debate will continue. Follow #AcBookWeek and @AcBookFuture for more details.

1 comment:

  1. The Slides fro this are available here:
    The Video of the session are here: