A major research project is being launched by the Arts and Humanities Research Council and the British Library to determine the future of academic books in an age of vocal campaigns for open access publishing and continuing digital upheaval.
Samantha Rayner, director of the Centre for Publishing at University College London, will lead a team of four researchers from her own institution and King’s College London’s department of digital humanities on the £450,000 initiative.
“We will consult as broadly as possible over the two-year funding period to gain the most comprehensive understanding of the publication needs of scholars at all stages of their careers, and the issues relating to the publication, dissemination, use and curation of the long-form publication in traditional and new formats,” Dr Rayner said.
At the heart of the Communities of Practice: The Academic Book of the Future project are three questions: “What do we mean by a book? How would new forms better serve the purpose of scholarship? How do we exploit the points of contact with wider developments in communications and media?”
Academics who use blogs and Twitter, for example, as Dr Rayner pointed out, challenge the distinction between “proper research” and “informal forms of research”, so it is necessary to consider how the latter can augment traditional book-based scholarship.
The researchers will explore what lies beyond “the existing models of the monograph, critical edition and edited collection”, “the new possibilities being opened up for researchers in the arts and humanities” and how scholars’ training needs can best be met. Perhaps most crucial of all, they will ask: “What are the implications for peer review, promotion and career advancement in the changing landscape of academic book production?”
The project brings together a range of “communities of practice”: universities, specialist academic departments, university presses and crossover publishers, libraries and professional bodies. These collaborators, said Dr Rayner, will enable researchers to better understand the landscape of academic publishing. Representatives of arts and humanities disciplines will help them explore the challenges of fields such as film studies, archaeology and art history, “where the non-textual is at least as important as the textual”.
Smaller, more focused research programmes will home in on the contentious topics of open access, peer review, the role of the editor and digitally enhanced products. Although the main output will be an end-of-project report intended to “generate new evidence and dialogue that will inform policy and national approaches to this important area of scholarly communications”, other activities will include an Academic Book Week, a “hackathon”, conferences and workshops bringing aspiring academic authors together with publishers such as Oxford Editions Online.
Consultancy support for the surveying work on the Communities of Practice project will be provided by Michael Jubb of the British Library’s Research Information Network. The project board will be chaired by Kathryn Sutherland, professor of bibliography and textual criticism at the University of Oxford, while a strategy board including national policy and funding bodies is chaired by Anne Jarvis, librarian of the University of Cambridge.