Digital age of opportunity for the monograph

Hefce launches review of digital publishing in the arts and humanities

January 16, 2014

Source: Alamy

Plugged in: open-access era offers new direction for traditional format

The transition to open-access digital publishing in the arts and humanities could provide exciting opportunities for the monograph.

This is the view of Geoffrey Crossick, distinguished professor of humanities at the School of Advanced Study, University of London, who has been commissioned by the Higher Education Funding Council for England to investigate issues surrounding open-access monographs and other long, scholarly works.

Professor Crossick, a former vice-chancellor of the University of London, said discussion around open access often focused on “challenges and threats” but it was important to remember that there were clear opportunities.

For monographs, these included the ability for authors to make additional datasets available for academics to work with. Monographs could also contain extra images that it may not be possible to include in a traditional book print run.

Professor Crossick added that such additions could be “really exciting”. “The monograph can become a much more dynamic form of communication with readers; so a community of people is built up around the monograph engaging with it,” he said.

But he maintained that the integrity of the publication must remain and readers should not be able to edit texts as is possible on Wikipedia.

As part of the project, Professor Crossick will look at whether open-access monographs will present particular challenges for specific disciplines.

Art historians already face problems concerning the costs of publishing rights for images in print, he explained. “There is great fear among historians that if those images are made available digitally, costs will rise,” he said.

Professor Crossick said it was unlikely that the review would put forward a series of recommendations, like those in the Finch report, into open access, as the arts and humanities were “way behind” the sciences in the open-access debate. “The thinking and understanding is much less advanced,” he added.

Instead, his report is intended to “build an understanding” and “clarify the issues”. But he warned that any recommendations should not follow too far behind the review, because the research excellence framework after the next one will need to have a clear policy with regard to open access and monographs.

The project, a collaboration between Hefce, the Arts and Humanities Research Council and the Economic and Social Research Council, is expected to report in the summer.

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