Pressed to get a good read

January 23, 1998

UNIVERSITY presses are rejecting scholarly works with poor sales prospects in the United States and urging academics to write in a more popular style.

This has left aspiring young professors in highly specialised disciplines with dwindling means of building the credentials they need to win permanent appointments.

Without the opportunity to get into print, they say, they have less chance for advancement at universities where the adage "publish or perish" is a prerequisite for tenure.

Mary Case, director of the Office of Scholarly Communication of the Association of Research Libraries, said: "If scholars in low-sales fields cannot get published and tenured there may come a time when there are no faculty to teach in these fields."

The office convened a Washington conference about what it described as "the specialised scholarly monograph in crisis". Others worry that the advancement not only of professors, but of knowledge, may be stunted.

Scholarly presses argue that their already meagre budgets have been cut by parent institutions while their costs have increased and their best customers - academic libraries - are spending more on journal subscriptions and electronic data and less on books.

The biggest shift is that publishers are now "looking for books that are written with force, intelligence and grace, the kind of books that will be read, which isn't to say that we're not still interested in works of scholarship", said Bruce Wilcox, director of the University of Massachusetts Press. "We don't want a system that makes it impossible for that cutting-edge, focused work to happen, but people need to pay attention to audiences. We want the scholarship to be accessible."

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