The Future of the Scholarly Monograph

An interesting new essay about the future of the scholarly monograph has appeared in the form of a report to the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation: Michael A. Elliott, “The Future of the Monograph in the Digital Era: A Report to the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation,” Journal of Electronic Publishing 18 (Fall 2015), DOI: (thanks to my colleague Steve Griffin for pointing this out). This report is the work of a group of humanists and university administrators at Emory University, seeking to develop a “model of university-funded monograph publication,” focusing on “open access digital publication as well as a print-on-demand product.” This is another effort to address the matter of digital publication in a way that fosters the utility of the monograph that seems threatened in the digital era.

Our Emory colleagues believe in the value of the scholarly monograph, defined as a “peer reviewed, detailed written work on a single specialized subject, whose presentation of evidence, argument, and conclusions do not fit within the constraints of an academic journal publication).” There are no surprises in that this team identifies an array of challenges to the future of scholarly publishing in the digital era, including how it factors into academic evaluation, tenure and promotion; how publishing digitally enhances and transforms the monograph – and the approaches in design, marketing, peer review, and so forth that need to be in place to ensure the monograph’s utility; and the benefits of open access, primarily “by granting access to smaller, less financially secure colleges and universities that may not have the resources to purchase monographs or databases” and “by sustaining existing scholarly communities, as well as simultaneously cultivating new audiences for our work.” Most readers of this report will be interested in the funding model being developed at Emory, which, at this point, is more of a proposal to be tested out.

The authors of the Emory report believe that the printed book will continue to have a role, while the digital form opens up interesting new possibilities for publishing. We acknowledge that the matter of the future of print has intrigued a number of scholars – such as Peter L. Shillingsburg, From Gutenberg to Google: Electronic Representation of Literary Texts (New York: Cambridge University Press, 2006), Robert Darnton, The Case for Books: Past, Present, and Future (New York: PublicAffairs, 2009), Kathleen Fitzpatrick, Planned Obsolescence: Publishing, Technology, and the Future of the Academy (New York: New York University Press, 2011), and Andrew Piper, Book Was There: Reading in Electronic Times (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2012); librarians, Mark Y. Herring, Fool’s Gold: Why the Intranet is No Substitute for a Library (Jefferson, North Carolina: MacFarland and Co., Inc., 2007) and Jeffrey T. Schnapp and Matthew Battles, The Library Beyond the Book (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 2014); and social commentators, Jeff Gomez, Print Is Dead: Books in Our Digital Age (New York: Macmillan, 2008) and Sven Birkerts, The Gutenberg Elegies: The Fate of Reading in an Electronic Age. (Boston: Faber and Faber1994). The printed book has been declared to be dead even more often that has God.

Thinking about the topic, the future of scholarly publishing, ought to remind us how important it is to introduce up and coming information professionals to the history of the book and publishing. We have become so entranced by technologies that many library and information science schools how crowded out courses on the history of books and printing, robbing students of the opportunity to engage with an interesting and contentious topic that can strengthen their ability to understand how these technologies still persist even while they undergo substantial change. Understanding this can help these information professionals prepare for their future careers, providing an array of case studies that will be invaluable to them, seven if they become digital curators, archivists, and librarians. I initially discussed this a lifetime ago in my “Taking Sides on the Future of the Book,” American Libraries 28 (February 1997) and I continue wrestling with this by teaching a course on the history of books, printing, and publishing.







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