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ARL Fall Forum 2014 Explores Future of Scholarly Monograph

image © Horia Varlan

On October 9, 2014, ARL hosted its Fall Forum 2014, “Wanted Dead or Alive—The Scholarly Monograph,” convened by Brian E. C. Schottlaender, the Audrey Geisel university librarian at University of California, San Diego (UCSD), and ARL president Deborah Jakubs, the Rita DiGiallonardo Holloway university librarian and vice provost for library affairs at Duke University. Schottlaender noted that the forum aimed to engage the ongoing debate about the viability of the monograph, challenge our thinking about the monograph’s future, and consider the changing nature of scholarship.

In her keynote speech, “Imminent Demise or Potential Rejuvenation?,” Laura Mandell (slides), professor and director of the Initiative for Digital Humanities, Media, and Culture at Texas A&M University, kicked off the day with an engaging discussion of “virtual research environments (VREs).” Mandell reimagines monographs in the digital landscape in the form of VREs that allow readers to comment and provide counter-arguments and corrections. Such interactivity removes what Mandell sees as a liability of print monographs—their isolation from discourse. In a discussion of the fact that digital monographs continue to be discounted by promotion and tenure (P&T) committees, Mandell said that she offers P&T committees “equivalencies” to traditional objects to help them evaluate digital resources, for example, a database might be equivalent to two journal articles.

The next session, “The Monograph and Current Scholarship,” moderated by Nancy Gwinn, director of the Smithsonian Libraries, examined the effects of new forms of scholarship on the monograph. Stefan Tanaka, professor of communication and director of the Center for the Humanities at UCSD, said, “To my disappointment, the monograph forecloses discussion, rather than opening it up,” noting that a monograph is a static product while digital publishing is a more interactive process. He proposed moving away from linear narratives in favor of problem-based narratives. Timothy Burke, professor and chair of the Swarthmore College History Department, pinpointed a key problem: the traditional print monograph is static and expensive but still carries much weight in the academy and is the standard upon which faculty are evaluated. Burke mentioned that the American Historical Association has taken a step toward making digital monographs more acceptable by establishing a committee to guide P&T committees in assessing digital projects. Speakers also cited the Modern Language Association’s “Guidelines for Evaluating Work in Digital Humanities and Digital Media.” David Shulenburger, former vice president for academic affairs at the Association of Public and Land-grant Universities, encouraged making scholarship more accessible to all readers in order to foster interdisciplinarity. He also noted that much of the resistance to transforming the monograph is generational.

After lunch, Charles D. Eckman, dean of libraries at University of Miami, moderated a session on “The Monograph in the Global Environment,” which looked at specific monograph projects in the United Kingdom, Australia, and Canada. Roger Tritton (slides), the acting head of projects at Jisc Collections in the UK, participated via Skype and described three efforts that Jisc is involved in: the National Monograph Strategy for collection, preservation, supply, and digitization; OAPEN-UK to make open access monographs in the humanities and social sciences available; and the Jisc Collections–OAPEN Pilot for OA Monograph Centralized Services to break down barriers to publishing. Roxanne Missingham, university librarian at the Australian National University (ANU), also participated via Skype. Missingham spoke about the development of the Australian National University Press, which produces all of its materials as open access in order to increase their impact. She noted that the ANU Library hosts the press, enabling the library to better understand researchers’ needs and the whole scholarly communication cycle. Frits Pannekoek (slides), president emeritus and professor at Athabasca University, talked about the achievements of the Athabasca University Press, an open access press funded by the university. His business model for the press is a “1% solution.” He asked, if universities won’t put at least 1% of their budget into scholarly communication, why do they exist?

The final session, moderated by Brenda L. Johnson, the Ruth Lilly dean of university libraries at Indiana University, examined “At-Scale Strategies to Support the Monograph.” ARL executive director Elliott Shore discussed the idea of institutionally funded first-book subventions, proposed by the joint Association of American Universities (AAU) and ARL Task Force on Scholarly Communication to help younger scholars get published and to integrate the humanities into the web. Don Waters, senior program officer for scholarly communications and information technology at the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, spoke about a similar initiative that would provide universities “seed funds” to help newer scholars publish digital monographs with university presses. (E-mail Don Waters at djw@mellon.org to request his slides.) Chad Gaffield, professor of history at University of Ottawa, said that, by the time a monograph is published, the arguments within it have already been discussed within the discipline—the way to advance knowledge now is to reach a wider audience. Barbara Kline Pope, president of the Association of American University Presses and director of the National Academies Press, urged forum participants to recognize the press’s role in vetting, editing, and promoting monographs.

Brian Schottlaender eloquently summed up the day’s proceedings (notes) and the forum adjourned at 4:15 p.m.

See also coverage of the forum by Colleen Flaherty in Inside Higher Ed and tweets about the forum on Storify.