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ARL Fall Forum on Scholarly Monograph Featured in Inside Higher Ed

image © Horia Varlan

On October 9, 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, and ARL president Deborah Jakubs, the Rita DiGiallonardo Holloway university librarian and vice provost for library affairs at Duke University. The forum was covered by Colleen Flaherty in Inside Higher Ed the next day.

Flaherty notes that speaker Timothy Burke, professor and chair of the Swarthmore College History Department, laid out the problem well. The traditional print monograph is “static, expensive to publish, and inaccessible to all but a small few,” but it “is still the standard” upon which faculty are evaluated. Flaherty writes, “Burke and other speakers pointed to the digital monograph as a remedy to higher education’s stubborn grip on an increasingly obsolete form,” because the digital monograph enables collaboration and sharing of scholarship in innovative, interactive ways. 

Keynote speaker Laura Mandell, professor and director of the Initiative for Digital Humanities, Media, and Culture at Texas A&M University, uses a different term altogether—rather than “digital monographs” Mandell spoke of “virtual research environments (VREs).” She sees VREs as allowing readers to comment and provide counter-arguments and corrections. Flaherty notes, “Ultimately, [Mandell] said, any scholarly format that can’t correct misinformation ‘cannot adequately serve the needs of scholarship.’”

Several speakers noted that digital monographs continue to be discounted by promotion and tenure (P&T) committees. Burke said that the American Historical Association has established a committee to guide P&T committees in assessing digital projects. 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. Speakers also cited the Modern Language Association’s “Guidelines for Evaluating Work in Digital Humanities and Digital Media.”

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. 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. Barbara Kline Pope, president of the Association of American University Presses and director of the National Academies Press, urged forum participants “not to underestimate the traditional press’s role in vetting, reviewing, and promoting monographs.”

The Association of Research Libraries (ARL) is a nonprofit organization of 125 research libraries in the US and Canada. ARL’s mission is to influence the changing environment of scholarly communication and the public policies that affect research libraries and the diverse communities they serve. ARL pursues this mission by advancing the goals of its member research libraries, providing leadership in public and information policy to the scholarly and higher education communities, fostering the exchange of ideas and expertise, facilitating the emergence of new roles for research libraries, and shaping a future environment that leverages its interests with those of allied organizations. ARL is on the web at http://www.arl.org/.

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