The Endangered Monograph
Forays into a New Future
"Two different and distinct things are happening to the book as it moves into the digital medium. It is being translated rather literally into a digital representation, and it is undergoing a transformative evolution in new genres of digitally-based discourse."
Clifford Lynch, AAUP Statement on Open Access (PDF)
The MLA urges a renewed look at the best way to facilitate scholarly communication in fields that traditionally rely on the monograph:
"Our analysis of respondents' assessments of how activities count in their institutions' processes of evaluation for tenure points to the need for a more capacious notion of scholarship." (MLA Task Force on Evaluating Scholarship for Tenure and Promotion report, PDF)
They recommend broad discussion on the appropriate use of and credit for different forms of scholarship, e.g., translations, textbooks, bibliographic scholarship, scholarly editions, and editing a scholarly journal. "This last item seems highly undervalued when we consider that editors disseminate new scholarship and further the arts, stimulate and direct inquiry in their fields of study, help produce new knowledge, and create communities for discussion and debate within and among disciplines."
The report goes on to say, "Digital scholarship is becoming pervasive in the humanities and must be recognized as a legitimate scholarly endeavor to which appropriate standards, practices, and modes of evaluation are already being applied. The rapid expansions of digital technology has been fundamentally transforming the production and distribution of humanities scholarship, generating not only new forms of publication and dissemination - ranging from Web sites and e-journals to print-on-demand books - but also significant new modes of scholarship, including digital archives and humanities databases."
New thinking and experiments continue to emerge from authors, publishers, software developers, think tanks and providers of source material, building on this comment by Clifford Lynch in 2001,
"We are also seeing the development of new genres of material that are highly adapted to the online reading environment…. These new genres are designed to exploit the strengths of the digital medium. A scholarly Web site, for example, links and organizes many small chunks of text with multimedia content and provides the ability to search and navigate among them. It may also include interactive software components such as simulations, and use the communications capabilities of the Internet to build an interactive community around the work and its subject matter…."
In the same article, Lynch goes on to describe how web content can, in many instances, be richer than a print counterpart: "One key idea is that while the definitive and comprehensive version of the work will be digital, there will also be a sensible (though impoverished) 'view' of the work that can be reduced to printed form as a traditional monograph."
Here are some other examples of agents re-conceptualizing their role in creating books:
- GAIA is a unique collaboration between International and Area Studies at the University of California, Berkeley, the University of California Press, the California Digital Library, and internationally oriented research units on eight UC campuses. Our goal is to publish the best peer-reviewed scholarship within both established area and regional studies and new areas of inquiry that break down boundaries between traditional disciplines and regions.
All GAIA volumes are published digitally and made available free of charge to a global network of scholars. In so doing, we hope to encourage international intellectual exchange and to provide a viable model of distributed peer-reviewed publication that responds to the increasing market pressures faced by traditional scholarly publishers.
- Valley of the Shadows
"Created by the Virginia Center for Digital History, this site is a scholarly resource on the Civil War bringing together maps, statistics, journals and diaries, census, newspapers, church records, statistics, etc. from two towns, one in the North and one in the South."
- Rice University Press
"Rice University Press has been able to resume operations largely because of Connexions, Rice University’s open-source e-publishing platform. The technology offers us an inexpensive, easy-to-use digital publishing platform and a means of producing high-quality print-on-demand books at far less cost than traditional publishing does. Connexions also offers authors a way to use multimedia — audio files, live hyperlinks or moving images — to craft dynamic scholarly arguments, and to publish on-demand original works in fields of study that are increasingly constrained by traditional print publishing."
- Metropolitan Museum of Art: Acknowledging that the equilibrium between scholarly communication needs and commercialization may have gone awry, at least one copyright holder of images is rethinking their charges to the research community. As reported by Jennifer Howard in her article entitled, Picture Imperfect:
"The Metropolitan Museum of Art has taken a revolutionary step toward that end [to break down barriers to access and distribution of images] with the 'scholar's license,' which it hopes to have in place by this fall." This article goes on to quote Doralynn Pines, associate director for the museum's administration, "We are proposing in certain areas, certainly for scholarly purposes … that we permit people to use the images with no fee."
- The Institute for the Future of the Book, funded by the MacArthur Foundation, states, "we are … dedicated to investigating the transformation of intellectual discourse as it shifts from printed pages to networked screens."
The Institute is running a number of projects, including Sophie, a digital authoring tool. Here's what their website says about it:
Sophie is a digital media assembly tool which allows you to combine images, text, video, and audio into a single multimedia document. It is an easy-to-use program that let's you put together documents, slideshows, presentations, annotated videos, and more.
The developers of this project believe that since more and more kinds of information is becoming digital that authors will want to use them, and should be able to do so without being a cross-trained expert in programming, markup, and sophisticated graphic design programs. They offer Sophie as a way to create "a wrapper" for digital media, much like the book has served for linear text. Their goals go further than this: they are incorporating ways and means for readers to annotate text and share the annotations; to allow for group editing of documents; to display and mediate between multiple screens on a page with linked functionality; to be able to stream data from sources from remote as well as local archives. Sophie is in beta testing now, and is available for free download.
For more from the Institute, see its blog, if:book.