#AcBookWeek: what was it all about?

abw_logo_finalbook sprintsAcademic Book Week took place from the 9th to the 16th of November across a wide range of institutions and libraries, as part of the wider AHRC-funded research project exploring the future of the academic book.  The week had several different aims (which you can look at here), including increasing the debate around arts and humanities research, suggesting exciting and new collaboration between academics, publishers and librarians and increasing awareness around variety and accessibility of the academic book.  The University of Sussex hosted two fascinating events on this theme last Wednesday; one was specifically aimed at doctoral researchers called ‘Alternatives to the monograph: new ways of publishing for doctoral researchers’; the other was a more general discussion calledWhat is the future for the academic book?’

The first event, supported by CHASE, was about alternatives to the monograph, and saw three different academics discussing different ideas around publishing research. Dr Graeme Pedlingham, Teaching Fellow at Sussex, chaired the panel and opened the discussion by asking ‘whether the traditional monograph…is the best way to disseminate research?‘, a helpful question that framed both this event and the next.  Dr David Berry, Reader in Communication and Film at Sussex, introduced the concept of book sprints, a collaborative process in which several academics come together to create a book over the course of 3-5 days.  This energetic and non-hierarchical method of work suggests a new way for academics to not only publish but also to truly collaborate with one another.  The second speaker, Dr Martin Paul Eve, Senior Lecturer in Literature, Technology and Publishing at Birkbeck, University of London, outlined a revolutionary approach to publishing through his work at the Open Library of Humanities. In his incredibly illuminating discussion, he outlined the way that past paradigms of publishing are restrictive for new researchers and limit the dissemination of research.  He suggests that the open access publishing the Open Library uses addresses these concerns by ensuring that streamlined library subscriptions to journals helps centralise the funding of publication and increases hit rates, both ensuring the continuation of high-quality research that is more democratic and accessible for everyone, and removing the burden of cost from the author.  Finally, Dr Chris Kempshall, Researcher with the Centre for the History of War and Society, Sussex, discussed his personal experience using the Palgrave pivot method of publishing, a quicker, shorter and easier way of getting a study out into the world.  Shorter than a book, but longer than a journal essay, Dr Kempshall outlined how this new pivot method allows you to ‘jump ahead of academic press’, though also mentioning that it won’t perhaps be so helpful in getting you a job.

In the second session, What is the future for the academic book?‘ Professor Caroline Bassett, Professor of Media and Communications and Director of the Sussex Humanities Lab, University of Sussex, started the discussion by outlining how we need to reassess the definition of the monograph, using the term skeuomorph as a way to redraw the boundaries of the monograph as an object related to research, but that does not wholly define research.  In this way, we do not see digital transformation as the death of printed research, but as a continuation of sustained interrogations and complex thinking. By reassessing how we define the book itself, we can move away from limiting ourselves to viewing the book as the only truly valid way to present research.  Kiren Shoman, Executive Director, Editorial Books, SAGE Publications UK, gave a voice to the issues faced by publishers and their need to be responsive to changing research platforms and learning methodologies.  She discussed how SAGE Publications UK were incorporating more here in their output that works along side what they publish.  Dr Martin Paul Eve gave further information on the problems faced in research publication, including the problem of using big-name journals as a proxy for quality research. He outlined the different ways of accessing journal articles, using open access methods on the Open Library of Humanities, and how this challenges the concepts of market value and research impact.  Dr Eve advocated passionately for more democratic ways of accessing research that challenges market-gatekeeping and ultimately reframes modern conceptions around the production of knowledge and how this knowledge is used.

Both events suggestively outlined alternative ways of thinking about the dissemination of research that does not kill-off the academic book but works along side it.  The long monograph containing the research of an individual is indeed still a valid form of research, but it should not be thought of as the only way of presenting your research.  Book sprints allow for increased collaboration between academics, giving them the opportunity to work in a non-hierarchical way, side-stepping issues around idea ownership and individual authorship. Open access publishing through the Open Library for the Humanities removes the financial burden from authors who want to make their writing free and open for anyone.  They are a growing organisation with new Universities signing up every day, demonstrating a real interest from libraries in this new way of accessing and disseminating research. These new models of publishing also challenge some of the issues of the often lengthy peer-review process, allowing for research to reach the public in a quicker, more democratic way.  Ultimately, all of these new methods present really exciting opportunities for doctoral researchers as they allow for a wider variety of ways to engage others in your ideas, and refreshing ways to collaborate, in a system that appears to be often very closed and anti-collaboration. 

How you can get involved:

  • I’ve included a few helpful links to help flesh out some of new methods of research publication above, but if you’d like some more information generally on the Academic Book of the Future project then have a look here to see the research questions that underlie this project and the kinds of activities that are going on around Academic Book Week here.  You can also follow them on twitter @AcBookFuture
  • If you are interested in the Open Library of the Humanities, check out how you can get involved as a peer-reviewer or as a member of a committee here.
  • A recording of the second event will be made available soon.  Please check back here to watch the discussion in full.
  • Let us know if you know of any other good alternatives to existing publishing paradigms that haven’t been mentioned here, or join in the conversation on twitter by using the hashtag #AcBookWeek
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