The 2011 forums

Book to what future? The scholarly monograph in the digital era

20 September 2011

Does the scholarly monograph have a future in the digital age? What constitutes an academic book in these days of research assessment processes and 'impact' criteria for job promotions?The academic monograph in the Social Sciences and the Humanities is in crisis in Australia, as in the rest of the western world in terms of publication models and effective global distribution of knowledge. University library budgets have been overwhelmed in recent decades by the serial subscription costs of large multinational publishers to the detriment of book purchases. Traditional university presses have increasingly had to move into popular trade publishing to cover costs, while print runs of academic books have declined dramatically.

With the monograph remaining as the 'gold standard' of research assessment and promotion and tenure, where does the academic community turn? It’s Catch-22.

Researchers in the social sciences and humanities need to publish academic books but the outlets for them have severely diminished. While the new university e-presses provide mechanisms for wider distribution of knowledge, they have not yet been accorded the metrics or status in formal research evaluation exercises.

At the Information Futures Forum on Tuesday 20 September Colin Steele, Convenor of the National Scholarly Communications Forum, provided an overview of the previous day's discussions. Participants enjoyed ample time for questions and conversation about an issue which is crucial for the academic publishing and bookselling communities.

A leading thinker in the field of scholarly communication, Colin Steele is an Emeritus Fellow of the Australian National University where he has been Director of Scholarly Information Strategies (2002–03), University Librarian (1980–2002). Before joining ANU in 1980 he was Assistant Librarian at the Bodleian Library, Oxford (1967–1976).Colin is Convenor of the National Scholarly Communications Forum, author/editor of several books and has written over 300 scholarly articles and reviews. He has served on many scholarly committees and editorial boards, and is a regular book reviewer for the Canberra Times newspaper.