The New Age of the Book | by Robert Darnton

“If everything comes together successfully, will electronic monographs be recognized as books? Will they acquire enough intellectual legitimacy to pass muster among suspicious tenure committees and to relieve the pressure on academic careers? This is the point at which veteran scholars can make a difference. Those who have proven their ability to produce first-rate conventional books could help create books of a new kind, far more original and ambitious than a converted dissertation.

In the case of history, a discipline where the crisis in scholarly publishing is particularly acute, the attraction of an e-book should be especially appealing. Any historian who has done long stints of research knows the frustration over his or her inability to communicate the fathomlessness of the archives and the bottomlessness of the past. If only my reader could have a look inside this box, you say to yourself, at all the letters in it, not just the lines from the letter I am quoting. If only Icould follow that trail in my text just as I pursued it through the dossiers, when I felt free to take detours leading away from my main subject. If only Icould show how themes crisscross outside my narrative and extend far beyond the boundaries of my book. Not that books should be exempt from the imperative of trimming a narrative down to a graceful shape. But instead of using an argument to close a case, they could open up new ways of making sense of the evidence, new possibilities of making available the raw material embedded in the story, a new consciousness of the complexities involved in construing the past.

I am not advocating the sheer accumulation of data, or arguing for links to databanks—so-called hyperlinks. These can amount to little more than an elaborate form of footnoting. Instead of bloating the electronic book, I think it possible to structure it in layers arranged like a pyramid. The top layer could be a concise account of the subject, available perhaps in paperback. The next layer could contain expanded versions of different aspects of the argument, not arranged sequentially as in a narrative, but rather as self-contained units that feed into the topmost story. The third layer could be composed of documentation, possibly of different kinds, each set off by interpretative essays. A fourth layer might be theoretical or historiographical, with selections from previous scholarship and discussions of them. A fifth layer could be pedagogic, consisting of suggestions for classroom discussion and a model syllabus. And a sixth layer could contain readers’ reports, exchanges between the author and the editor, and letters from readers, who could provide a growing corpus of commentary as the book made its way through different groups of readers.

A new book of this kind would elicit a new kind of reading. Some readers might be satisfied with a study of the upper narrative. Others might also want to read vertically, pursuing certain themes deeper and deeper into the supporting essays and documentation. Still others might navigate in unanticipated directions, seeking connections that suit their own interests or reworking the material into constructions of their own. In each case, the appropriate texts could be printed and bound according to the specifications of the reader. The computer screen would be used for sampling and searching, whereas concentrated, long-term reading would take place by means of the conventional printed book or downloaded text….”

Exploring the Uses of Open Access Books via the JSTOR Platform | hc:16603 | Humanities CORE

“This document is a report prepared for the JSTOR Presses project “Exploring Usage of Open Access Books via the JSTOR Platform”. JSTOR’s Open Access Books platform launched in October 2016. The first four publishers to submit content to the platform were UCL Press, University of Michigan Press, Cornell University Press and California University Press. Usage of the OA books made available via JSTOR by these publishers has been far in excess of the usage that each publisher has previously recorded via other distribution channels. This report is the outcome of research commissioned and funded by the four presses. It engages with usage data made available by JSTOR relating to OA books in order to assist publishers in understanding how their OA content is being used; inform strategic decision making by individual presses in the future; and shed light on the potential for data relating to the uses of OA books to support the potential of open access books to reach wide audiences. Additional key aims of the research are to help inform JSTOR in the development of the JSTOR OA Books platform; and to inform the development of JSTOR usage reporting. Ensuring that JSTOR usage reporting reflects the needs of OA publishers is also an important goal of the project. All four publishers have contributed to a discussion of the role and practicalities of usage reporting services provided by JSTOR. The project focuses primarily on data collected by JSTOR and made available to the research team for the purposes of this study. The data considered in the report relates to the period between 12 August 2015 and 7 August 2017. This data has been augmented by a short questionnaire and interviews, carried out by phone with some of the publishers. It is important to note that books considered in this report became available via the JSTOR platform at different times. Some of the books included in the data set are also available in both OA and gated formats via the JSTOR platform.”

Open Textbook Library

“Open textbooks are textbooks that have been funded, published, and licensed to be freely used, adapted, and distributed. These books have been reviewed by faculty from a variety of colleges and universities to assess their quality. These books can be downloaded for no cost, or printed at low cost. All textbooks are either used at multiple higher education institutions; or affiliated with an institution, scholarly society, or professional organization.

The Open Textbook Library is supported by the Center for Open Education and the Open Textbook Network….”

Cost estimates of an open access mandate for monographs in the UK’s third Research Excellence Framework

The recent ‘Consultation on the second Research Excellence Framework’ (REF) in the UK contains an annex that signals the extension of the open access mandate to monographs. In the service of promoting discussion, rather than prescribing a forward route, this article estimates the costs of implementing such a mandate based on REF 2014 volume, taking the criteria signalled in the annex, and identifies funding sources that could support it. We estimate that to publish 75% of anticipated monographic submission output for the next REF would require approximately £96m investment over the census period. This is equivalent to £19.2m per year. Academic library budgets as they are currently apportioned would not support this cost. However, these sums are but a fraction of the total quality-related funding, Arts and Humanities Research Council and Economic and Social Research Council budgets. We close with a series of provocative suggestions for how the mandate could be implemented. 

The OA effect: new report

“This report presents the first major comparative analysis of usage data for OA and non-OA scholarly books, and provides an informed view of how a book benefits from OA publication. It also highlights the challenges involved in measuring the impact of OA on scholarly books and suggests that there is much to do across the whole scholarly communications network in supporting authors and their funders.”

Open Source Publishing and Distribution Platform for OA Books – Open Book Publishers

“An important part of OBP’s business model has been the ability to harness emerging digital technologies to bring down the publication costs associated with scholarly texts. In addition we have developed an extensive and cost effective distribution network for both digital and printed editions of our titles.

We now intend to reformat and update our software and processes for release as Open Source content, and make all the code freely available for others to adopt and adapt from our GitHub account. As we will be using and maintaining this code for our own operations, on completion we will be in a position to provide a complete, modular, managed, Open Source book publishing and distribution platform for others to freely adopt as they wish.”

Open Folklore

“A partnership of the American Folklore Society and the Indiana University Libraries, Open Folklore is a scholarly resource devoted to increasing the number and variety of open access resources, published and unpublished, that are available for the field of folklore studies and the communities with whom folklore scholars partner….”

About the Charlotte Initiative

“Our starting premise is that permanent acquisitions of eBooks requires these licensing terms: 

Provision of irrevocable perpetual access and archival rights.

Allowance for unlimited simultaneous users.

Freedom from any Digital Rights Management (DRM), including (but not limited to) use of proprietary formats, restricted access to content, or time-limited access terms. …”