The scholarly monograph - the book-length result of dedicated research, the gold standard for authoritative academic publication - finds itself in a precarious position.
It’s no longer sustainable, facing a number of grave challenges to its survival and we need your help to find a solution.
Understanding these challenges with you is a key part of a new project looking to explore the potential of a National Monographs Strategy: a collaborative approach to the collection, preservation, supply and digitisation of scholarly monographs.
In this post I take a look at some of the challenges facing the scholarly monograph and, by implication, the rapid and systematic changes affecting the wider publishing landscape, to see if I can enlist your assistance.
While journal articles have garnered all the attention around open access, it seems sensible to ask how requirements for publicly funded research apply to monographs.
The open monographs in the humanities conference which recently took place is exploring the business models and opportunities that open access monographs present to the research community.
While there is currently no clear vision for how monographs fit into the open access debate, there are a number of innovative models being developed that seek to provide the open monograph with a viable future.
Open access monographs not only provide access to publicly funded research, in line with what’s increasingly expected for journal articles, but they have implications for library budgets and concerns about space.
The big squeeze
If journals have garnered all the attention with open access, then a similar picture emerges with library budgets too.
For a number of years library budgets have been disproportionately spent on buying journals; often at the expense of the book collection. The increase in journal pricing, coupled with decreasing budgets, has put the acquisition of monographs at risk within academic libraries.
Furthermore, there are few options available for libraries looking to adopt an e-monographs approach, which has worked so well with e-journals. Often the monographs are simply not available in an e-format, costs remain similar for print and e-versions and the digital rights associated with the e-book often make it less cost effective than a physical copy.
The financial squeeze is not the only pressure exerted on monographs within the library. Changing usage of library space towards study areas, social spaces and group work means books on shelves must justify their presence.
As library print collections age, and the availability and use of digital articles and books increases, libraries are obliged to consider what items should remain on the shelves, what should be digitised and what should be removed from local collections and preserved elsewhere.
Innovative shared services for journals, such as the UK Research Reserve, may provide models that can be borrowed and adapted for monographs. Such initiatives emphasise that it no longer makes sense for each library to provide access to and hold the same books.
Student and researcher expectations
There are then, issues around the business models for sustaining (open) monographs, and the financial and physical pressures on libraries of acquiring and managing them. But the physical form of the monograph is still, to a large extent left intact.
In today’s digital environment does the physical format still make sense?
The discovery and consumption of content is becoming more social (think of Mendeley and even the use of Twitter by researchers to share PDF articles: #IcanhazPDF). In their physical form digital monographs do not lend themselves well to this new discovery environment.
While the monograph remains a valued output by researchers, it may be that the evolving nature of research and the changing behaviour of readers and students mean the monograph is in danger of obsolescence.
The nature of consumption will run beyond what the monograph is able to provide.
We can’t do this alone – we need you!
Making sense of these challenges (and these are just a few!) is not something we can do alone. Fortunately, as part of Jisc’s co-design pilot we are already working with the Society for College, National and University Libraries (SCONUL) and Research Libraries UK (RLUK) to help address these challenges.
Ann Rossiter from SCONUL, explains:
“Considering a collaborative approach to managing monograph collections throws up some interesting challenges, but it also provides us with an opportunity to think creatively about the way we work.”
But we want to work with you too!
We want to engage librarians, publishers, researchers, senior university and college managers, developers and students from universities, colleges and the public and private sectors. We will be running a number of open meetings, both face-to-face and virtual over the next few months to communicate the aims of the project and to gather feedback and ideas to help shape the outcomes as it progresses.
If you would like to get involved with our work to build a National Monographs Strategy then please take a look at our blog where you can find more information and details of the meeting times and dates. Or, drop me a line and I can provide you with further details.