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Monday, August 13, 2007
  Highlights from "University Publishing in a Digital Age"
The Ithaca University report University Publishing in a Digital Age is a potentially important landmark. Conducted by Laura Brown (former president of OUP USA), and Ithaka’s Strategic Services group, and sponsored financially by Ithaka and JSTOR, it has the potential to be heard by those who control purse strings.

I have only begun to digest it, so intend here simply to quote some of the phrases and ideas that seem to me to be most interesting and important (initially drawn from the "Executive Summary" as representing a distillation of the full content), and sometimes to comment on them. My goal is that those of my readers with an interest Which mainly means academics and students, or others with an interest in the future of academic publishing - which probably ought to mean most of my readers! either are stimulated to read the report for themselves and comment directly, or make comments here. The essential is that this report gets discussed!

Let's start at the beginning:
[u]niversities do not treat the publishing function as an important, mission-centric endeavor. Publishing generally receives little attention from senior leadership at universities and the result has been a scholarly publishing industry that many in the university community find to be increasingly out of step with the important values of the academy.
My take on the first point is that Universities (on the whole with a few, largely historic exceptions) have found presses to be good money-losing opportunities, and have failed to notice that "scaling back" their activity risks stultifying the whole academic scene through the commercialisation of academic publishing. I think my second point comments closely on their final careful phrase!

They note that academics "publish" in two ways, formally and through what they term "grey literature" (an odd phrase since the examples they give are far less grey than the average peer-reviewed monograph! But let's notice with the report what this means:
In the past decade, the range and importance of the latter has been dramatically expanded by information technology, as scholars increasingly turn to preprint servers, blogs, listservs, and institutional repositories, to share their work, ideas, data, opinions, and critiques. These forms of informal publication have become pervasive in the university and college environment. As scholars increasingly rely on these channels to share and find information, the boundaries between formal and informal publication will blur. These changes in the behavior of scholars will require changes in the approaches universities take to all kinds of publishing.
In other words "take your heads out of the sand people, academic publishing is going through a revolution - whether you like it or not", and that for me is the key point, the revolution WILL happen, the only question is who will be left standing afterwards!

What will this revolution look like:
Publishing in the future will look very different than it has looked in the past. Consumption patterns have already changed dramatically, as many scholars have increasingly begun to rely on electronic resources to get information that is useful to their research and teaching. Transformation on the creation and production sides is taking longer, but ultimately may have an even more profound impact on the way scholars work. Publishers have made progress putting their legacy content online, especially with journals. We believe the next stage will be the creation of new formats made possible by digital technologies, ultimately allowing scholars to work in deeply integrated electronic research and publishing environments that will enable real-time dissemination, collaboration, dynamically-updated content, and usage of new media.
Photo by uptick
Yes!PHX 6731

That was the good news. Now for the sting in the tail:
Administrators, librarians and presses each have a role to play (as do scholars, though this report is not directed at them).
Yes, people, this brave new world may be digital and electronic and cool, but lets make sure that scholars do not get their inky hands on the levers of power or horror of horrors learn to take control of their own work. We administrators, along with senior librarians who have learned across the years to "speak our language" are better able to decide the future of academic publishing, so we must make sure scholars do not worry their pointy heads about it. They might rock the boat.... At least I think that's what this sentence means:
Their efforts should be closely and intelligently connected to their campuses’ academic programs and priorities in order to ensure their relevancy and institutional commitment.

Noticed how relevancy and institutional commitment amount to much the same thing?

Oh! Important: yes. Revolutionary: certainly. But really deep down possibly counter-revolutionary... I intend to read more closely over the next few days (marking permitting) so watch this space!

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