#AcBookWeek 2015: Publisher Workshop at Stationers Hall

To celebrate the recent announcement of the next Academic Book Week (23-28 January 2017), we’re revisiting some highlights from last year’s #AcBookWeek! The first post considers the gathering of academic publishers at the historic Stationers Hall to discuss some of the challenges and opportunities facing the industry. There were 25 individuals representing seven academic publishers, all of which publish books in print and/or digital format. The participants were asked to work in groups and address some of the core questions first posed at the launch of The Academic Book of the Future project. Project co-investigator Nick Canty (UCL) reflects back on this event.

The questions and issues we put to the assembled publishers spanned three main areas, as follows:

 

1. Changes in the nature of research, the research environment and the research process

What do academic books do?

We started off by asking publishers for their views of what purposes they think academic books fulfil. Answers were varied, with some participants asking how we define which books relate to research and which are for reference. This point was picked up by another participant who argued that publishers’ categories (reference or textbook) don’t matter – what matters is the prestige of where you find your content and being providing with trusted credible content. There is a glut of information today with undergraduate students and researchers drawing on a broader pool of resources than in the past (including Wikipedia), which has partly been enabled by digital technologies, although it was questioned whether the structures were in place for interdisciplinary research.

Additional purposes for the academic book were offered, for instance: for academics to achieve tenure, or to publish their PhD thesis; while another participant observed that academic books are now required as a tool for metrics to help define impact, as well as working for libraries to gauge interest through bibliographic data. A more apt starting point might be to ask what the book is doing: proving a hypothesis, making an argument, or communicating an idea – but this doesn’t answer whether textbooks, reference, and professional books should be considered academic books, too. Our seemingly simple question clearly has several possible complex and multi-faceted answers.

 

What changes have taken place in the research environment?

Moving on, we looked at how research is changing in academia. This shook out some fascinating points. As well as comments about the REF (Research Excellence Framework), several participants mentioned the pressure to produce research outputs and the ‘need for speed’, which was pushing researchers to journals and away from books (presumably because of their longer production times). The pressure to publish quickly has had big changes on the production process and there has been advances on this side of publishing. However the sales cycle with library wholesalers hasn’t moved as quickly, and advance notice to market is still at least six months. As someone else said, the rate of change is quite slow.

Alternative ways of research were picked up, including real-time feedback and peer review, crowdfunding and the Knowledge Unlatched publishing model and a question about whether Amazon’s classifications are becoming more important – presumably for discoverability.

 

New forms of books

We wanted to find how books might change because of new technologies and Open Access (OA). There was agreement that OA is having the greatest influence on journals, with books following more slowly behind. Several participants remarked that OA and new media offer more opportunity for collaboration with peer-adopted books with extra resources such as data and video. Shorter book formats, such as Palgrave’s Pivot series, are also a response to a changing environment. New media might herald new virtual collections, such as chapters and articles which are led by XML and metrics, although other participants sounded a note of caution: books are still books and they are not changing – they are still driven by market demand and the activity of publishers is still the traditional model of print with some digital offerings.

There were observations that with booksellers increasingly resistant to stock niche books and the academic book more challenged in terms of sales it was hard to find books in bookstores now and they are mostly just in libraries, although book authors still want print copies. This reflects broader concerns about the visibility of books in brick and mortar stores as the online space expands.

 

2. How are the processes through which books are commissioned, approved or accepted, edited, produced, published, marketed, distributed, made accessible, and preserved changing, and what are the implications for the following?

Publishers

Needless to say this elicited lots of responses, with publishers seen as moving from B2B operations to B2C, and more functions outsourced to attempt to lower costs. While some participants didn’t think marketing had changed much over the last decade, others saw changes to staff recruitment as new skillsets are needed as consumer marketing becomes more important. Clearly there are differences between publishers here. There was a comment that nowadays publishers have to do more direct marketing and rely less on channel marketing.

Authors were seen as becoming more ‘savvy’, more demanding, and more knowledgeable on all aspects of publishing – but particularly in marketing, where for example, they understand the importance of Amazon profiles. However there was very little change to the commissioning process, which was still based on a conversation, a campus visit, or a meeting at a conference. Academics are therefore still ‘student intermediaries’. There is a need to make books available everywhere but it is difficult to push every channel and there is therefore more pressure on authors to help with marketing via their profile in academia. The publishing industry increasingly values media skills and as a consequence there is a convergence of academic and trade publishing at this point.

The publisher brand and the website are important but editors still need to actively reach out in the commissioning process. Editors need usage data to inform commissioning decisions but they aren’t getting this at the moment.

In terms of the publishing process as well as new distribution formats (XML, video) reference works can published in stages with no single publication date, raising the question: what is ‘enough’ content to launch with? Finally, there was general agreement that while there are experiments with peer review it is ‘here to stay’ and ‘still central’ to academic publishing.

 

Aggregators

Pressures and tensions were noted here. These revolve around asking how sustainable the aggregator business model is, with publishers improving discoverability and free searches from Google. There is also tension in that libraries still want aggregators and value their services and small publishers need aggregators (‘in thrall to them’), but publishers are selling complete books – not bits of content. The situation is made more complicated by centralisation and mergers in the sector.

 

Booksellers

In addition to the points about booksellers above, participants noted the disappearance of campus bookstores and the emphasis on stocking high sales books rather than niche ones, therefore questioning the value of bookstores to publishers today.

 

Libraries 

The issue of preservation came through here, in addition to comments about squeezed library budgets (although new models such as just-in-time purchasing and PDA were mentioned as solutions). There was concern about what happens when publishers merge, and features of online access are no longer available with the new company (the example cited was in relation of viewing PDFs after a merger). Further concerns were that although libraries keep digital archives, what happens when formats change? This has implications for future access and preservation.

 

How might the relationships between the different kinds of agents in the publishing supply chain develop in the future?

The last question looked at the supply chain and how publishers and other intermediaries might work together in the future. Once again, some tensions were noted. Libraries are concerned about the power of aggregators, but they choose to work with them rather than with individual publishers. This makes it hard to resolve problems, as it is unclear who is ultimately responsible for problems: the aggregator or the publisher? One group suggested we need to ask what an intermediary is in the supply chain; can we consider the library as an aggregator today? Another group defined intermediaries as ‘anyone/thing that intervenes between point of production and point of use/reading.’

Publishers increasingly want direct access to end-user data from aggregators to drive usage to their online collections to improve renewals, but this desire to drive users to their sites puts them in conflict with aggregators, who provide little information to publishers. Open Access is a possible way to sidestep aggregators, but it then needs something like Amazon or Google for users to discover the books.

 

Conclusion

The workshop was an opportunity for the publishing industry to address some key issues the project has sought to address. While there were bound to be contradictions among participants, what came through were questions about the future role of aggregators in the supply chain, changes in the research environment and perhaps as a consequence, changes in how authors work with publishers, and changes in the way publishers operate. There was agreement however that the book, whether print or digital, was here to stay.

Creative writing theses: guidelines on discoverability and open access

On 5th May 2016, the Project attended a meeting at the British Library to discuss the issue of discoverability of creative writing theses. The meeting was organised by Dr Susan L. Greenberg (Senior Lecturer in the University of Roehampton’s Department of English and Creative Writing). She acted on behalf of the National Association of Writers in Education (NAWE) whose remit includes supporting the work of creative writing academics in the UK. The meeting brought together leading academics in the field of creative writing, as well as library staff from the British Library and university libraries. Discussions expanded well beyond the initial topic of discoverability, touching upon a wide range of issues. This blog post is a summary of the discussions that took place, and includes some important advice for those submitting creative writing PhD theses.

Discoverability

The initial topic of conversation was discoverability. A core concern is that it is difficult for researchers to find creative writing theses, particularly without an author name, and it is also difficult to advise students on how to find them. Dr Greenberg outlined this in an earlier blog post, but the conversation at the British Library meeting extended the scope of debate. The following issues may hamper the discoverability of creative writing theses:

  • The title of the thesis is often metaphorical, and may not be explicit.
  • Often there are no abstracts.
  • Accompanying metadata is often unclear, or even missing altogether.
  • The thesis can be in two parts – creative work and critical analysis – but this is not always the case. How are the different parts catalogued and searched for?
  • At an institutional level, the forms that must be filled in by PhD students are designed for other disciplines, and may not contain the fields required to make creative writing theses discoverable.
  • Creative theses that incorporate a media element cannot currently be deposited in EThOS.
  • International barriers exist: for example, a UK researcher faces difficulties finding and accessing theses from Australia.
  • There is a lack of consensus across institutions about terminology: creative writing PhDs are catalogued and described on EThOS in different ways, for instance:
    • PhD in Creative Writing
    • PhD in English Literature
    • PhD in English with Creative Writing
    • PhD in Critical and Creative Writing

EThOS does not have an option to catalogue a thesis under ‘creative writing’, so it must be included in the abstract/keywords if it is to appear.

In the meeting it became clear that there are numerous reasons for the difficulties outlined above, including a lack of clarity about who is responsible for training students in the use of electronic repositories. Should this be the role of specialist subject supervisors, graduate schools, or research training departments? As increasing technical demands are made on researchers, it is an issue that must be resolved.

Although the day was ostensibly about discoverability, it soon emerged that there were several other interconnected issues around creative writing theses in current and emerging academic and publishing contexts, which are described in the rest of this post.

Open Access mandates and institutional repositories

The major issues seemed to hinge on Open Access. UK university institutions now mandate their researchers to deposit their work in Open Access repositories, which has specific implications for creative writing researchers, as outlined below.

Intellectual Property

When EThOS was established, research by Charles Oppenheim on Intellectual Property Rights (IPR) concluded that publishing theses in repositories posed a very low risk to the rights of authors. But this is not the case for creative writing theses. While academic publishers are by and large prepared to publish a thesis available on a repository as long as it has been substantially revised, trade publishers may refuse publication of a creative writing theses in a similar position. Greenberg summarised the issue: ‘Having a pre-existing version anywhere, on any conditions, seems to be anathema.’

Version control

Creative writing theses that are later developed by publishers may be amended, ranging from the correction of minor typos to the incorporation of major plot changes. As one writer-academic stated at the meeting: ‘I’d much rather people accessed the revised, published version than the legally available version in a repository.’

Piracy

There is a major issue with piracy; one academic reported the example of a novel that became available as a free Torrent download within weeks of publication.

Embargoes

Researchers have the option to place their thesis under embargo for a fixed period – usually three to five years. This action can help with some of the issues discussed above, but prompts questions of its own. The first concerns knowledge: do all PhD students know that this option is open to them? If not, whose responsibility is it to make them aware? The second is the fixed-term nature of the embargo: can “never” be an option? And whose responsibility is it to renew embargoes once they expire, the library or the author? Libraries will probably not have current contact details for authors after 5 years, and the authors may forget.

From the non-author point of view, embargoes can have an adverse effect on the dissemination of research, impacting for example on individual scholars who would like to access the thesis to inform their own work. How is this overcome?

Policies on embargoes currently operate on a university-by-university level: perhaps national guidance on policy for creative writing theses is required.

Ethics

Creative writing theses that involve nonfiction accounts of living subjects raise specific issues. One participant described the case of a PhD supervisee writing a memoir which included anecdotes gathered from family funerals and other events. In the social sciences, the default assumption is that all identities are anonymised before thesis submission, but in the case of creative nonfiction (as with journalism) full anonymity is not always possible or desirable. This can create difficulties with ethics committees, because the projects do not fit into standard models built with other disciplines in mind. A different form and different process is required, but how will this be brought about?

Clearly, there are many complex issues and questions to be addressed:

  • Who should be the gatekeepers for creative writing theses: libraries and institutional repositories, or the authors?
  • How should this gatekeeping be managed so that creative writing theses are available for research, but not so publicly available that they hinder trade publication?
  • How are creative writing PhD students being trained in writing abstracts and metadata; using repositories; copyright? Who should deliver and teach this training?

All of the issues boil down to the fact that creative writing is a very distinct discipline with unique requirements. As Greenberg stated: ‘Creative writing as a relatively new discipline has had to constantly negotiate its way through the academic system in order to be recognised.’ These issues are highlighted anew by the mandate to move towards Open Access. Creative writing academics present at the meeting agree that now is the time to address them.

Practical Guidance for Creative Writing PhD Theses

One immediate practical outcome of the meeting is the launch of a new one-page document, backed by NAWE and the British Library, which gives staff and students advice on how to submit the electronic copy of their PhD thesis. The document has a Creative Commons license, allowing universities and other organisations to share it freely. You can download the document using the link below and share it freely.

NAWE-BL-General-Guidelines (pdf)

The Project would like to extend its thanks to all attendees of the meeting, in particular Dr Susan Greenberg for organising it, and Dr Ros Barber for creating the initial draft of the guidelines document.

International Arthurian Society: Books, Libraries, and Learned Societies

Last year, the Project consulted with several specialist academic groups, including Miltonists, Eighteenth-century studies scholars, and the British Branch of the International Arthurian Society (IASBB). A competition was launched with the Arthurians to write and submit a blog post on a topic related to reading influences or practices – including favoured locations and ways to read, academically; iconic texts; or the place that belonging to a learned society has in their research life. Full details of the competition can be found here. The entries were judged by Professor P.J.C. Field (Bangor) and Sue Hodges, Bangor University’s Director of Libraries and Archives. The winning entry was judged to be that written by Anastasija Ropa, who completed her BA and MA at the University of Latvia, and her PhD at Bangor University. An edited version of Anastaija’s winning entry was published on this blog last week. Today’s blog post publishes all of the runner-up entries. The Project would like to extend its congratulations to Anastasija and all the competition entrants for their stimulating and honest posts. The runners up were:


 

Lonely library or collaborative centre? – Zoe Enstone

Dr Zoe Enstone’s PhD explored the origin and development of Morgan le Fay in the Arthurian texts, and she is currently researching the use of the image of luxuria in the romances. Zoe is an Arts, Humanities and Academic Skills Tutor for the Lifelong Learning Centre at the University of Leeds.

My university recently opened a new library. It’s light and modern and well-suited to the way that my students work, with a focus on collaboration, group work and technology in the shared study spaces, group rooms and computer clusters (as well as plug sockets EVERYWHERE for all their gadgets). But as much as I appreciate the adaptability of the new space, this library is not where I work best. This isn’t because I’m a medievalist and I can’t understand all this ‘new-fangled’ gadgetry; we’re sometimes perceived as being unable to progress beyond the quill pen, but I actually think that we’re quite technologically attuned (as the wonderful array of manuscript digitisation projects and other resources will attest). Although I understand and appreciate all this new architecture and the range of technology, for my own research I prefer to work in the old library.

I think that part of my preference lies in the very heart of my ideas about academic research and teaching in the arts and humanities; that sense of looking back to the past to inform the work that we do in the present. I love the idea that generations of scholars have shared this space and these objects – the possibility that fifty years ago, someone might have been sitting in the same seat, reading the same book as me for the first time and thinking the same thing (or the complete opposite – what’s academia without a bit of debate?).

As wonderful as group study in the shiny new library might be, nothing seems quite as closely shared as the realisation that you have somehow connected with someone from the past’s ideas and that in the future you could be sharing those ideas with a student or colleague. For me, the first academic book that ‘spoke’ to me in this way was a particularly dusty copy of Sir Orfeo to which a number of previous students had ‘contributed’ their own reactions and interpretations through a range of scrawling comments in the margins – there was one particular comment that reflected my own reaction to an aspect of the text and I felt a wonderful sense of being part of an academic community that extended beyond my own immediate cohort. I have this same sense of recognition sometimes with manuscript marginalia – even if I don’t agree with their comments, a sense of having shared an experience of a text is fascinating and motivational in equal measures.

For as much as academia is portrayed as a solitary activity (no ‘welcome’ mats in our ivory towers, apparently), it is, in fact, an intensely collaborative affair – it is merely that our collaboration is often with those who are not immediately at hand or who are long dead. I don’t intend to suggest that academics are covert mediums, communicating through Ouija Boards, merely that the ideas that we read, discuss, debate, and share are often hundreds of years old and are preserved in these precious artefacts that we have hoarded into collections in libraries. The physical presence of these books reminds me of the long and often complicated route that these ideas have traversed to make it through to the present day.

And that sense of history and our involvement in it inspires me to study; to create new ideas to add to the collection or to inspire someone else to make their contribution through sharing these precious resources. I can only hope that, one day, the academics of the future have a workspace and resources that are equally inspiring- perhaps one day the new library will be imbued with the same sense of history and tradition that I find in my beloved older library. But for now, for me, my desk in the corner, surrounded by the ideas of others, is where I find my inspiration and collaboration.


 

The International Arthurian Society: an academic family – Natalie Goodison

In 2011 Natalie completed her masters in Medieval Studies at Edinburgh University with a thesis focusing on the French and English Breton Lay. In the autumn of 2011, she commenced her PhD at Durham University under the supervision of Corinne Saunders, on supernatural transformation in medieval romance.

That day I was just dropping off a form to the English department.

‘Ah Natalie, do you have a moment to complete your annual review?’, a commanding voice asked behind me.

I spun around to see Professor Elizabeth Archibald was speaking to me from inside her office. Review, what review? Oh, my annual review. Oh my days, what had I put on that form? Did I say anything horrible? I try never to say horrible things, only to think them, and certainly not to write them. No, I doubt I would have put anything awful on that form, but Lord Almighty, what did I say?

‘I think so.’

‘Are you busy just now? It will only take a moment.’

She ordered her thoughts so logically. How could I not have a moment?

‘Yes, of course. Although, I don’t remember what I put on my review.’

I shuffled into Elizabeth’s office, thinking how woefully unprepared I was. It was a meeting with Elizabeth Archibald! She’d only just come to Durham as new Principal of Cuths – a proficient academic, and roaring public speaker. She once gave a lecture on Secular verses Sacred Love and I still have the chart of when it’s okay to have sex in the Middle Ages affixed to my office desk. (The answer? Monday, Tuesday, and Thursday; and don’t enjoy it.) This was my first full year at Durham University, the beautiful Durham with its castle and cathedral and river and archives and colleges and evensong. I was meant to be completing research towards a PhD. I hadn’t the faintest idea of what I was actually doing.

We work through the questionnaire.

‘What training needs do you have? Some languages? French and German?’ Elizabeth jots those down.

‘And what is the outline so far of your thesis?’

Good Lord. I’d spent the last year compiling a database of supernatural moments in saints’ lives. I could tell you some pretty racy stories about baby Jesus in the ‘Life of St Anne’, but chapter outlines? I blustered through the general direction I thought I should take.

‘What is your goal in the next two months? How about you complete a chapter? Which one?’

I cannot for the life of me remember what I said, but I must have answered something because she wrote that down too and added, ‘Right. The next time I see you I hope it will be progressing well.’

I replied with a guttural, ‘I hope so.’

‘Now, Natalie, have you yet joined the IAS?’

The IAS? The IAS. The…

I must have demonstrated my bewilderment on my face—a fault of mine since childhood. By all means, invite me to play poker with you. You will surely win.

‘The International Arthurian Society, Natalie’, she supplied.

Riiiiiiight. They had their international conference in Bristol just a few summers ago. I was waste deep in a Master’s thesis at Edinburgh then and didn’t dare take any time for such frivolity. Least of all to say I knew no one. I still wasn’t sure what it actually was. Earlier that summer I had been to a medieval day at the Arthurian Centre in Cornwall and it was, by far, one of the oddest experiences of my life. Everyone was dressed up in pseudo-medieval clothing. We watched men joust, and before they had even struck blows, one knight’s lance had already broken. Drinks were sold out of cow horns that still retained bovine sediment, which swirled unwelcome amid one’s ale. Those I spoke with seemed deeply put out that modernity existed, and there was an air of cultish fanaticism that put my boyfriend completely off anything to do with the Middle Ages. For the next two years, all I heard was how weird medievalists were, and please, would I not turn out like them. So maybe the IAS was something like that?

‘You must join, immediately. It’s great fun. Here, I’ll propose you.’

Why didn’t this sound like fun? And what did she mean by ‘propose’? I had been dating the same guy for four years and he’d never uttered the word propose. Here Elizabeth brings it up in the first ten minutes of conversation. This was certainly sounding more like a cult.

‘And I’m sure that Corinne will be very happy to second you.’

There was a moment of silence while I contemplated how to phrase a response without sounding like a total idiot.

‘Yes, that would be nice. Thank you.’

‘Right. We meet in Bangor this year. I’ll expect to see you there.’

I barely registered her final words, and when I do recall them, it is of one as in a dream. I felt like I had just walked down a very blustery alley, and for some reason felt bruised. There were many things I should have taken away from that conversation, but the only thing I certainly did was Google, ‘IAS’. With some probing (having avoided International Accounting Standards), I found the website, a very swish logo of a knight on a horse, and downloaded the application form.

The requirements said that one must be proposed and seconded. I sat for a very long time on my bed, laptop on knees, whiskey in hand, debating whether or not I wanted to join. The truth was I was absolutely terrified. The only people I vaguely knew in this society were erudite academics. I did not know another soul. My supervisor’s other students were much older than I was, and who knew if they’d be going? For permission to join, they required that I bandy around academics’ names on a silly proposal form. What if I needed to use those names again for something truly important? What if I had wasted them now on something ridiculous? Who did I even need to send this to? The secretary, who, at the time, was Professor Jane Taylor. It seemed everyone in this society was a tenured high-and-mighty. I certainly would not fit in. To stall for time, I flipped through the website pages. There was a photo. A photo of Professor Peter Field. Now, that was very exciting! Peter Field! He used to teach at Bangor! Peter was my first link with my love of Arthurian things. He was a friend of Professor Edward Donald (Don) Kennedy at UNC who had written my references to get into Durham and Edinburgh. In my final semester as an undergraduate, I was determined to take a course on Arthurian Literature. The Dean even had to grant me special permission to extend my course load. Don Kennedy’s class enchanted me. I remember holding Peter’s edition of Malory’s final two books in my hands; I remember my excitement as I read of Guinevere and the poisoned apple; I remembered my unexpectedly emotional response. That was why I was in Durham continuing to read medieval things. I took a sip of whiskey, and pressed the ‘send’ button to Jane. Cult or not, I was in.

You can imagine my surprise to receive a letter from Jane saying that my application was impressive (what did that mean?); my relief, several months later, to see the Call For Papers go out (‘Oh, it’s just a conference. There will be no animal sacrifices.’); my trepidation as I booked and boarded my train for Wales; and my delight at finding a few friendly faces I knew in the crowd. As I hesitantly queued up for the registry, I overheard an expressive voice say, ‘Oh, Elizabeth, we don’t NEED name badges. They’re so embarrassing. Besides, we already all know each other.’ This lady had clearly lost the argument by the time I had reached the top of the queue, because she was now sporting a name badge that read, ‘Sam’ (Dr Samantha Rayner). She seemed like she knew what was going on. I didn’t want to disagree with ‘Sam’, but I was thankful for the name badges.

As I took my seat, I quietly observed others interacting as I pretended to peruse the conference pack. They certainly laughed a lot. And they seemed to like each other. I was jolted out of my observations on this breed of people, when my eye caught something in the packet: Elizabeth Archibald was the President of the IAS! That’s why my application was impressive. Why hadn’t she told me she was President? And why wasn’t it on their stupid website? My thoughts were cut short as the first session began.

The coffee breaks were socially uncomfortable as coffee breaks generally are: they involve people. But, strangely, that didn’t keep people from speaking to me, and, as we bumped our elbows over sugar, ask me what area of research I worked on. I remember talking to a very tall lady (Gillian Rogers), and when I told her I was currently working on aspects of the supernatural in some late Middle English Gawain romances, she spilled her tea all over saucer in excitement. Walking back from a manuscript exhibition, Jane Bliss (I knew this was she thanks to those wonderful name badges) asked me what I was working on, and when Prof. Jane Taylor (in the flesh!) overheard, said she’d send me a reference of two white bears in French literature. I thought it was more likely that Arthur would return before I’d receive that reference, but at her request, I gave her my email. You can imagine my shock, though perhaps seasoned members will be unsurprised, when I received an email a few weeks later with the subject line: ‘Two White Bears’.

Younger scholars attended too. There was a person named ‘Bex’ (Rebecca Lyons) who seemed to be everywhere and knew everyone. She had a contagious laugh, but I was shy of making her acquaintance. There was a PhD student at St Andrews who grew up next to my home state. Another PhD student was looking at faeries—an interest we both shared. Others, like me, had travelled from Durham and Sunderland. Some weren’t medievalists, but modern Arthurian scholars. I remember a paper on Michael Morpurgo’s misogyny that thoroughly frightened me from ever reading that children’s author. (Thanks, Adele.)

I was soon becoming overwhelmed. One lady was looking for book reviewers; another offered to advise PhD students on publication strategies. I met Prof. Peter Field, in a spotlight as his newly edited Malory volumes were finally complete. I asked him when the set were to be released, and looking back, I’m still not sure how to process his response. He said, ‘Far be it from me to compare myself with that certain condition of women, but I feel as though I’ve had twins, and the second one simply won’t come out!’ I was nearing the brink of needing a drink when Elizabeth gave a speech. In it, she said how excited she was for Peter’s new volume and confessed that even now, reading Malory made her cry. While I have a very good imagination, the thought of Elizabeth Archibald crying seemed impossible, and at that very moment, distressing. I felt like I was the one on the verge of tears. I couldn’t quite express it. Here I was, a lowly small PhD student, and I had suddenly encountered a new world. Renowned scholars rubbed elbows with lowly grad students and seemed genuinely interested in their research. The lowly grad students teased the renowned academics like they were old friends. It was a room full of book lovers; of, on probability, introverts; of people who grew excited and emotional over the same things I did. They were even just as socially awkward as I was! Yet how very welcoming they were. I suspected that even if they disagreed with someone’s scholarship they would phrase their contention genially. Perhaps the disagreement was where the fun lay. I realised, in fact, that this was a room full of people like me.

As this realisation ran through my head, we exited en masse to the bar. It was a brisk starless evening. I was oddly content. Though I couldn’t keep out the thought that maybe I had got it wrong. Maybe after all this was a cult.

I blinked. Without realizing it, I had reached the head of the bar queue and I was completely unprepared for my order. Elizabeth must have recognized that familiar, bewildered, expression on my face.

‘Right, Natalie. What will it be? G&T? Drinks on me.’

I gratefully accepted. As I sipped my drink, I considered that this definitely was not like the experience at the Arthurian Centre in Delabole. Well, if it wasn’t a cult, then it had to be a family. I was in.


 

The books I consider to be the most iconic scholarly Arthurian texts – Victoria Shirley
 

Victoria is an AHRC-funded PhD candidate working on the reception of Geoffrey of Monmouth and the construction of ‘British’ history in England, Scotland, and Wales (1270-1530). She is interested in Arthurian literature, medievalism, medieval historical writing, nationalism and nation studies, and origin myths.

Faral and Griscom: two iconic editions of the Historia regum Britanniae

In 1929, two editions of Geoffrey of Monmouth’s Historia regum Britanniae appeared in print. The first edition was by Edmond Faral, and it appeared in his three-volume work, La Légende arthurienne: études et documents. The second, by Acton Griscom, was entitled The Historia regum Britanniae of Geoffrey of Monmouth, with contributions to the Study of its place in early British History. Both editions are iconic Arthurian texts as they were the first critical editions of the Historia regum Britanniae. This short post begins with a brief overview of these two editions, and then examines their reception among medieval scholars during the twentieth century.

The texts

Faral and Griscom adopted two very different editorial approaches. Faral aimed to produce a critical edition of the Historia that was based on ten manuscripts, with the most important manuscripts being Cambridge, Trinity College, MS. 0.2.21 (1125), Bern, Burgerbiliothek, MS. 568, Leiden, Bibliotheek der Rijkuniversiteit, MS. B.P.L.20, and Paris, Biliotheque nationale, MS. Lat. 6233. The text of the Historia was printed in the third volume of Faral’s study, alongside Nennius’s Historia Britonnum, the Annales Cambriae, and Geoffrey’s Vita Merlini. Faral’s study focused exclusively on these Latin texts: he intended to demonstrate how educated writers influenced the formation of Arthurian romance, with a particular focus on the literary traditions that informed the work of Chrétien de Troyes.

In comparison, Griscom’s text of the Historia was a diplomatic edition of a single manuscript. The main manuscript, Cambridge, University Library, MS. Ii.1.14, was collated with Bern, Burgerbibliothethek, MS. 465 and Aberystwyth, National Library of Wales, MS. Porkington 17. These manuscripts provided the Latin text for the edition, which was printed alongside an English translation of Jesus College, Oxford, LXI, a fifteenth-century version of the Welsh Brut y Brenhinedd, by Robert Ellis Jones. Through this combination of Latin and Welsh materials, Griscom attempted to show the relationship between the Historia and the corpus of Welsh chronicles, and he argued that the manuscripts of the Welsh Brut provided the ‘best hope’ of discovering the main source the legendary ‘British’ book that Geoffrey used as his main source.[1] Griscom’s edition also included a list of one hundred and ninety manuscripts, from forty-nine different libraries and private collections, in eleven different countries.

Critical reception

Faral and Griscom’s editions fared very differently with reviewers. Albert C. Baugh praised Faral’s edition for its ‘eminently readable’ style, but he was particularly critical of the methodology of the edition, and he suggested that the source-by-source analysis could have benefitted from ‘greater economy’.[2] Furthermore, Baugh questioned Faral’s lack of engagement with current scholarship on the chronicle materials, and he also noted that Faral held a particular skepticism for Celticist scholarship.[3] The most scathing review of Faral’s edition came from Roger Sherman Loomis, who often criticized scholars who did not consider the impact of Celtic literature on the production of Arthurian texts.[4] Loomis accused Faral of deliberately obscuring the evidence for the Celtic origins of Arthurian romance, and he even suggested that Farl was ignorant of the entire tradition, stating that ‘what he does not know he cannot recognize’.[5] Loomis ends his review with a particularly cutting remark:

It is to be hoped for the sake of scholarship and his own high reputation that M. Faral will realize these grave limitations, and that, when he continues his work, it will reveal a knowledge of Celtic literature and an understanding of how it would be affected by a long period of oral transmission.[6]

Loomis’ review demonstrates the divisions between scholars about the origins of the Arthurian legend in the early twentieth century, and his comments about Faral’s edition clearly reveals some of the limitations of viewing Geoffrey’s Historia in a wholly Latinate context.

Griscom’s edition elicited very different responses from reviewers. E. G. Withycombe referred to the edition as a ‘monument of industry’,[7] and insisted that Griscom ‘deserves the gratitude of scholars for at last providing what appears to be a sound text’.[8] Similarly, Arthur C. L. Brown praised Griscom’s edition for its ‘faithful transcription’ of the Cambridge Manuscript.[9] Nevertheless, both reviewers did raise some concerns about the edition. Withycombe argued that Griscom was unsuccessful in demonstrating how the Welsh Bruts could be used as evidence to establish the ancient ‘British’ sources of the Historia. Meanwhile, Brown raised some doubt over Griscom’s choice of manuscripts: in order for the edition to have a greater impact on scholarship, he suggested that an ‘ancient and more inaccessible’[10] version of the Welsh Brut could have been used, especially as Jesus College, Oxford MS LXI, had already been translated. Brown, however, recommended Griscom’s edition over Faral’s, claiming that ‘Mr Griscom’s edition is the one which will be used by scholars who are investigating the origins of Arthurian romance’.[11] Furthermore, the critical value of Griscom’s edition was later affirmed by J. S. P. Tatlock, who used it in his magisterial Legendary History of Britain: Geoffrey of Monmouth’s Historia regum Brianniae and its Early Verncular Versions (1950).

Critical legacy

In recent years, the editions of the Historia by Faral and Griscom have been criticized for not meeting the needs of modern scholarship. Both editions have been superseded by Neil Wright and Julia Crick’s work on Historia regum Britanniae, and the five volume series published by D. S Brewer includes an edition of Bern, Burgerbibliothek, MS. 568; and edition of the First Variant; a catalogue of the manuscripts of the Historia; a study of the dissemination and reception of the Historia; and an edition and translation of the Gesta Regum Britanniae. In his introduction to the Bern MS, Wright offers an assessment of the two editions. Despite the inaccuracies of Faral’s text, Wright praises his editorial approach, especially his attempt to collate the manuscripts. In comparison, Griscom’s edition receives much more criticism as the Cambridge MS he based his edition was actually corrupt in many places. Wright ultimately concludes that Faral’s edition is ‘more helpful to the reader than Griscom’s eccentric work’.[12]

Nevertheless, Griscom’s edition has not been entirely discredited. Siân Echard writes that

while Faral produced a reading edition for those who wanted to get the gist of Geoffrey on their way to Chrétien and others, Griscom makes an attempt at a truly scholarly edition.[13]

The best features of Griscom’s edition are its editorial paratexts. His introduction shows a comprehensive understanding of the manuscripts of the Historia, and he was convinced that Geoffrey’s work appeared in ‘various editions’ or recensions. The framework for his edition was also encouraged further scholarship, and he remarks that ‘I shall be content if I have succeeded in throwing open doors through which others may advance and carry forward the work of disentangling the historical from the imaginative elements in Geoffrey’s work’.[14] The authority of Geoffrey’s ‘British’ book – which for Griscom was a tangible reality – has been the subject of much Galfridian scholarship.[15] Moreover, Griscom’s catalogue of manuscripts of the Historia and the Brut y Brenhinedd enabled further study of the Latin and Welsh manuscript traditions throughout the twentieth century. Griscom must surely be commended for initiating these critical advances.

Summary

Faral and Griscom’s editions of the Historia regum Britanniae are iconic scholarly texts for two very different reasons. Faral’s edition and provided a sound text of the Historia for a generation of scholars. Griscom’s edition, however, has a greater intellectual longevity. The issue that Griscom raised about the Welsh origins of the Historia has now become a question about Geoffrey’s political allegiances, and his ideological use of ‘British’ historical sources is still open for debate.

 

[1] Acton Griscom, ‘Introduction’, The Historia regum Britanniae of Geoffrey of Monmouth with contributions to the study of its place in early British History (London and New York: Longman, 1929), pp. 3-216 (p. 7).

[2] Albert C. Baugh, review of Edmond Faral, La Légende arthurienne. Première Partie: Les Plus Anciens Texts, Modern Philology, 29.3 (Feb, 1932) : 357-365 (365).

[3] Baugh, ‘Edmond Faral’, 365.

[4] Other subjects of Loomis’ critical ridicule included J. D. Bruce, J. S. P Tatlock, and Gordon Hall Gerould.

[5] Roger Sherman Loomis, review of Edmond Faral, La Légende arthurienne. Première Partie: Les Plus Anciens Texts, Modern Language Notes, 46.3 (March, 1931): 175-179 (179).

[6] Loomis, ‘Edmond Faral’, 179.

[7] E. G. Withycombe, review of The Historia regum Britanniae of Geoffrey of Monmouth by Acton Griscom. Longman, 1929, Antiquity 5.19 (Sept, 1931): 383-384 (383).

[8] Withycombe, ‘Acton Griscom’, 383.

[9] Arthur C. L. Brown, review of The Historia regum Britanniae of Geoffrey of Monmouth by Acton Griscom. Longman, 1929, Modern Language Notes, 46.3 (March, 1931): 182-183.

[10] Brown, ‘Acton Griscom’, 183.

[11] Brown, ‘Acton Griscom’, 183.

[12] Neil Wright, ‘Introduction’, The Historia regum Britanniae of Geoffrey of Monmouth, ed. Neil Wright (Cambridge: D. S. Brewer, 1984), I, ix-lix (xlix).

[13] Siân Echard, ‘Latin Arthurian Literature, in A History of Arthurian Scholarship, ed. Norris J. Lacy (Cambridge: D. S. Brewer, 2006), pp. 62-76 (p. 65).

[14] Griscom, ‘Introduction’, p. 9.

[15] See Echard, ‘Latin Arthurian Literature’, pp. 62-76.


Anastastija has won a week as Visiting Fellow at the new collection of Arthurian books housed in Bangor University Library, consisting of a week’s accommodation at the Management Centre in Bangor, and a £100 contribution from the IASBB towards travel costs to get there. As the winner, Anastasija has also agreed to write a report on your time in Bangor once the Visiting Fellowship is complete. The Project would like to extend its special thanks to the Management Centre in Bangor for their generous provision of a week’s accommodation, and to the IASBB for providing up to £100 in travel expenses for the winner. They would also like to thank Professor Raluca Radulescu, who has kindly agreed to meet with the Fellow to discuss research and use of the collection.

#AcBookWeek: The Academic Book of the Future: Evolution or Revolution?

 

This post reflects on one of the events that took place during Academic Book Week in Cambridge. A colloquium was the basis of multiple viewpoints airing thoughts on where the future of the academic book lies from perspectives of booksellers, librarians, and academics. 

During the week of the 9th November the CMT convened a one-day colloquium entitled ‘The Academic Book of the Future: Evolution or Revolution?’ The colloquium was part of Cambridge’s contribution to a host of events being held across the UK in celebration of the first ever Academic Book Week, which is itself an offshoot of the AHRC-funded ‘Academic Book of the Future’ project. The aim of that project is both to raise awareness of academic publishing and to explore how it might change in response to new digital technologies and changing academic cultures. We were delighted to have Samantha Rayner, the PI on the project, to introduce the event.

 

The first session kicked off with a talk from Rupert Gatti, Fellow in Economics at Trinity and one of the founders of Open Book Publishers, explaining ‘Why the Future is Open Access’. Gatti contrasted OA publishing with ‘legacy’ publishing and emphasized the different orders of magnitude of the audience for these models. Academic books published through the usual channels were, he contended, failing to reach 99% of their potential audience. They were also failing to take account of the possibilities opened up by digital media for embedding research materials and for turning the book  into an ongoing project rather than a finished article. The second speaker in this session, Alison Wood, a Mellon/Newton postdoctoral fellow at the Centre for Research in the Arts, Social Sciences and Humanities in Cambridge, reflected on the relationship between academic publishing and the changing institutional structures of the university. She urged us to look for historical precedents to help us cope with current upheavals, and called in the historian Anthony Grafton to testify to the importance of intellectual communities and institutions to the seemingly solitary labour of the academic monograph. In Wood’s analysis, we need to draw upon our knowledge of the changing shape of the university as a collective (far more postdocs, far more adjunct teachers, far more globalization) when thinking about how academic publishing might develop. We can expect scholarly books of the future to take some unusual forms in response to shifting material circumstances.

 

The day was punctuated by a series of ‘views’ from different Cambridge institutions. The first was offered by David Robinson, the Managing Director of Heffers, which has been selling books in Cambridge since 1876. Robinson focused on the extraordinary difference between his earlier job, in a university campus bookshop, and his current role. In the former post, in the heyday of the course textbook, before the demise of the net book agreement and the rise of the internet, selling books had felt a little like ‘playing shops’. Now that the textbook era is over, bookshops are less tightly bound into the warp and weft of universities, and academic books are becoming less and less visible on the shelves even of a bookshop like Heffers. Robinson pointed to the ‘crossover’ book, the academic book that achieves a large readership, as a crucial category in the current bookselling landscape. He cited Thomas Piketty’s Capital as a recent example of the genre.

 

Our second panel was devoted to thinking about the ‘Academic Book of the Near-Future’, and our speakers offered a series of reflections on the current state of play. The first speaker, Samantha Rayner (Senior Lecturer in the Department of Information Studies at UCL and ‘Academic Book of the Future’ PI) described the progress of the project to date. The first phase had involved starting conversations with numerous stakeholders at every point in the production process, to understand the nature of the systems in which the academic book is enmeshed. Rayner called attention to the volatility of the situation in which the project is unfolding—every new development in government higher education policy forces a rethink of possible futures. She also stressed the need for early-career scholars to receive training in the variety of publishing avenues that are open to them. Richard Fisher, former Managing Director of Academic Publishing at CUP, took up the baton with a talk about the ‘invisibles’ of traditional academic publishing—all the work that goes into making the reputation of an academic publisher that never gets seen by authors and readers. Those invisibles had in the past created certain kinds of stability—‘lines’ that libraries would need to subscribe to, periodicals whose names would be a byword for quality, reliable metadata for hard-pressed cataloguers. And the nature of these existing arrangements is having a powerful effect on the ways in which digital technology is (or is not) being adopted by particular publishing sectors. Peter Mandler, Professor of Modern Cultural History at Cambridge and President of the Royal Historical Society, began by singing the praises of the academic monograph; he saw considerable opportunities for evolutionary rather than revolutionary change in this format thanks to the move to digital. The threat to the monograph came, in his view, mostly from government-induced productivism. The scramble to publish for the REF as it is currently configured leads to a lower-quality product, and threatens to marginalize the book altogether. Danny Kingsley, Head of Scholarly Communication at Cambridge, discussed the failure of the academic community to embrace Open Access, and its unpreparedness for the imposition of OA by governments. She outlined Australian Open Access models that had given academic work a far greater impact, putting an end to the world in which intellectual prestige stood in inverse proportion to numbers of readers.

 

In the questions following this panel, some anxieties were aired about the extent to which the digital transition might encourage academic publishers to further devolve labour and costs to their authors, and to weaken processes of peer review. How can we ensure that any innovations bring us the best of academic life, rather than taking us on a race to the bottom? There was also discussion about the difficulties of tailoring Open Access to humanities disciplines that relied on images, given the current costs of digital licences; it was suggested that the use of lower-density (72 dpi) images might offer a way round the problem, but there was some vociferous dissent from this view.

 

After lunch, the University Librarian Anne Jarvis offered us ‘The View from the UL’. The remit of the UL, to safeguard the book’s past for future generations and to make it available to researchers, remains unchanged. But a great deal is changing. Readers no longer perceive the boundaries between different kinds of content (books, articles, websites), and the library is less concerned with drawing in readers and more concerned with pushing out content. The curation and preservation of digital materials, including materials that fall under the rules for legal deposit, has created a set of new challenges. Meanwhile the UL has been increasingly concerned about working with academics in order to understand how they are using old and new technologies in their day-to-day lives, and to ensure that it provides a service tailored to real rather than imagined needs.

 

The third panel session of the day brought together four academics from different humanities disciplines to discuss the publishing landscape as they perceive it. Abigail Brundin, from the Department of Italian, insisted that the future is collaborative; collaboration offers an immediate way out of the often closed-off worlds of our specialisms, fosters interdisciplinary exchanges and allows access to serious funding opportunities. She took issue with any idea that the initiative in pioneering new forms of academic writing should come from early-career academics; it is those who are safely tenured who have a responsibility to blaze a trail. Matthew Champion, a Research Fellow in History, drew attention to the care that has traditionally gone into the production of academic books—care over the quality of the finished product and over its physical appearance, down to details such as the font it is printed in. He wondered whether the move to digital and to a higher speed of publication would entail a kind of flattening of perspectives and an increased sense of alienation on all sides. Should we care how many people see our work? Champion thought not: what we want is not 50,000 careless clicks but the sustained attention of deeply-engaged readers. Our third speaker, Liana Chua reported on the situation in Anthropology, where conservative publishing imperatives are being challenged by digital communications. Anthropologists usually write about living subjects, and increasingly those subjects are able to answer back. This means that the ‘finished-product’ model of the book is starting to die off, with more fluid forms taking its place. Such forms (including film-making) are also better-suited to capturing the experience of fieldwork, which the book does a great deal to efface. Finally Orietta da Rold, from the Faculty of English, questioned the dominance of the book in academia. Digital projects that she had been involved in had been obliged, absurdly, to dress themselves up as books, with introductions and prefaces and conclusions. And collections of articles that might better be published as individual interventions were obliged to repackage themselves as books. The oppressive desire for the ‘big thing’ obscures the important work that is being done in a plethora of forms.

 

In discussion it was suggested that the book form was a valuable identifier, allowing unusual objects like CD-ROMs or databases to be recognized and catalogued and found (the book, in this view, provides the metadata or the paratextual information that gives an artefact a place in the world). There was perhaps a division between those who saw the book as giving ideas a compelling physical presence and those who were worried about the versions of authority at stake in the monograph. The monograph model perhaps discourages people from talking back; this will inevitably come under pressure in a more ‘oral’ digital economy.

 

Our final ‘view’ of the day was ‘The View from Plurabelle Books’, offered by Michael Cahn but read in his absence by Gemma Savage. Plurabelle is a second-hand academic bookseller based in Cambridge; it was founded in 1996. Cahn’s talk focused on a different kind of ‘future’ of the academic book—the future in which the book ages and its owner dies. The books that may have marked out a mental universe need to be treated with appropriate respect and offered the chance of a new lease of life. Sometimes they carry with them a rich sense of their past histories.

 

A concluding discussion drew out several themes from the day:

 

(1) A particular concern had been where the impetus for change would and should come from—from individual academics, from funding bodies, or from government. The conservatism and two-sizes-fit-almost-all nature of the REF act as a brake on innovation and experiment, although the rising significance of ‘impact’ might allow these to re-enter by the back door. The fact that North America has remained impervious to many of the pressures that are affecting British academics was noted with interest.

 

(2) The pros and cons of peer review were a subject of discussion—was it the key to scholarly integrity or a highly unreliable form of gatekeeping that would naturally wither in an online environment?

 

(3) Questions of value were raised—what would determine academic value in an Open Access world? The day’s discussions had veered between notions of value/prestige that were based on numbers of readers and those that were not. Where is the appropriate balance?

 

(4) A broad historical and technological question: are we entering a phase of perpetual change or do we expect that the digital domain will eventually slow down, developing protocols that seem as secure as those that we used to have for print. (And would that be a good or a bad thing?) Just as paper had to be engineered over centuries in order to become a reliable communications medium (or the basis for numerous media), so too the digital domain may take a long time to find any kind of settled form. It was also pointed out that the academic monograph as we know it today was a comparatively short-lived, post-World War II phenomenon.

 

(5) As befits a conference held under the aegis of the Centre for Material Texts, the physical form of the book was a matter of concern. Can lengthy digital books be made a pleasure to read? Can the book online ever substitute for the ‘theatres of memory’ that we have built in print? Is the very restrictiveness of print a source of strength?

 

(6) In the meantime, the one thing that all of the participants could agree on was that we will need to learn to live with (sometimes extreme) diversity.

 

With many thanks to our sponsors, Cambridge University Press, the Academic Book of the Future Project, and the Centre for Material Texts. The lead organizer of the day was Jason Scott-Warren (jes1003@cam.ac.uk); he was very grateful for the copious assistance of Sam Rayner, Rebecca Lyons, and Richard Fisher; for the help of the staff at the Pitt Building, where the colloquium took place; and for the contributions of all of our speakers.

 

#AcBookWeek: What will the Academic Book of the Future look like? Bristol responds…!

This guest post is written by Dr Leah Tether (University of Bristol), who reflects on the debate that took place at Bristol as part of #AcBookWeek.

On Tuesday 10th November 2015, as part of Academic Book Week, we at the University of Bristol were delighted to host a panel discussion with an audience Q&A. The event aimed to offer some answers to one of the central lines of enquiry of The Academic Book of the Future Project – what format our future academic books might take. Our three-strong speaker panel consisted of an academic, a librarian and a publisher, all of whom – we knew – would bring something different to the debate. The offering of this great mix of views led to a fantastic turn-out (with people even sitting on the floor!); audience members came from a wide range of backgrounds: in addition to reflecting the make-up of the panel with publishers, academics and librarians, there were undergraduate and postgraduate students, as well as interested members of the public. All of these, of course, are key stakeholders in the wider debate – all will be affected by developments to the academic book – so their vested interests made for an impassioned and rich discussion.

Dr Leah Tether introduces the event

Dr Leah Tether introduces the event

Our first speaker, Professor Helen Fulton (Chair in Medieval Literature, University of Bristol) showed how she had already embraced digital outputs in previous research projects. She used the example of the Mapping Medieval Chester project as a case study for how digital publications can both facilitate collaborative research and pave the way for different kinds of relationships between publishers and universities. She viewed project websites as often representing non-linear equivalents to monographs in terms of their scope and content. She also argued that these can be relied on for quality where support for the project in question has been provided by a recognised body (such as, but not limited to, the AHRC), due to the rigorous peer-review to which such projects have been subjected.

The second speaker, Damien McManus, spoke from his perspective as the Subject Librarian at the University of Bristol for Classics and Ancient History, English, French, German, Linguistics and Russian Studies. Damien focused on the breaking down of content into smaller units (chapters or sections) that is being encouraged by digital and emphasised the potential benefits of accessibility, affordability and sustainability. In practice, though, he recognised that many issues still exist in terms of the library provision of digital academic resources. He cited single-use licences, complicated and divergent user instructions for different platforms, cost implications and the last-minute withdrawal of resources by publishers as key amongst the problems. Damien also wanted to make clear that many resources are simply not available in digital form as yet, so from his perspective – even where issues with digital are ironed out – resourcing will remain mixed for some considerable time to come.

The third and final speaker was Katharine Reeve, formerly the Editorial Director and Senior Commissioning Editor for History and Visual Arts at Oxford University Press. As part of The Academic Book of the Future Project, Katharine has been researching the changing role of the editor in academic book publishing, and she revealed to the audience some of the results of that research. She highlighted that, despite the obvious importance of the close interaction of editor with author in producing the best possible product, editors are increasingly being pulled away from the hands-on side of their role, thus becoming a less visible part of the process. This, she suggested, risked an undervaluing of the editor in the quality control side of publishing, and that she could see this already happening with the opportunities of digital publishing offerings authors the choice to circumvent traditional publication in favour of dissemination via the web. She argued that we need to reinvigorate the role of the editor in digital publication, and understand that – no matter what the format – the academic book of the future still needs to be rigorously processed before it is made available to the reading public.

These richly diverse views provoked a fantastic response from our audience, which took the debate in many important directions. Key amongst these were the opportunities for greater interaction between libraries and publishers, the perceived values (by the Research Excellence Framework and funding bodies, for example) of different kinds of publications (collected volumes vs. monograph); whether innovative digital formats would ever be valued as highly as traditional formats; the funding models surrounding open access and how that would impact different kinds of institutions; the reading practices of young scholars (skimming vs. deep reading); how publishers and higher education institutions could work together more closely to develop products that more closely fulfil the needs of book consumers.

In my role as chair, I was delighted to see such an engaged response to the subject at hand – people really cared about the formats our academic books might take and, perhaps surprisingly, most believed that digital – on the whole – offered more opportunities than hindrances, especially when used as a supplement to traditional publication. Indeed, Katharine Reeve’s suggestion that the best academic book of the future might actually be one offering multi-platform functionality (i.e. a traditional monograph at the heart of the project, but with digital add-ons such as video interviews, apps and social media marketing) was perhaps the most warmly received suggestion of the night. Where our varied Bristol audience was in total agreement, though, was in emphasising that the process of producing academic outputs needs to remain as rigorous as it ever has been – digital should not be allowed to dilute the integrity of academic research, but rather be used as a tool for assisting with its wider dissemination and engagement – a supplement as opposed to a replacement.

Dr Leah Tether is the Senior Lecturer in Digital Humanities at the University of Bristol.

 

#AcBookWeek: The Manchester Great Debate

On Wednesday 11th November, the John Rylands Library, Manchester, played host to the Manchester Great Debate, a panel discussion dedicated to addressing the future of the academic monograph. The event was one of over sixty organised during Academic Book Week to celebrate the diversity, innovation, and influence of the academic monograph. While opinions remained varied, with panel representatives from both sides of the fence, the discussion always seemed to return to a few key thematic strands. How are people using books? How are people encountering books? And what future lies ahead for the academic book? Melek Karatas, Lydia Leech, and Paul Clarke (University of Manchester) report here on the event.

The reading room of the John Rylands Library

The reading room of the John Rylands Library

It was in the stunning Christie Room of the Rylands Library that Dr. Guyda Armstrong, Lead Academic for Digital Humanities at the University of Manchester, welcomed the audience of publishers, academics, librarians, early career researchers, and students with a shared concern for the future of how the humanities might be produced, read, and preserved over the coming years. Five panellists were invited to present their case to the group before the floor was opened and the debate got into full swing.

The session was chaired by Professor Marilyn Deegan, Co-Investigator of The Academic Book of the Future project. She began by outlining the project’s main objectives and its future activities, details of which can be found at www.academicbookfuture.org. Before commencing with the presentations she asked the audience to quite simply reflect on what they conceived of when trying to define the book. It was this question, with its rather complex and capacious ramifications, that was the fundamental core of the Manchester Great Debate.

The first of the panellists to present was Frances Pinter, CEO of Manchester University Press. Since print runs of academic books have decreased in volume and their prices increased beyond inflation, she firmly believes that the future of the academic monograph will be governed by the principles of Open Access (OA). She contends that although the journey to OA will be difficult, drawing on the Crossick report to highlight such obstacles as the lack of a skilled workforce and the high cost of publication, it is impossible to deny the potential of the digital age to advance knowledge and maximise discovery. She identified Knowledge Unlatched, a not-for-profit organisation dedicated to assisting libraries to co-ordinate the purchase of monographs, as a pioneer in overcoming some of these obstacles. Under the scheme, the basic cost of publication is shared, and the works are made readily available as a PDF with an OA license via OAPEN. An initial pilot project saw the publication of twenty-eight new books at the cost of just $1,120 per library. The digital copies of these books were also downloaded in a staggering 167 countries worldwide, a true testament to the benefits of the OA monograph.

Emma Brennan, Editorial Director and Commissioning Editor at Manchester University Press, followed with a convincing argument against the financial restraints of contemporary academic book publishing. The system, she claims, is fundamentally broken, favouring short-form sciences over the humanities. A key to this problem lies in the steep rises in purchase prices over recent years, with the result that a monograph, which once sold for around £50 in a run of five hundred copies, is now sold for upwards of £70 and oftentimes on a print-on-demand basis. However, more crucial still is the disparity between authorial costs and corporate profits. After all, typical profit margins for article processing charges (APCs) reached an astonishing 37% in 2014, undeniably privileging shareholders over authors. Under this current system, university presses are only ever able to operate on a not-for-profit basis whereby surplus funds must necessarily be reinvested to cover the costs of future APCs. Such a fragile structure can only continue in the short-term and so the need for a drastic upheaval is undeniable.

Next to present their case was Sandra Bracegirdle, Head of Collection Management at the University of Manchester Library. Through a variety of diagrams she was able to highlight a number of curious trends in the reading habits of library users. A particularly interesting point of discussion was the usability of both electronic and print resources amongst student readers. While those who tended to prefer the former valued the mobility of text and the equality of access, readers of the latter tended to prefer the readability of the physical text. Interestingly, 50% of the students questioned said that they were more likely to read a book if it were available digitally, suggesting that “access trumps readability”. The decreased popularity of physical books is reflected further still by the fact that 27% the books held within the library have not been borrowed for some ten years. She continued to suggest that the increased popularity of electronic formats, on the other hand, might be the result of a change in the way people use and encounter information, arguing that different book forms engender different cognitive styles. While she did not appear to have a strong predisposition one way or the other, she did point out the “emotional presence” of a physical book by concluding with a note from Cicero: “a room without books is like a body without a soul”.

She was followed by Dr. Francesca Billiani, Director of the Centre for Interdisciplinary Research in Arts and Languages (CIDRAL) at the University of Manchester. She fundamentally contends that the materialization of knowledge has in recent years changed beyond recognition and as such so the academic monograph must also adapt. After all, the book is no longer a stand-alone piece of writing for it is firmly rooted within a digital “galaxy of artefacts” comprising blog posts, photos, and videos. Many readers no longer rely exclusively on the academic book itself in their reading of a subject, nor will they necessarily read the work in its entirety choosing instead to read what they consider to be the most relevant fragments. Academics need to embrace these changes in their future writing by composing their monographs in a way that accommodates the new methods of knowledge dissemination. Yet, at the same time, she remained mindful of the fact that the monograph of the future must also retain its academic rigour and avoid falling into the trap of eclecticism.

The last of the speakers to present was Dr. George Walkden, Lecturer in English Linguistics at the University of Manchester. A self-proclaimed Open Access activist, he claims that academic books should not only be free in terms of cost but also in terms of what readers can do with them. He lamented those individuals who, in such a climate of exhaustive copyright limitations, are all too readily branded as pirates for attempting to disseminate knowledge publicly. Although he remains sceptical of what these individuals share with the “cannon-firing, hook-toting, parrot-bearing sailors of the seven seas”, he believes that such labelling elucidates the many issues that have constrained both historic and modern publication practices. In the first instance, publishers should value the transmission of knowledge over their own profitable gain. But, perhaps more crucially, it must be acknowledged that the copyright of a work should remain with its author. He fundamentally contends that academics predominantly write to increase societal wealth and readership, a mission that can only ever really be achieved through the whole-hearted acceptance of Open Access.

Once all of the panellists had concluded their presentations, the floor was opened to the audience and a stimulating debate ensued. One of the most contested issues to arise from the discussion was the ownership of copyright. Many institutions actually hold the copyright of works produced by academics whose research they fund, although they do not always choose to exert this right. Walkden questioned to what extent this practice effectively safeguards the interests of academics, particularly since it is oftentimes too costly for them to even justify challenging this. He argued that academics should be granted the power to make decisions concerning their own intellectual property, particularly regarding the OA nature of their work.

Copyright issues were complicated further by a discussion of Art History monographs, particularly with regards to third party content. The case of Art History is particularly curious since, as Brennan highlighted, print runs have continued to remain reasonably high. After all, many art historians tend to opt for physical books over their digital counterparts since problems can often arise with their visual reproductions if, for instance, the screen is not calibrated to the original settings used in its creation. The discussion then turned to the resurgence of a material culture, whereby consumers are returning to physical artefacts. The increased popularity of vinyl records in today’s digital music society was used to illustrate this point. It was nevertheless argued that such a comparison was counterproductive since consumers ultimately have the freedom to decide the medium through which they access music but do not always have this choice with regards to books. Perhaps the academic book of the future will permit such freedom.

A member of the audience then identified the notable absence of the student in such a discussion. Academics, both on the panel and in the audience, expressed concerns that students were able to access information too easily by simply using the key word search function to find answers. Many felt that the somewhat lengthy process of physically searching out answers was more valuable to developing their research skills. Students within the audience said that while they do like the speed with which they are able to process information, they also value the experience of going to bookshelves, possibly finding other items they had not initially set out to obtain. An interesting discussion followed on whether technology might ever be able to replicate the experience of a physical library, and to what extent learning can be productive within a digital environment.

While the future of the academic book remains unclear, certain issues materialise as central topics of debate. Concerns for copyright, visual reproductions, and third party content, for instance, must necessarily form a basis of this future discussion. But more so than this, authors must begin to write within the context of a rapidly emergent digital world by ensuring that their academic outputs engage precisely with new technological formats and platforms. The opening of the book has only just begun, and perhaps it is only through investment and interdisciplinary collaboration that the academic monograph will have a future.

 

 

Melek Karatas, Lydia Leech, and Paul Clarke are postgraduate students in medieval and early modern languages at the University of Manchester, with research interests in manuscript and print cultures of the literary book.

Audio-Visual Resources and Academic Books of the Future

Steven Dryden is a Sound & Vision, Reference & Technical Specialist at The British Library. The British Library is currently undertaking a major campaign called Save Our Sounds which offers the opportunity to question the connection between text, sound, and moving image in media-rich content research. In this post he invites researchers to take part in a survey on how they use audio-visual resources in their work.

ABFpictureStevenDryden

Steven Dryden

In early 2015 I was fortunate enough to catch Rebecca Lyons giving a presentation on The Academic Book of the Future Project. Aside from the fascinating debates about what constitutes ‘academic’, what constitutes a ‘book’, and what an ‘academic book’ might be in the current research landscape – I was struck by the potential applications of the project to the collection I am vested in at The British Library: sound.

The British Library sound archive is an extraordinary collection of over 6.5 million recordings dating back to the birth of recorded sound in the early 19th century. If you were to listen to our entire collection back to back, 24 hours a day, seven days a week, with no holidays or breaks, it would take you over 140 years – plus the collection is growing daily! It is a unique research resource, comparable only to the Library of Congress sound collections in the USA. Find out more about our collection here

Sound recordings are the closest thing to time travel that we have as a research tool. Take for instance this audio clip of JRR Tolkien visiting a tobacco shop. We are instantly transported to 1929 when the recording was made, and it is easy to feel that you are being addressed directly. The time that has passed between then and now seems to vanish.

Listen to a conversation between Prof. A Lloyd James and J.R.R. Tolkien, recorded in July 1929: Early spoken word recordings – English Conversation: At the Tobacconist’s

The Save Our Sounds project

Many of the British Library’s recordings are under threat of disappearing as technologies change and some formats begin to naturally decay, and in response to this challenge the Library has launched a major campaign to digitise our historic sound collections.

As well as enabling us to future-proof our collections, the Save Our Sounds campaign is a unique opportunity for us to take stock of our role as audio heritage archivists, cataloguers, librarians, and collectors. Part of this includes considering access and the ways in which our collections are used by researchers. It is here, at the crossroads of research & engagement, that linking up with The Academic Book of the Future Project becomes very exciting.

At the moment, if an ‘academic text’ includes audio or visual resources, these tend to be included as DVDs, CDs, and perhaps even CD-ROMs (yes, they are still floating around out there!). As the technological landscape of the world changes, the ability to access and play CDs, DVDs and most definitely CD-ROMs will become increasingly limited. From the initial survey work that has been done for the Save Our Sound project, the main preservation concern is not that the recordings themselves are at risk of disappearing, but the obsolescence of the playback equipment.

So, how will audio-visual resources be included in academic books of the future?

In current and emerging contexts in which content is increasingly digitised and media-rich, how will the ability to incorporate audio-visual research directly into research outputs change the way in which these outputs are created, accessed, and referenced?

We hope that working with The Academic Book of the Future Project to address some of these questions will offer important insights into how researchers are using sound and moving image resources, and highlight common issues and concerns across disciplines.

If you are or have used sound and/or audio-visual materials for research please complete our short survey. (This survey will remain open until Easter). 

In due course a symposium/workshop will be arranged to discuss the findings of the survey. We are keen to encourage dialogue between publishing houses, app developers, and researchers. We hope the symposium/workshop will address and encourage ways of working together to fully explore the potential of audio-visual components in the academic book of the future.

Find out more about Save our Sounds at Save our Sounds, follow @BLSoundHeritage for live updates from our digitisation studio, @SoundArchive for tweets from the sound team, and use #SaveOurSounds to join the conversation on Twitter.