April 23, 2013

Panel discusses changing venues for academic publishing

University presses, the traditional venue for scholarly publishing, especially in the humanities and social sciences, are undergoing an upgrade into the information age. Technological innovation and the increasingly corporate atmosphere of higher education have led these organizations to consider new methods of publishing scholarly work.

These were among the conclusions of a panel of three faculty and staff members involved in academic publishing April 17 in the A.D. White House to talk about the future of academic publishing in the humanities.

One traditional function of university presses has been to print and sell specialized academic books to university libraries. However, the digital revolution, combined with fundamental changes within the world of higher education, have necessitated exploring new methods of distributing scholarship.

“If university presses are going to survive – and I think that they will – they’re going to have to become different types of publishing organizations,” said Peter J. Potter, editor-in-chief of Cornell University Press. “Print will be an ancillary part of what we do.”

While the specific role of the university press in the future of academic publishing is not yet clear, the panelists were optimistic that the transition will bring productive new methods of research to academia.

Panelist Oya Rieger, associate university librarian for digital scholarship and preservation services, explained: “Digital scholarship is using technology and digital methodologies, digital tools, in enhancing learning, teaching, researching experience, and also applying it to creative expression.”

One example Rieger discussed is Digital Harlem, a project from the University of Sydney that incorporated research from records, books, literature and other sources into an online interactive map of the borough.

For university presses to adapt to new forms of research, their place within the academy will need to evolve, Potter said. “University presses are going to have to be much more integrated with other parts of the university: the library, the IT department, even more with faculty and students,” he said.

Departments and organizations within the university are working together to create new means for students to contribute their scholarship to the academic conversation, panelists said.

The library has created an online repository of Cornell scholarship, eCommons, which offers students a digital venue to publish their work more quickly. Traditionally, many graduate students place an “embargo” on their dissertation to restrict access to their work for several years, a period in which they often adapt it into a book. Rieger said that the library and the Graduate School have been communicating about methods to increase access to students’ work while representing the best interests of the author.

Moving away from the embargo is one example of open source culture in academics, said panelist Timothy Murray, director of the Society for the Humanities and professor of comparative literature and English. “Instead of guarding our notes, we would be just as happy to share them,” he said.

Cornell University Library, Cornell University Press and the Society for the Humanities sponsored the event.

Sam Wolken ’14 is a student writer intern for the Cornell Chronicle.