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V. Evolution

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In place, then, of Creative Destruction, I propose a model of evolution, or continued co-evolution of presses along with libraries.  Arguably, libraries and presses have been evolving in different directions, but if that divergence gets much wider it will lead to chaos and to a less-rigorous system of scholarly communication precisely at the moment when the explosion of information and discourse demands more interlinked systems.

 

cc_slide_19Some will say, have said, that presses are an evolutionary deadend – a “dinosaur” – and eagerly await their extinction in the tar pits of the open web, a commercialized mire that, frankly, is just as likely to swallow libraries.  But I wouldn’t count presses out.  As Leila summarized and Alison’s presentation will provide further testimony, while remaining true to their mission, presses have innovated constantly and continue to do so.  A university press launched Project Muse and we collaborated eagerly in the creation of JSTOR, cornerstones of Humanities and Social Science scholarship.  And the e-book programs on both those platforms have the potential to bring new life and usage even to the disparaged monograph.  After all, how many believed that journal backfiles could gain such usage before the advent of JSTOR?

 

cc_slide_20But there are different forms of evolution, one involving gradual change – hardly visible -- and one punctuated change – occurring rapidly, often in response to a moment of systemic crisis and stress. Particularly now, with the economic stress on higher education and the rise of the digital humanities and open scholarship, University presses – and indeed the entire scholarly communication system -- are clearly in one of those periods of rapid and critical change responding to stress.  And while University presses are evolving, they need to evolve faster – away from a closed system of scholarship and the contained, siloed content of the monograph and journal issue toward the kind of database structure that is implicit in the very system of rigorously confirmed references and notes that underlie all our publications – for truly university press publications were hyperlinked via footnotes and endnotes decades before the creation of the internet.

 

What will this new system look like when fully evolved?  What I see ahead for the humanities and social sciences is an intensely innovative, hybridized environment for university scholarly communication -- one that encompasses both open access and nonprofit models, scholarship in university repositories and that published by presses in the established forms of e-books and e-journals, large digital humanities initiatives, and a lively constellation of individual and collaborative scholarly blogs, micro blogs, and websites.

cc_slide_21In many cases, specific research projects will span and flow across all these forms in what I think of as a process of endosmosis and exosmosis, from less concentrated scholarly forms to more concentrated ones such as the monograph and back again.

 

The environment of scholarly communication, much of it informal and nonprofessionalized, has dramatically expanded in the past decade and within it the boundaries of scholary publishing, always formalized and professional, and of the scholarly monograph are breaking down – that is a good thing for both presses and authors.  In line with the many discussions of tenure reform underway at research universities, the university press mission will, I expect, adjust from encompassing nearly all scholarship to specifically publishing works by authors who have the vocation to be scholarly authors.  Not those authors, to repeat Ian Bogost’s taunt, “who write merely to have written” but rather those who write to be read.  And while I do not speak for all University press publishers, it is increasingly clear to me that a policy toward copyright that allows scholarly authors to have greater control of their work, to limit the rights they convey to publishers and more actively manage their own works, will help foster this much richer and more diverse scholarly communications ecology.  Making that occur is something that libraries and presses should be talking about, rather than lining up on one side or another.

 

cc_slide_22But why are scholarly publishers and specifically university presses needed in this emerging environment when freely available software make self-publishing an option for any scholar and when libraries increasingly are expanding their own missions to become publishers, but without the presses fiscal burden of cost recovery?  The answer for me is that publication by a university press, by an entity with a mission that extends beyond its own institution, means something both academically and economically -- it is both an evaluative process of editorial assessment, peer review, and faculty board approval and an evaluing in terms of the press' decision to invest financial and personnel resources in a particular author’s work.  At a time when the humanities and social sciences are being devalued within the academy, formal publication signals that such works have an economic and cultural value and are more than mere localized academic work product.  Over the past decades, university presses have sponsored scholarly work in areas that in many cases were discouraged or actively disparaged by university departments themselves -- areas such as feminist studies, Chicano Studies, GLBT Studies, emerging areas of inquiry such as work on tourism, sports, and video games.  Literary theory as a method flourished on the lists of university presses long before it had more than a toe-hold in language departments, presses focused on African-American history while vestiges of segregation still existed in universities themselves, even areas of science such as human genetics and cognitive science, once both thought of as marginal, were aided by the recognition provided by the presses at Johns Hopkins and MIT.  Sometimes accused of rushing to "trendy" areas of scholarship, university presses at their best provide an alternate locus of accreditation for emerging areas of scholarship and scholarly method and, by working across institutional boundaries, help to correct for localized pockets of conservatism. As Universities now address their budget crises by combining departments, shuttering interdisciplinary centers, and tightening tenure opportunities, university press imprints will be even more important to innovative and boundary-challenging scholars.

 

And university presses will survive and continue to evolve for this reason as well – that while new modes of scholarship continue to forecast “the death of the author,” the author is far from dead.  Take it from a university press publisher, they bang down our doors, and not just to satisfy tenure and promotion requirements.  And scholarly authors care: they revise diligently in response to peer review and editorial feedback, obsess over how their monographs are edited, titled, produced, publicized, and sold.  Authorship is more than communication – many of the best academic blog authors are also recent university press authors – and as long as there are scholars who consider themselves authors, there will be university presses.

 

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