I’ve been following a project at the Institute for the Future of the Book (IF:Book), hosted by the Annenberg Center for Communication at USC. Kathleen Fitzpatrick has been guiding a project designed to address a number of problems in scholarly communication.
Working with a group of humanities scholars, IF:Book began identifying obvious problems: failing university presses, junior faculty having difficulties finding publishers, long delays between research/writing and publication, peer-review functioning as a gatekeeper rather than facilitating collaboration, and costliness of books/journals. Ultimately they began to feel that the current model for academic publishing does not promote the kind of scholarly communication and collaboration they desire. To quote from her recent announcement:
Our shift from thinking about an “electronic press” to thinking about a “scholarly network” came about gradually; the more we thought about the purposes behind electronic scholarly publishing, the more we became focused on the need not simply to provide better access to discrete scholarly texts but rather to reinvigorate intellectual discourse, and thus connections, amongst peers (and, not incidentally, discourse between the academy and the wider intellectual public). This need has grown for any number of systemic reasons, including the substantive and often debilitating time-lags between the completion of a piece of scholarly writing and its publication, as well as the subsequent delays between publication of the primary text and publication of any reviews or responses to that text. These time-lags have been worsened by the increasing economic difficulties threatening many university presses and libraries, which each year face new administrative and financial obstacles to producing, distributing, and making available the full range of publishable texts and ideas in development in any given field. The combination of such structural problems in academic publishing has resulted in an increasing disconnection among scholars, whose work requires a give-and-take with peers, and yet is produced in greater and greater isolation.
Yesterday, Fitzpatrick announced the beginning of what the IF:Book is calling the Media Commons. This initial effort to establish a “scholarly network” will focus on the field of media studies. I thought you might be interested not so much in the field, but in the efforts by others in the humanities to develop new models for scholarly communication designed foremost to serve scholarly dialogue. In the the announcement, Fitzpatrick describes a broad variety of scholarly writing sustained by and facilitating a network of scholarly engagement. You can read the full announcement at the link below: