A Response to “Reassembling Scholarly Communications: An Evaluation of the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation’s Monograph Initiative”

In 2014–15, the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation ran a scholarly communication initiative that supported 13 monograph-focused grants. John Maxwell, Alessandra Bordini, and Katie Shamash report on each of these initiatives in “Reassembling Scholarly Communications: An Evaluation of the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation’s Monograph Initiative” (2017), where they summarize their findings after studying each funded initiative and engaging in discussions with project leads. The authors’ stated goal is to “identify the points of interconnection, congruence, and tension among these proposals, with the hope of providing perspective on both the individual projects, and the Foundation’s initiative itself” (n.p.). Throughout the report they also argue that monograph publication is a multipurpose endeavour: it simultaneously incorporates institutional knowledge production, the endowment of accreditation or status on authors, and small-scale industrial activity. As such, there is no one-size-fits-all solution for monographs in the digital age.

Maxwell, Bordini, and Shamash’s primary method is to organize and present the projects in four unique categories: 1) studies of monograph publishing processes and economics; 2) projects that enhance monograph publishing at university presses; 3) projects that develop digital publication capacity for faculty; and 4) projects that develop digital capacity at university presses. This sorting appears to be a significant choice by the authors: rather than lumping initiatives into broad categories (e.g., studies vs. projects), or distinguishing by initiative lead type (e.g., library vs. researcher vs. university press), this much more nuanced categorization reflects on the perceived objectives of each initiative. The raison d’être of the report is to present synopses of each funded project, and to organize them within a network of meaning; but Maxwell, Bordini, and Shamash also take time to ruminate on the monograph, and in doing so add their own voice to the chorus. The framing of the individual initiative synopses within a larger intellectual engagement regarding the monograph in transition is effective, as it provides a theoretical scaffold for considering the funded initiatives.

Maxwell, Bordini, and Shamash’s report is applicable to my own research inquiry on a couple of different planes. The survey of funded initiatives exploring the possibilities for monograph publishing in an era of digital scholarship is useful from a knowledgebase development angle. But on a deeper level, the authors’ consideration of open access to monographs, in particular, is relevant to my exploration regarding open scholarship. Maxwell, Bordini, and Shamash consider the impact of the increasing pressure toward open access publication of research output. They suggest that despite moral and ethical imperatives, the transition to an open access model will be more difficult for monograph publishing than, say, journal publishing, because books are “harder work” (n.p.) — they are more costly, more time-intensive, and less flexible to produce. The drive in journal publishing to open access has created a system where other scholarly artifacts face an unknown future, in regards to sustainable open access funding models, or perhaps even obsolescence. If open access to journal articles is inevitable, as it very well may be, than that type of research output will be read, downloaded, shared, and cited far more than any toll access research output can be. (This is known as the OA Advantage [Gargouri, Yassine, Chawki Hajjem, Vincente Larivière, Yves Gringas, Les Carr, Tim Brody, and Stevan Harnad, 2010].) It is heartening, at least, that many of the initiatives surveyed by Maxwell, Bordini, and Shamash are grappling with these issues, and looking for alternative funding models and unique research data presentation in order to maintain the relevancy and sustenance of the monograph as the waves of digital scholarship and open access continue to build.

Works cited

Gargouri, Yassine, Chawki Hajjem, Vincente Larivière, Yves Gringas, Les Carr, Tim Brody, and Stevan Harnad. 2010. “Self-Selected or Mandated, Open Access Increases Citation Impact for Higher Quality Research.” PLoS ONE 5 (10): n.p. http://journals.plos.org/plosone/article?id=10.1371/journal.pone.0013636

Maxwell, John, Alessandra Bordini, and Katie Shamash. 2017. “Reassembling Scholarly Communications: An Evaluation of the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation’s Monograph Initiative.” Journal of Electronic Publishing 20 (1): n.p. http://quod.lib.umich.edu/j/jep/3336451.0020.101/–reassembling-scholarly-communications-an-evaluation?rgn=main;view=fulltext