Research Libraries and the Academic Book: a changing relationship?

Last June, I had the pleasure of attending the highly anticipated launch event of the Academic Book of the Future project end reports. The Academic Book of the Future was a two-year research project, funded by the Arts and Humanities Research Council and the British Library. The purpose of the project was to explore questions about the nature and use of the academic book, raise issues around the impact of the digital age on the processes involved in its production and dissemination as well as consider its future and that of its various stakeholders.

Having listened to the engaging talks at the event and read the reports with great interest, I became motivated to reflect on the relevant RLUK activity over the previous academic year and on the discussions held with RLUK members and partners. Drawing some points for consideration with regards to this changing relationship between research libraries and the academic book will hopefully prove useful when planning future RLUK activities in the area.

The second Academic Book Week (2017) was a great opportunity for RLUK to actively participate in various discussions around the importance of the academic book for different audience groups, the role of technology and the relationships between researchers, libraries, publishers and booksellers, who constitute its main stakeholders. As part of our activity in this area we also conducted five interviews with librarians who offered their perspective on the topic. These were posted on the RLUK blog throughout the duration of the Academic Book Week and used as the basis for publishing an article in the British Academy Review, presenting the main issues derived from their analysis.

Thus, taking into account the lessons learnt through our engagement in the area over the past year, below are some of the things to consider with regards to the future relationship between research libraries and academic books. Although there is currently work being done in areas that touch upon the matters raised here and where the RLUK executive team/ members are involved (i.e. around monographs, library storage space, ILL infrastructure), ‘joining’ the conversations when relevant will provide a more detailed view of the occurring changes, the impact they can have on research libraries and the role that consortia can play in this landscape.

Collection development

Although print is still greatly used by academics and students, especially for long reading, libraries have started to invest in digital content (e.g. e-books) which has the potential to be easily accessed and shared as well as facilitate interactive learning. Future activity in this area may entail examining how this shift in priorities affects collection development practices as well as identifying emerging needs which will enable institutions to plan strategically for the future and respond more effectively to any challenges presented ahead.

Infrastructure and discoverability

Research libraries are key access providers to academic books for scholars and students. Looking at how digital infrastructure can be improved in order to facilitate discoverability is important for maximising the reach of the academic book; given the pressure that is currently being put on the higher education sector to demonstrate impact, such a development will prove particularly beneficial for institutions. On the other hand, investigating user behaviour and habits with regards to the various formats of the future academic book (print, e-books or other format) is necessary for understanding the needs of users and how these can be met through appropriate digital infrastructure (e.g. text and data mining).

Libraries as publishers

As research libraries increasingly become involved in the publishing process (e.g. through university presses), new opportunities emerge which, combined with open access developments and technological progress, expand the traditional role of the library. Being both access provider and content creator as well as forming new types of collaborations with other stakeholders of the academic book (e.g. authors) are only some of the possibilities for libraries. However, in order to be able to take advantage of the opportunities ahead, a thorough understanding of the effect these can have on strategic and operational planning will be required (e.g. budget, skillset of staff, infrastructure).

Christina Kamposiori, Programme Officer, RLUK

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