The future of the academic book: Interview with Beth Clark

In the last RLUK interview for the Academic Book Week (23-28 January 2017), Beth Clark, Head of Digital Scholarship and Innovation at the Library of the London School of Economics and Political Science (LSE), contributes to our week-long discussion on the future of the academic book.

Christina Kamposiori: Please describe briefly your role and responsibilities in the library.

Beth Clark: My role is Head of Digital Scholarship and Innovation at LSE Library. Responsibilities include oversight of scholarly communications, the research repository, metrics, research data management, the digital library and library website. It also includes managing the service assessment and development team which seeks to improve library services through continuous evaluation and user experience research.

CK: What does the future of the academic book look like for you in terms of format, purpose and use?

BC: Future academic books are likely to be digital first with print on demand and enhanced open access content. There will be more short-form peer reviewed monographs and greater exploitation of the online format with embedded multimedia content, research data, more author engagement and reader participation. Readers will be offered a wider choice of formats, with long-form print still playing an important role; however, we will also see more ‘fragmented’ books with content repackaged into other outputs e.g. course materials. The academic book will continue to be an important vehicle to communicate research, exploring well-defined topics in the author’s own style but with a variety of options to deliver this content.

CK: How will the future academic book be shaped by your community’s needs?

BC: The future academic book will continue to be shaped by drivers such as the REF, research funder requirements, academic promotion procedures and the established norms for publication in certain fields. There is an increasing need in the social sciences, to respond to events quickly, to demonstrate impact, to engage in innovative ways with audiences beyond the academic community, including policy-makers and the public. LSE blogs have been influential in this area, but there is still a requirement for longer more in-depth exploration of topics. It is also important to consider evolving teaching methods and student expectations which will also shape the future book.

CK: What will the impact of the future academic book be on libraries’ and librarians’ role in academic research? Please comment particularly on any differences (if any) between the libraries’ role and that of other stakeholders (e.g. authors, publishers, booksellers).

BC: Increasingly, we see librarians providing support for authors during the whole research cycle, providing advice on systematic reviews, RDM [Research Data Management], open access publishing, bibliometrics, managing research outputs and minting DOIs [Digital Object Identifiers]. In future, Librarians are likely to develop this support role for authors, providing advice on publication, funding and licensing options, liaising with publishers and booksellers and in some cases actively developing a publishing role themselves, providing open access platforms and supporting university presses. The boundaries between the stakeholders are becoming blurred and this is likely to increase as stakeholders seek to redefine roles in a changing landscape.

CK: What additional skills will librarians or library professionals need for dealing with the future academic book?

BC: Continued development of scholarly communications skills (bibliometrics, RDM, open access etc.) plus enhanced metadata, discovery and digital preservation to ensure long-term access to multi-format content. Advising authors on licensing content for accessibility and reuse, e.g. text and data mining. Supporting new publication models either financially or practically, providing platforms to support innovative publishing and developing technical skills to support this.

This interview was initially conducted for the purposes of an article published in the British Academy Review (no. 29).

Christina Kamposiori, Programme Officer, RLUK

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