The future of the academic book: Interview with Dr. Jessica Gardner

In the spirit of the second Academic Book Week (23-28 January 2017), RLUK conducted interviews with five library professionals on the future of the academic book. We are delighted to announce that an article based on the results of these interviews has been published in the British Academy Review (no. 29) and is now available online.

Dr Jessica Gardner

Dr. Jessica Gardner

To accompany the article, we plan to post each individual interview on this blog throughout the week, starting today with Dr Jessica Gardner’s account. Dr. Gardner is currently Director of Library Services and University Librarian at the University of Bristol, and will soon take up her new position as University Librarian at Cambridge.

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

Dr. Jessica Gardner: I am the senior manager responsible for the strategic direction and operational oversight of all aspects of the library service and its support for research, teaching and learning and public engagement.

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

JG: The quality of the content defines good academic books, based on original research and ideas that move forward the world’s knowledge. Print used to be the only available format, and remains one to which academic esteem is most closely attached. But digital has opened up new possibilities. Whilst I think we will continue to enjoy and revere what we recognise as ‘books’ (electronic or print) for a very long time, the format options through which ‘knowledge’ can be disseminated are developing and offer new ways to impact and knowledge exchange. We are increasingly seeing publishers move into ‘service delivery’, for example, providing interactive multimedia resources that include ‘content’ in multiple forms – text, video, quizzes. We are seeing publishers and academics with marketing and engagement strategies that move beyond the book to include ways of pushing ideas through social media, with blogs, video etc. This means the library’s approach to content strategy and resource discovery also needs to develop. The best way for us to do this is within a collaborative discussion and partnership with our academics, students and publishers so we can continue to develop collections, skills and discovery means that best serve our users.

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

JG: The drivers for ‘anytime, anyplace, any device’ are powerful ones, particularly for students to access content wherever they are in the world and for content to be re-used and re-purposed in different contexts. The needs of students in this regard will continue to drive up digital innovation in the future of the academic book. But it is a balance. We shouldn’t ignore the fact that for many of us – including students – print remains a preferred format for reading long-form and that in the Arts, Humanities and Social Sciences the long-form academic book is a reflection of discipline craft, of deep analysis and thinking formed into a long argument or discourse.

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).

JG: I think we will see academic librarians working in closer partnership with authors and publishers, particularly with the growth in university press initiatives. Libraries are not simply ‘consumers’ of information resources, but increasingly involved in influencing how they are designed (for instance to help improve accessibility and licencing for e-books) and content (for instance in collaborative design of multi-media educational resources). We are also seeing models where libraries are becoming publishers, working to innovate and enable open access monographs as the academy works to take back some control over research dissemination. The academic book, in its print monograph form, has abided for a long time. What’s important is that the library takes an active, not passive role in shaping its future.

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

JG: We have to be open to how the world is changing and should be spending time listening and developing understanding in a creative and collaborative partnership with publishers, academics and students. There is no question that digital skills are a critical part of the contemporary professional skill set.

Christina Kamposiori, Programme Officer, RLUK

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