The future of the academic book: Interview with Rozz Evans

The second RLUK interview for the Academic Book Week (23-28 January 2017) features Rozz Evans discussing the future of the academic book from her position as Head of Collection Strategy for UCL Library Services and leader of the Collection Development Services team at the UCL Institute of Education.

Rozz Evans

Rozz Evans

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

Rozz Evans: Head of Collection Strategy for UCL Library Services. I also lead the Collection Development Services team at the UCL Institute of Education.

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

RE: The move to digital is picking up pace and will continue to.  However, the way that students and academics wish to use ebooks is also changing.  Access needs to be simpler and more consistent, and ebooks need to be much more flexible in terms of sharing, downloading and manipulating content. There are still too many barriers for users and it is, in my view, time for publishers to really listen to libraries and academic colleagues to understand and respond to these needs. Arts, Humanities and Social Sciences scholars still need the academic book whatever form it will take.

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

RE: Currently, there is a lot of unhappiness and frustration on the part of both users, and librarians. Users as above. For libraries, the kind of models of ebook publishing that are being offered by some publishers – especially those deemed to be ‘textbooks’ are  restrictive, unfeasibly expensive and unsustainable. More positively, there are real strides being made in Open Access publishing – UCL Press has just published its first textbook, and JSTOR have just announced the inclusion of publications from a group of university presses on their platform which is encouraging.

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).

RE: Librarians need to continue to advocate robustly (and collectively) on behalf of their users in terms of establishing what is and is not acceptable in terms of the purchase of/ subscription to this content. Additionally, I believe the HE [Higher Education] library profession needs to come together collaboratively to ensure that academics, who are the producers of this academic book content are fully informed when it comes to making publishing decisions. To write textbooks and then be in a situation where the library or institution cannot provide access to their own students to that content is a growing problem.

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

RE: Greater understanding of publishing for all librarians, not just those working in acquisitions teams, a proactive approach to explaining how this works to academics and students and a willingness to articulate problems across the sector and in dialogue with publishers. Ability to work with academics in terms of what content is published and how, and more involvement in course planning. Selection of books for courses will, of course, remain the domain of academic staff but they need to be in a position to make well informed decisions and there is a role for librarians there.

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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