The future of the academic book: Interview with Stuart Sharp

In our fourth interview for the Academic Book Week (23-28 January 2017), Stuart Sharp looks at the future of the academic book from his position as Joint Head of Acquisitions and Access in the Library of the University of Glasgow.

Stuart Sharp

Stuart Sharp

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

Stuart Sharp: I am Joint Head of Acquisitions and Access in the Library of the University of Glasgow, a large department purchasing the content and managing electronic availability of the content. I specifically have strategic responsibility in three areas: monitoring and analysis of the Materials Budget, the Reading Lists @ Glasgow service and print book acquisitions.

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

SS: At the moment, the academic book is still largely in the fairly traditional form, whether that is in print or electronic format. The academic book still ranges from textbooks supporting undergraduate and taught postgraduate students to the research book that supports both teaching and research. A relatively small number of titles will cross into the more mainstream public reading and I suspect that publishers and academics will expand this to improve impact. There are developments in enriched electronic textbooks and in open access textbooks but the impact, so far, has been limited.

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

SS: I could see open access e-textbooks, if successfully developed, challenging standard textbook publishing in some subjects but the models are complex and the effects will be limited. I see reading lists with 40-50 ‘essential’ texts in the Arts, so this area will not be challenged by open access models. I think the biggest move will be towards e-book only academic books, purchased – as is increasingly the case with SHEDL in Scotland – through evidence-based or subscription deals, with limited DRM [Digital Rights Management]. What is the point of printing 400 copies for an institutional market?

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).

SS: The libraries’ role will be facilitated by the content on the ‘big deals’ with publishers and less time, effort and resources will need to be spent on the development of new print collections. The ‘big deals’ will allow authors to open their research to the widest possible academic audiences, improving potential impact, and that will continue to make publishers more attractive to authors as opposed to open access models. The aggregators of academic print and electronic books will see a more limited market, focusing on smaller and niche publishers and, possibly, second-hand.

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

SS: We need to be able to utilise improved use of analytics to evaluate the value of content, gain the skills to ensure that the content is easily discoverable by our users and improve our negotiating skills when up against publishers with experienced sales staff. We need to develop further marketing skills to ensure that the purchased content is known and explained to the relevant users.

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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