Monographs are important in the humanities – but consider open access

On Monday, The Guardian’s Higher Education Network posted an item by Melissa Terras “Want to be taken seriously as scholar in the humanities? Publish a monograph“. The entire short post is worth reading, but here are a few excerpts:

We don’t write humanities monographs for riches. We may do so in an attempt to earn academic fame. But the career kickback for me was rapid promotion. In the humanities, the monograph’s the thing.

With digital publishing comes the uncoupling of content from print: why should those six years of work (or more) result in only a physical book that sits on a few shelves? Why can’t the content be made available freely online via open access?

Isn’t this the great ethical stance: making knowledge available to all? Won’t opening up access to the detailed, considered arguments held within humanities monographs do wonders for the reputation and impact of subject areas whose contribution to society is often under-rated?

The humanities’ dependency on the monograph for the shaping and sharing of scholarship means that scholars – and publishers – should be paying attention. How will small print runs of expensive books fare in this new “content should be available for free” marketplace? How will production costs be recouped?

The latest Jisc survey on the attitudes of academics in the humanities and social sciences to open-access monograph publishing makes an interesting contribution to this debate, showing how central single-author monographs remain to the humanities, and how important the physical – rather than digital – copies are. People still like to read, and in many cases buy, them.

The monograph is still the thing: anyone who wants to be taken seriously as a scholar in the humanities should work towards having one. Open-access requirements are on the horizon, so broach them with the publisher. Don’t accept £10,000 costs. Brandish this survey, and say “people still buy books”.