Posted On October 10, 2011
In 2010, Michael Jon Jensen, director of strategic web communications at the National Academies and National Academies Press, wrote that “today,university presses are a key part of a scholarly communications enterprise that performs a key social service, to help civilization gain access to the work of true specialists, the people who have spent more than Gladwell’s ten thousand hours developing true expertise in a field. Not pundits, not famous talking heads, but scholars and experts. I expect the same to be true tomorrow.”
However, he cautioned that “if university presses are to continue to fulfill that fundamental mission, we will need to rethink our roles and partnerships—in preparation for not only a radically universal digital environment of knowledge ubiquity, but (even if I’m only half right) a radically disrupted economy and ecosystem.” In the past year, university presses have made major, aggressive strides into ebook adoption that might not only answer this challenge but provide a useful model for the commercial sector.
The Unique Role of the University PressIn the 1920s, there were an estimated 12 university presses operating in America; today that number is about 130. Over the years, university presses have forged ahead with some of the more thoughtful and “daring” coverage and analysis of such complex issues as globalization, immigration, civil rights, constitutional law, and so on.
Many of these presses have also developed their own areas of specialization and acclaim: MIT and Yale’s coverage of architecture; Princeton, Yale, Columbia, Oxford, and Harvard’s emphasis on literacy criticism; Minnesota’s coverage of cultural critique, ethnic studies, and theory; and some of the excellent regional coverage from Arizona, Kansas, and Nebraska. “As commercial publishers increasingly turn away from books that are deemed unlikely to make a lot of money,” notes the American Association of University Presses, “university presses have found new fields to publish in and new audiences for their books.”
“Despite their relatively small size and being chronically undercapitalized, university presses are energetically—and cooperatively—trying to pursue their mission of disseminating the results of scholarly research in whatever forms our audiences demand, all the while maintaining high standards of editorial integrity,” explains University of Pennsylvania Press director Eric Halpern. “A tall order, admittedly.”
Full story at Infotoday.