As the information environment shifts, and new publishing opportunities are presented to researchers, librarians and scholars planning on how to move forward need to reflect on the relationship between the research library, the scholar/author, and the functions of the academic press.
Having sheparded to publication some of the most remarkable academic books of recent years, Ken Wissoker, the editorial director at Duke University Press, is in a good position to explain the added-value the academic press provides to this relationship. And in an insightful blog post, he does just that, focusing on the work behind the scenes that has helped to make Duke University Press as successfull as it has become.
In a world a-buzz over the technologies of self-publishing and research data repositories, Wissoker reminds us of the importance peer review and editorial guidance have on the shape of the humanities and qualitative social sciences. Questioning arguments which herald the demise of university press book, he articulates a key difference between a report on one’s research and the proper work of the book.
Publication in the humanities and social sciences isn’t the reporting of research. It’s the production of a compelling argument, based on a combination of research and interpretation.”
By drawing our attention to this process, Wissoker contributes to a wider critique of an industry that too often sees knowledge as the direct result of the exchange of information, and libraries and publishers simply as the machinery of information transfer. By opening up the labor of the editorial and review process, he reveals the social form of the book. Rather than seeing it simply as a physical or digital vessel for content, one that serves as an obstacle between the reader and her or his access to pure research, the book is reimagined as dialogue between facts, interpretations and critical arguments, a conversation that is aided by the work of external reviewers and editors. In this light, the best books in the humanities and social sciences, not only transport facts, but take the reader through the construction of those facts by unfolding both the research process and the relationships which affect its trajectory.
Wissoker’s argument in favor of a broader recognition of the social relationships of knowledge production may positively influence the way we imagine libraries too. It may help us to better organize the information environment of tomorrow by bringing into focus one the library’s most essential roles, its function as a generator and facillitator of compelling arguments.
See Ken Wissoker’s article posted on Scholarly Kitchen here:
For more of Ken Wissoker’s thoughts, see the interviews Adeline Koh has conducted with him for the Chronicle of Higher Education, beginning with “On Monographs, Libraries and Blogging”. See: