This event, the 16th National Scholarly Communications Forum, was held at the National Maritime Museum in Sydney over two autumn days in March. In attendance were scholars, librarians and publishers, brought together by their common interest in the book and its future. The Forum was sponsored by the Australian Academy of the Humanities and the Australian Research Council and convened by Colin Steele, Director, Scholarly Information Strategies at the Australian National University and 'the Martin Luther of scholarly publishing in Australia' according to one present.
Professor Iain McCalman, President of the Australian Academy of the Humanities and Director of the Humanities Research Centre of the Australian National University, introduced the proceedings by reminding those present that this seminar was not intended to mark the death of the book or to advocate it, but to question where it might be headed in the globalised environment. The problem as he sees it is that scholars are finding more difficult to get their work published, but are dependent on being published for their promotion and tenure. Publishers must respond to commercial imperatives, so are seeking to publish titles with wide readerships.
Definition of the problem was taken up by Professor John Hartley, Dean of the Creative Industries Faculty at Queensland University of Technology, who brought everyone to attention with his remark that 'universities are stifling creativity, but not stifling it nearly enough'. The crisis, he said, is one not of failure, but of success: there is simply too much academic publishing. Scholars are required to utter, not to receive. The incentives are in publishing, not in impact. There are 29,259 PhD students in Australia all of whom have been told that there is a market out there for their thesis. Books are not published in the interests of knowledge, but for the author. As authors specialise, the number of readers they have decreases. Publishers are part of the problem too as they have to make profits, but university presses are there to brand their university, not to disseminate knowledge. The answer, he sees as being in electronic publishing and in a revision of what publishing can be by including all platforms as possibilities, including, he said wishfully, a 'scholarly TV channel on Foxtel'.
So if electronic publishing is the answer, how should we proceed to implement it? Many speakers contributed their thoughts on this issue. Professor Janet McCalman from the University of Melbourne spoke firmly in favour of the need for high quality publishing; accurate, scholarly, well-edited and authoritative, seeing a danger in throwing books onto the web simply to make them accessible. Richard Vines, from the Enhanced Printing Industry Competitiveness Scheme, spoke equally firmly of the need for good metadata and content and copyright management, not to mention the need to integrate editorial and printing activities. Colin Steele emphasised the need for readers to be able to print, and suggested that universities may need to change their model of support for scholarly information by subsidising it up front through creation of electronic publishing support mechanisms for theses, e-prints, books and journals.
The highlights of the conference were the demonstrations of what publishers are doing to respond to the situation. Roy Tennant, who is Manager of California e-Scholarship Web and Services Design of the California Digital Library at the University of California described the e-Scholarship Editions initiative which has emerged as a joint project of the University of California Press and the Director of Scholarly Communications at the California Digital Library. Over 750 works are now available at http://escholarship.cdlib. …