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an overview of the digital scholarly publishing landscape, the objectives and structure of the summit, and the intended audience for this report

Published onJun 17, 2022

The rapidly evolving landscape of digital scholarly publication challenges efforts to take stock of the wide range of innovative practices and system-changing interventions that characterize a growing body of publications that offer unique capabilities beyond conventional formats, from multimedia enhancements and interactive navigation to community engagement and global reach. This paper, which reports the findings of a spring 2021 summit co-hosted by Brown University and Emory University, features eight case studies that offer promising ways forward as the process of establishing best practices for the development, validation, and dissemination of multimodal digital monographs continues to unfold. Even at this early and experimental stage we find among the myriad approaches that collaboration—grounded within a community of scholars, publishers, and technology experts committed to expanding humanities scholarship in meaningful and innovative ways—undergirds all these successful efforts.

Efforts to reimagine the monograph for the 21st century started in 2014 with the launch of the Mellon Foundation’s Digital Monograph Initiative. Inclusive of a small handful of planning grants that led up to the official 2014 launch, the Foundation awarded $32.78 million in grants to 44 organizations (some receiving multiple grants) between 2011 and 2020. While a large part of Mellon’s investment went to building out the digital infrastructure available to university presses, the Foundation also sought to support the community of scholars seeking to legitimate the expanded possibilities that digital publication offered for developing and presenting their research. To this end, a smaller number of grants was awarded to institutions experimenting with university-based models of support for faculty, ranging from developmental editing and design support to assistance in placing the work with suitable publishers.1

 In February 2018, the Mellon Foundation hosted an all-projects meeting for many of the institutional support grantees. Representatives of these projects gathered in New York to share progress and challenges with one another during what were still germinal days. During this period, the Foundation also convened project teams from the university press cohort to promote collaboration between platform and tool developers. Three years later, with the encouragement of Mellon’s Public Knowledge program, two of the grantees, Brown and Emory, sought to foster a more comprehensive conversation, including, for the first time, the scholars’ perspective.

The intention from the start was to call attention to the faculty-led experimentation that was taking place across a number of libraries and humanities centers, some of which already involved university presses. Shifting the focus away from tools and technology, as important as those discussions remain to the larger scholarly communications ecosystem, the summit emphasized author and audience needs and opportunities. As such, it highlighted the importance of investing in a people-centric, content-driven infrastructure. Indeed, “dynamic, collaborative support for humanities scholarship,” as Charles Watkinson of University of Michigan Press has recently argued, “[can] reflect and shape the practices of a new-generation professoriate seeking networked research through responsive and community-minded publishing models.”2  

To this end, cross-organizational teams consisting of scholars, academic staff experts, and representatives from university presses convened virtually, on April 23, 2021, to share their stories of collaboration and experimentation. In lieu of extensive demos, a project showcase, organized according to the familiar publishing workflow, highlighted successes as well as challenges. Although the summit focused on a selection of Mellon-supported projects, the presentations and the generative discussions that followed raised important concerns and opportunities that extend well beyond the featured projects and this particular cohort. A key objective of this report is to encourage the development of a community that includes a broader range of voices and visions in the development, validation, and dissemination of multimodal digital monographs.

This report will be of interest to the scholarly publishing community, including library publishers and other scholarly communications professionals; designers and user experience specialists; technologists and software developers; digital archivists and preservation specialists; institutional administrators; and funding agencies and foundations. It will also be of interest to scholars wishing to explore innovative multimodal publication, particularly in collaboration with community partners.

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