IHE reports that Rice University closed up its all-digital university press. That’s sadly noteworthy for its own sake; it exemplifies the institutional short-sightedness that’s been afflicting the academic-research-publishing-teaching nexus for years. What really caught my eye (“bought my eye,” if you remember the Monty Python “Travel Agent” sketch) was the assessment by outside evaluators, from which I will quote in extenso:
[T]he outside reviewers who recently finished a study of the press recommended in their report — a copy of which was obtained by Inside Higher Ed — that the press move further away from a book-oriented model and become a teaching and research center that explored new forms of scholarly communication. Such a broadening of the press role, the committee said, would attract outside financial support and enhance the university’s programs.
Turning the press into a scholarship laboratory, the report said, “challenges and transforms the traditional notion of the university press, which now becomes not a ‘press’ in any ordinary sense of the word, but rather a node for experimentation, research, and dissemination, linking together the teaching and research core of Rice University, the Rice University Libraries (in the form of the Center for Digital Scholarship), the university’s main research centers (HRC, etc.), within the framework of an outreach structure (RUP with Connexions serving as only one of a number of supports).
“Like a conventional university press, RUP would, through the work of its publisher, continue to seek out and recruit internal and external projects that live up to its mission of modeling the future of scholarship. A traditional peer review process would be applied to the evaluation of these projects, however unconventional their form (a multimedia publication, geo-spatially organized repository, a print/digital hybrid ‘augmented’ book). But RUP would also serve as the completion and publication site for the most innovative locally produced (via Rice’s research centers and institutes) projects, subject to precisely the same peer review controls.”
I wasn’t one of the evaluators, but I couldn’t have said it better myself. Indeed, I may incorporate this passage in my next grant proposal; it’s almost exactly what I’ve been saying for longer than ten years now. (Except that I’m not anti-book — I think there’s a long future for books that the exciting prospects of other and mixed-media communication tends to obscure). Yes, I am that small: I told you so. The burning question remains, Who will pick up this mission and put it into action?