Peter Brantley, Digital Library Federation, among other things, continually publishes things on his blog that just blow me completely away, because they invariably speak directly to my interests, concerns and thoughts. But he is always light years ahead of where I am in my thinking. Thus, it's like a light from another room, a room that's in the future of my own mind. Kinda bizarre in a way, but on the other hand, hey, I know where my own thinking is going just by reading his blog.
So, case in point: the UT Library and UT Press are embarking on a collaborative project about which we are very excited, but in truth, we are sort of not real sure of what we're doing. Peter's post today, shimenawa - On scholarly communication and university presses, speaks to the complexity of what we are trying to accomplish, probably without a clue about it (on the Library side, that is). Of course, it's better to know you are clueless than to merely be clueless, so every bit of information helps. But as Peter says, lots of libraries and presses are working on this kind of collaboration. So why not collaborate with each other, or does our having entered the world of the commercial competitors mean we are now sworn to secrecy about our trials and tribulations? Don't presses collaborate and commiserate? Need we muck around in the dark? Don't we all want any of us to succeed?
This ties in with what's going on in the course I'm taking this summer on research methods in the social sciences. I'm beginning to have a better idea of how to translate a generalized interest in the future of the book into a research question or questions. It occurred to me that I might ask, for example, where is innovation in the form of the book most likely/least likely to occur over the next 5 years? That could set a predictive inquiry in the context of observable instances of innovation today or even over the last 5 years let's say. Now of course, I'm just musing at this point, but I've read enough to know that presses and libraries have little if *any* control over publishing innovation in academe. The controllers for that seem to be the social sciences tenure committees, and I have so far read nothing that suggests that these groups are looking for, supporting or even tolerating innovative methods of research reporting. Maybe I've written them off too quickly. Maybe it would make a fascinating study. But I'd like to put my energy into studying an area where there are clear signs of support for innovation. What is it that has kept presses from being more innovative? What might be different today? Where are the most innovative publishers and what created the conditions that enabled that innovation? Maybe having nothing to lose is the key.
All that seems less interesting to me, however, than exploring the actual forms of the book, the form it is beginning to take and might take. So how might that relate to libraries and presses? A survey of experiments with new forms? Focusing on what innovation is taking place, just sort of an empirical study? But where's the excitement in that? Where's the, wait a minute, it would be reported in a novel way that was itself innovative, of course. That would be fun. Sort of a 2010 networked expression/conversation of/about the state of innovation in the form of the "communication medium formerly known as the book." But could it go further, into interpretation and prediction? Actually, it has to, to be of any real interest to me, let alone others. After all, behind my interest in the future of the book is the implication of that realm of change for the future of libraries in a networked world. How do I get from likely new forms of publishing to the future of libraries? Well I'm not there yet. But at least I can see the map.