Feeding the Elephant: A Forum on Scholarly Communications

Yelena Kalinsky's picture

This is the first post of a new series on the H-Net Book Channel dedicated to scholarly communications called Feeding the Elephant. For the rest of September, we'll be sharing interviews, blog posts, and links to further resources related to the topic of peer review. Subscribers are invited to take part in the conversation by posting replies, questions, links to projects, or ideas for future posts.  --Eds.


Welcome to Feeding the Elephant, a place for conversations about scholarly communications in the arts, humanities, and social sciences. This is a place for anyone from the worlds of publishing, libraries, academic organizations, and academia, early career or established, affiliated or independent, who is deeply interested in the questions shaping scholarly communications today.

Scholarly Communications with a Mission

Scholars take chances in their work, following leads and forging connections. Sometimes these risks pay off in ways that enrich a conversation, a discipline, a community. Other times the reward is more modest: a learning experience for the researcher. Undergirding these intellectual risks are many kinds of institutional and community investments: time to write, research support, feedback from outside readers and reviewers. Fewer and fewer scholars are getting the basic institutional support required to pursue their research; nevertheless, many are piecing together what they need in order to continue. But the one investment without which an intellectual risk is no risk at all is publication. The book, the journal article, the website: in one form or another, the idea must travel from speaker to listener in order to be made public.

The ways scholars make their research public are being transformed by a host of factors, most obviously digital technology and decreasing public investment in higher education. Institutions have been bracing themselves against the shocks of this decreasing support. We read about the fallout regularly on the pages of the Chronicle and on social media under hashtags like #IStandWithSUP and #AKLeg. In the debates about the individual benefits of college, we have lost touch with the public mission of academic institutions. On any day, the problems seem insurmountable. Yet many defenders of this mission are working hard to reassert its importance and to remind us that the highest goal of higher education is still the public good.

Digital technology is offering an exciting range of new ways to make research public—to share it with both other scholars and a broader readership. Artists, humanists, and social scientists have eagerly experimented with these forms: Lever Press, Open Library of the Humanities, Public Knowledge Project, the MIT Knowledge Futures Group, and the Roy Rosenzweig Center for History and New Media are just a few examples. Journals now thrive in searchable databases and digital humanities projects offer complex, compelling multimedia presentations. But how do these projects fit into the existing systems of scholarly communications and the broader mission of higher education? How is this innovative work evaluated, and who has access to the training and tools to do it? Who has access to journal and e-book databases? Is open access publishing economically sustainable? Which of many alternative funding models for public-facing scholarship is most viable? And how can such work be made discoverable and be preserved for the future?

Bringing the Conversations Together

Many of us who are involved in scholarly communications are talking about how to reshape scholarly communications to meet the challenges of this transformation and ensure that we have a system for sharing research that lives up to our values of high quality, diversity of viewpoints, inclusion, equity in access, openness, and sustainability. Too often, conversations among scholars, publishers, and librarians stay within those professional networks and don’t flow across areas of practice to engage all the participants. And to a considerable degree, these conversations have been dominated by scientists and STEM publishers, fields in which the dissemination of research works differently than it does in the arts, humanities, and social sciences. The result is that publishers, librarians, and scholars don’t always agree on what the elephant in the room looks like, much less how best to care for and feed it. 

Our goal with this forum is to start to bring those disparate conversations together to nourish our common project of scholarly communications, hence the title: Feeding the Elephant. It will, we hope, become a resource for readers, writers, publishers, librarians, and anyone interested in thinking about the institutions that sustain scholarship in the arts, humanities, and social sciences. Each month, we will invite members of different communities of practice to contribute essays, blog posts, roundtables, and podcast conversations around a different theme. Together, we will dig into the intellectual and ethical issues shaping scholarly communications today and explore initiatives that are helping to rethink publishing formats, practices, and business models in ways that support the core mission of making ideas public. Readers will be able to follow along and to contribute to the conversations online. All discussions, links, and lists of resources will be archived at the dedicated Feeding the Elephant page, hosted on the H-Net Book Channel.

Feeding the Elephant is a joint project of H-Net and MSU Press, and overseen by an editorial board of scholars, librarians, and publishers. All discussions on Feeding the Elephant are moderated by the editors and adhere to H-Net’s posting policies. We welcome a variety of viewpoints and experiences, and hope that the conversations sparked here will be thought-provoking and bring something new to discussions already taking place elsewhere. Readers who have any questions or concerns, or who would like to contribute to the forum can get in touch with the editors at feeding.the.elephant@gmail.com. We welcome feedback! 

How to Get Involved

Readers can visit Feeding the Elephant online, where it is hosted on the H-Net Book Channel. To join the conversation and receive updates about new posts, simply create a profile on the H-Net Commons and subscribe to the H-Net Book Channel. Updates will come to your email in-box and you can post replies by clicking through to the post and using the Reply box at the bottom of the post.

--Yelena Kalinsky, Associate Director for Research & Publications, H-Net and Catherine Cocks, Editor-in-Chief, MSU Press