Home > The New Media > Some Alternative Scenarios to Charles Watkinson’s "Baby, Bathwater…" blog

Some Alternative Scenarios to Charles Watkinson’s "Baby, Bathwater…" blog

Charles Watkinson always makes a splash with his occasional foray into the blogosphere.  On Saturday he made a good post on the recent report from the Association of Research Libraries.  The report, entitled Transformational Times, again tolls the death knell for the long-held gold standard of academic published: the printed monograph.

Watkinson offered three scenarios where the monograph still has some value.  It just so happens that I have counter examples for two of his scenarios.  This is not meant to be a challenge to Watkinson — a shrewd observer of archaeological publishing and an insider — but just another anecdotal perspective that perhaps suggests that, indeed, times are achangin’…

Watkinson observed that print monographs remain valuable for the archaeologist in the field and evokes “well-thumbed copies of Rotroff, Hayes or other reference bibles.”  Ironically, our ceramicist uses digital copies of Hayes and various other reference bibles in part because the print monograph is so incredibly expensive (if you can find it at all).  In fact, a nicely digitized pdf, complete with bookmarks for commonly referenced forms, on a $300 netbook may cost less than the print version.  And that same netbook (as close as we have to a disposable computer) could easily handle dozens, if not hundreds of scanned books, keeping the out of print and nearly priceless print copies safely at one’s home institution. 

His post also talks about the value of books as a kind of academic wampum.  This is certainly true.  I admit to enjoying the offprint, book, or chapter sent by an academic colleague as a sign of respect or appreciation.  This past summer, however, when I received a copy of a volume of the Report of the Department of Antiquities of Cyprus while in Cyprus, I appreciated the limitations of the book wampum system.  Was I really expected to bring this book back to the US with me?  The complementary volume was appreciated, but my willingness to deal with the difficulties of print while traveling changed my perspective.  The common experience of my predicament was confirmed when I met with a German scholar this past year at a colloquium in Montreal.  Instead of exchanging piles of offprints (that neither of us carried internationally), we exchanged emails and dutifully sent along wonderful pdf files of various recent articles.  I was no less appreciative of the gesture and, thus, electronic publications represented the same kind of wampum as a print publication.  Now, I do appreciate the fact that some of the places where archaeologists work lack the infrastructure to take full advantage of the various digital media that many archaeologists have come to rely upon to conduct research on a daily basis.  Actually, being at a University that neither subscribes to the entire suite of JStor journals nor to all the various other services, I often find myself relying on paper copies of offprints via ILL.  That being said, one of the best gifts that I have received from a senior scholar was access to a secure collection of digital offprints and monographs — that scholar’s private hoard, a kind of digital wampum.

Finally, Watkinson’s print monographs for tenure is a good observation.  It’s clear that we are simply not there yet as far as the perceived quality of digital monographs.  I like the idea of print-on-demand though and have noticed an ever increasing number of books in my collection are the print on demand kind.  Perhaps this is the hybrid stage between fully digital monographs and the end of print publishing as we know it. 

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