Making Research Books More ‘Discoverable’ Online


Making Research Books More ‘Discoverable’ Online

By Rebecca Koenig     Dec 9, 2019

Making Research Books More ‘Discoverable’ Online

If a dissertation rolls off the presses, and no one reads it, does it make a difference?

It’s a quandary no freshly minted PhD wants to ponder. Yet the longform research typical to disciplines like English, history and sociology can be difficult to share and find online.

So two years ago, the Association of American Universities, Association of Research Libraries and Association of University Presses designed a pilot project to more effectively disseminate humanities and social sciences research.

Called TOME, short for Toward an Open Monograph Ecosystem, the effort raises money from universities to support the publication and digital distribution of open-access versions of the monographs that scholars write.

Or, as they’re sometimes called, “books.”

“Our goal is to make sure these books get integrated into the information network,” says Peter Potter, publishing director for the University Libraries at Virginia Tech and Association of Research Libraries visiting program officer for TOME. “If you do searches for topics, scientific articles will come up all the time—the metadata is much clearer. Books are not terribly discoverable.”

To help fix that problem, this month TOME unveiled a new website, It features resources for aspiring authors as well as administrators who may be interested in adding their universities to the group of 17 institutions that currently provide financial support for the project.

“TOME allows us to achieve our mission of delivering high-quality peer-reviewed scholarship to the world,” said Dean Smith, director of Duke University Press, in an email. “It’s a great example of libraries and publishers working together to enable widespread access to knowledge. I look forward to seeing this important initiative expand to more libraries, publishers and authors.”

Supporting Longform Scholarship

Books are the currency of the humanities and social sciences. To get tenure, academics in these fields often must publish at least one, usually based on the dissertations they wrote during graduate school.

Academic libraries used to purchase enough copies of these monographs to incentivize publishers to produce them, but that business model has broken down as libraries buy fewer print materials, Potter explains.

The move from print to digital has hurt the visibility of new works in English, history, sociology, art history and related topics, he says: “Libraries are finding these books are not necessarily easily discoverable in whatever electronic system they’re using in place of their card catalogue.”

TOME is one of several efforts to address the twin problems of discoverability and financial sustainability. For example, MIT Press has started a subscription platform to try to sell its new e-books directly to libraries. The Sustainable History Monograph Pilot publishes openly available digital versions of history books. And Knowledge Unlatched collects money from libraries around the world to “free” books by making them available in open access editions. The organization is working to create a centralized, digital Open Research Library platform.

TOME has helped publish 28 books so far, and more than 30 are in the works. Titles include “The Mathematical Imagination: On the Origins and Promise of Critical Theory”; “The Afterlives of the Terror: Facing the Legacies of Mass Violence in Postrevolutionary France” and “Respawn: Gamers, Hackers, and Technogenic Life.”

Universities that partner with TOME pay $15,000 for each book written by their faculty. That money goes to support publication at one of more than 60 participating university presses.

“Emory participates in TOME in hopes of extending the reach, and ultimately the impact, of our humanities faculty’s research,” said Sarah McKee, senior associate director for publishing at the Bill and Carol Fox Center for Humanistic Inquiry at Emory University, in an email. “TOME also provides a way for Emory, which does not have a university press, to contribute to the larger scholarly publishing endeavor, and particularly to support the university presses with whom our faculty publish.”

TOME books don’t yet share a digital home, but the organization is working to create a repository through Figshare that shows the number of views, downloads and citations for each book.

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