While researching topics for our Academic Book Week blog post, we ended up chatting about our own experiences buying and reading academic books during our University careers. We decided to write a wee section each, showcasing our individual perspectives on being a student and the future of the academic book.
Anyone who has gone on to further education will remember their first trip to the university bookshop with the entire course reading list, and the slow walk home with a full bag and a less-full bank account. Although I don’t look back fondly on this initial process, it did teach me something: That academic books are highly personable; and it’s worth it when you find something that clicks.
This for me was Tom Devine’s The Scottish Nation, as part of a Scottish History module. This book features in Academic Book Week 2017’s 20 Academic Books That Shaped Modern Britain. This book talked me through Scottish history like a novel. It was great to read and made the statistics that I would normally naturally gloss over relevant. I still pick it up to read every now and again. The amount of research behind this book, like millions of others, is intimidating.
And I do think that the academic book world can be intimidating. As a publishing student now it is interesting to see the argument that this industry is on the decline, with huge digital access to books and calls for open access. However, as students, we are also being taught that this is an extremely innovative industry to work in, and that we must be at the forefront of that innovation – this is how academic publishing will survive. However there will also be those books that do shape how we see academic books. Devine gets my vote!
The publishing landscape is in a constant state of flux. This influences all types of books, from the paperback bestseller to the thickest academic tome.
Technology is, as always, a crucial factor. Due to open access policies and increased digitalisation, students are often able to access journals, as well as their set texts in eBook format, freely.
Cost is also influential. As an Undergraduate, I studied English Literature, and budgeted to afford the novels, plays and poetry collections that made up my course reading lists as I prefer reading print, like to scribble in the margins, and enjoy collecting books in general. For a textbook I’d only use for one essay, however, I’d opt for checking it out of the University library. Someone with different reading tastes than me might consider reading the majority of texts online, however.
Personally, I think that while digital innovations are good, and necessary, there will always be students like me who prefer the hard copies. I believe they can be a good investment. During my first year, I remember splashing out on the Norton Anthology of English Literature Volumes I & II, as well as the Norton Anthology of Theory & Criticism. I did end up using them throughout my entire time at University, however, as they are bursting with vital texts from the entire literary canon. It was also probably cheaper to purchase the anthologies, rather buying every individual text I used. Incidentally, it is W. W. Norton & Company’s best-selling anthology.
So, I think that while there are constant shifts in the way books are being published, the printed academic book will always have a place on the shelf.