Professor Jane Winters, the School of Advanced Study’s chair in digital history at the Institute of Historical Research, talks about the forthcoming Academic Book Week, the ‘evolving technology(ies) of the book’ event she is chairing, and what else is on the agenda for this first celebration of the diversity, innovation and influence of academic books.  

In celebration of the diversity, innovation and influence of academic books, the first ever Academic Book Week is being held from 9 to 16 November. A range of activities and events are being organised throughout October and November, tackling subjects such as ‘Curious books’, the trustworthiness of Wikipedia, the future of the English PhD, and the role and history of the university press.

On 10 November, the School of Advanced Study, University of London is hosting a debate focusing on how the evolving technology(ies) of the book have affected the ways that we read. A panel of six speakers – Professor Sarah Churchwell (School of Advanced Study), Professor Justin Champion (Royal Holloway, University of London), Dr Martin Eve (Birkbeck, University of London), Dr Stephen Gregg (Bath Spa University), Professor Lyndsey Stonebridge (University of East Anglia) and Pip Willcox (Bodleian Libraries, University of Oxford) – will consider the many different kinds of books which are read in an academic context, from text books to edited collections, from monographs to scholarly editions, from novels to handbooks. There will also be plenty of time for audience discussion, beginning with formal responses from early career researchers for whom these questions will be of enormous importance in years to come.

The printed book itself is a technological artefact. It is, however, both stable and familiar, to the extent that we no longer really think about how it functions, or the effect on our reading experience of the font chosen, the size of the margins, the decision to have endnotes rather than footnotes. Books in digital format preserve many of the features of print, but they are sufficiently ‘new’ to provoke greater consideration of how we read. The decision about whether to purchase a Kindle is something that requires thought – it will help me to take lots of books on holiday, the battery might run out when I’m stuck on a train.

We seem to be at a point of change, the direction of travel unclear. What are we to make of claims (albeit disputed) that sales of eBooks and eReaders are in decline? What will be the impact on researchers of legal deposit of eBooks rather than the printed copies that have underpinned the system for so long? What, indeed, will be the impact on libraries, who will have to accommodate multiple digital formats while preserving their print collections? What will the next digital format allow us to do that we can’t do at the moment, and will we actually want to do it? Will open access be genuinely transformative for academic research and writing? These are just some of the questions that we hope you will join us to debate on 10 November.

Registration for ‘Opening the book: reading and the evolving technology(ies) of the book’ is free, but places are limited so do book online now. If you’re not able to attend in person, key elements of the debate will be published subsequently on the Academic Book Week website. You can also follow this and other events on Twitter throughout the week, using the hashtag #AcBookWeek.

This event is being organised as part of Opening the Book: the Future of the Academic Monograph, an international multi-centred debate. Academic Book Week itself is the centrepiece of this year’s activity on the two-year Arts & Humanities Research Concil/British Library Academic Future of the Academic Book project.

Professor Jane Winters is responsible for the Institute of Historical Research’s publishing and scholarly communications strategy. This includes the management of a range of research projects focusing on the provision of digital resources for historians.