The Monograph Crisis: Open Access for Art and Design Scholarship

Libraries and Open Access Oct 28, 2016

Electronic monographs are not as straightforward as journals. As a librarian assisting students in their research, ebooks don’t come up as frequently and when they do it usually involves resolving issues that come with difficult user interfaces. Disparate platforms and constricting digital rights management (DRM) result in poor usability of scholarly ebooks. Nearly all journal articles come to us in neat and tidy pdf form but monographs have pdf, epub, and wide range of proprietary formats. This lack of standardization can complicate ebooks and it is for this reason that I feel open access is the ideal publishing model for scholarly ebooks. It solves both challenges.

Monographs take up a smaller space in the discourse on open access. One reason for this is that, from the library side, that a major motivating factor for open access advocacy has been the “serials crisis.” The rising cost of institutional journal subscriptions, far outpacing inflation, forces libraries to cancel subscriptions that their students and faculty depend on to do their work. Here in Canada this this dynamic is no different and is even made worse by the low dollar, as has been reported in the media here and here and most recently here. Working in Canada’s largest art and design school it is the monograph, not the serial, which are the dominant mode of scholarship for many of our disciplines.

Research into scholarly monographs have turned up some interesting findings. In one study, Lawrence McGill looked at scholarly publishing in the history of art and architecture from 1993 to 2004 and found that arts-related titles published by university presses had remained stagnant (and publishing dealing with the 19th century actually decreased) while all other subjects saw growth. So while the serials crisis puts pressure on library budgets, and the rate of scientific journal publishing has been accelerating, art and design scholarship has been decreasing leading to a barrier of a different kind.

I recently met with a faculty member who had edited the definitive text on women artists working in a certain medium in Canada. This work has been out of press for nearly a decade and used volumes currently retail on Amazon for nearly $250.00. For niche disciplines in a small country like Canada this represents a major gap in access. Open access can liberate texts that have gone dormant in an unresponsive print monograph system. As an added bonus, open monographs do not need cumbersome DRM.

Initiatives such as Art Canada Institute, ART-Dok Digital Repository of Art History, and the Dictionary of Art Historians are high quality venues for art scholarship. For a global art and design world universal access facilitates the productive exchange of ideas while fulfilling a public good.


Tomlin, Patrick. “Every Man His Book? An Introduction to Open Access in the Arts.” Art Documentation: Bulletin of the Art Libraries Society of North America 30.1 (2011): 4–11. Print.

Watkins, Alexander. “Open Access and the Future of Art Scholarship.” Art Libraries Journal 40.4 (2015): 4–7. Cambridge Core. Web.

Howells, Laura. “Memorial University to Cancel Thousands of Journal Subscriptions.” CBC/Radio-Canada. N.p., 2015. Web. 5 Jan. 2016.

—. “Ryerson University Says It Must Cancel Journal Subscriptions, like MUN Is Considering.” CBC/Radio-Canada. N.p., 2015. Web. 5 Jan. 2016.

McGill, Lawrence. The State of Scholarly Publishing in the History of Art and Architecture. Connexions, Rice University, 2008. Google Scholar. Web. 7 Apr. 2016.

“uOttawa Library Budget Shortfall Spells the End to 4,500 Journal Subscriptions.” CBC News. N.p., n.d. Web. 23 Oct. 2016.

Chris Landry

Chris Landry is a Scholarly Communications Librarian and Digital Projects Officer at OCAD University.