The Scholarly Audiobook Part 1: Introduction and Rationale
Updated: Oct 15, 2019
Link to free audiobook at bottom of page.
In 2015, just as I was publishing the book Critical Condition: Replacing Critical Thinking with Creativity, I was exploring ways to transform my approach to sharing my work. Academics have a straightforward job. We are supposed to explore ideas and questions and share the results with the public in as unbiased a fashion as possible. Implicit in those requirements is the responsibility to make our work clear enough that it can be understood. That does not mean that we need to “dumb down” our work, but rather, that we attend to the systems of knowledge that get our work into the world.
In the past, academics had a relatively easy path for disseminating the results of their work. Beginning in undergraduate work, and certainly be graduate school, we train in research methods and the systems of publishing scholarly work in our field. Under the industrial, print-based models of publication that meant a certain format, a specific set of journals, and a list of relevant publishers and scholarly editors who worked at those journals and publishers.
Inside that publication stream sat peer review. Peer review was based on a small number of expert reviewers selected by the editors at the press. Each time an academic submitted work for publication, the relevant editor would contact experts from the field and ask them to submit a blind (aka anonymous) evaluation of the work. In these reviews, evaluators were given the opportunity for one simple decision (publish, do not publish, or publish after making specified changes), and one more complex intervention in the form of detailed notes for improvement.
Keeping this system running were a series of government grants or subventions that covered the cost of publishing work that was not designed to make money on the open market but was deemed value as part of the scholarly compact with society. They system had its problems, but its operation was so universally understood that most academics felt that they understood how to operate in the information ecosystem of their field.
The entire process was designed to serve the same basic purpose: to share the results of scholarly work with society. Now, as scholarly presses, journals and traditional avenues of publication struggle to survive, and academics work more collaboratively across disciplines and across continents, new ways of engaging people are emerging. Podcast, multimedia journals and popular conferences such as the TED series are making scholarly research far more accessible to the general public, as well as to other scholars.
As someone who trained in both textual studies and performance, I have long had an interest in media, its impact on knowledge and our use of various means of communication. So when Wilfrid Laurier University Press agreed to publish my book, I asked if they would be willing to consider allowing me to use the opportunity to explore ideas related to a “scholarly audiobook,” that might help our colleagues benefit from developments in the professional audiobook world in ways that are affordable, both in terms of time and money. With presses struggling to survive, we need to find ways to work together to continue to serve. This project, and its follow-up, which adds visual supports, is one answer to the call for change.