The switch to the new platform has a number of clear, if modest, benefits. The platform improves search functionality, allowing users to easily find journals and books written by a certain author or about a particular topic. Housing both e-books and journals in a single place also lets users conduct preliminary research more efficiently.
The new platform is also attractive to authors and libraries. Talented authors looking for more visibility and a chance to publish with a top press may find Duke University Press an attractive option. Duke is a premier research institution and having a more versatile press may allow work conducted at Duke to circulate with greater ease and reach. Libraries, which account for most of the press’s sales, will also benefit from the new platform.
Duke University Press’s move may not seem particularly significant, but it is an example of what we hope to see more often from Duke—a willingness to lead, rather than a tendency to follow closely behind our peer institutions. We hope that both Duke University Press and the University at large continue to innovate and improve as the world of academic research and exchange morphs and evolves.
The digital revolution is not, of course, confined to academic presses. More and more scholarly work is moving to online databases, a shift that brings both promise and peril. The proliferation of digital archives has accelerated the speed at which scholars can conduct research. Documents that used to take weeks to arrive can now be called up instantly. The kind of research that scholars are doing has also changed. Word frequency analyses that were impossible years ago have become increasingly fashionable.
Digital information is now easier to access, but the sheer amount of it is growing at an astonishing rate. As a result, it is harder to find information that is valuable and relevant. Doing so can prove to be an overwhelming task – one that confuses researchers and sets lay-people swimming in an ocean of undifferentiated data.
It is hard not to have some nostalgia for physical objects. Many of us find pleasure in running our fingers along a page, reading without the glare of a computer screen, carting our books around campus. And, despite Facebook, scrapbooks have more meaning for most of us than a collection of photographs in a digital folder ever will.
When humans began to write, surely some felt the art of storytelling had been lost and corrupted. We share something with that wistful bunch, but our generation may be one of the last to feel like something has been sacrificed in the transition to digital media. We grew up reading physical books and feel their loss acutely. And yet, we also see the incredible potential that new media holds and know that the proliferation of online content promises to make academic exchange easier and knowledge more accessible.