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The digital evolution of the monograph platform

March 4, 2013

Authored by: Sophie Goldsworthy - Editorial Director, Academic and Trade, Oxford University Press

Oxford Scholarship Online is one of the flagship products in our online portfolio, reinvigorating research-level scholarship for an online environment, from backlist classics to up-to-the-minute frontlist releases. Launched in 2003 in four core disciplines, from the very beginning OSO underlined Oxford’s mission to direct scholars and students to the highest-quality academic content, helping librarians curate their digital collections and breathing new life into the academic monograph. The product led the market in reimagining monographic content for the online environment, building on the experience of the journals business, and remains at the forefront of innovative content dissemination in this sphere.

OSO has also been hugely successful in taking prestigious scholarly content into places the print books often failed to reach, from specialist institutions, such as seminaries, to universities that may not have the ability to build large collections of scholarly works, for economic or political reasons. We swiftly rolled it out into new subject areas, in response to its positive reception, and today have some 20 disciplines live on the site, featuring more than 8,500 OUP titles in the humanities, social sciences, science, medicine, and law, with hundreds of new titles being added each year. In 2013, we’ll add subjects including Computer Science and Environmental Science into the mix via University Press Scholarship Online (UPSO).

These days titles publish online at the same time as they publish in print, and XML creation has become an integrated part of the standard production workflow. Unlike PDFs, XML offers far more than a straightforward online picture of the print book, instead unpacking its constituent elements to facilitate advanced content linking and very focused search capabilities. This helps power meaningful research journeys tailored around a particular term or concept, as the student or scholar can apply their own filters and quickly drill down into the material that interests them most. The XML allows the user to create these pathways through a series of intuitive connections, linking book chapters and journal articles, tracing patterns between disciplines, and integrating OSO with other resources on the web. All of this helps bring scholarship alive for a broader audience, by making it easier to access, more productive, and more relevant.

The creation of University Press Scholarship Online represents a very natural evolution of the OSO platform, whereby we can partner with other university presses around the shared mission of disseminating authoritative scholarly content. At a time when university presses are under increasing pressure, some closing and others scaling back, we are excited to have been able to open this platform up to the wider community, and to be able to offer a solution to the issues around taking this content online. UPSO allows other presses to take advantage of Oxford’s decade of digital experience in this area, and has the added bonus for the library market of convenient content aggregation via a single platform which plugs readily into existing library systems. We have 10 leading university presses already live on the site, recently joined by University of Chicago Press, with The MIT Press and Stanford University Press joining over the course of 2013, and are talking to many others.

The online environment gives us all an unrivalled opportunity to look at user behaviour in a way that print books quite simply don’t, putting us closer to our customers and markets than ever before. The mass of information online has undoubtedly contributed to a shift away from immersive reading, or the in-depth engagement with a narrative text, towards extractive reading, or the search for particular information more traditionally associated with reference content. The sheer volume of material available to any scholar or student mean that this extractive tracking or scanning behaviour is increasingly prevalent, and being able to observe these changing patterns of use means that we can tailor content and enhancements to functionality in response to these changing research habits. The site re-launched in September 2011 to include a brand new look and feel based on user feedback, personalization features, more intuitive search tools, better linking to related content, and a range of options for sharing ideas and references with colleagues and others, through improved mechanisms for exporting and bookmarking citations and links. Mobile device optimization was added in late 2012, which enables our users to harness the aggregated power of this authoritative scholarly content wherever they happen to be.

So what’s next? We continue to develop the platform, enhancing the functionality on offer in direct response to customer feedback, and improving the ways in which OSO and UPSO can support the research experience, as well as adding new content. We’re also looking at ways of extending the granularity of the service, making OSO and UPSO an even more straightforward support tool when creating online course packs and reading lists. And we’re thinking about how we might bundle print and online purchases, recognising that some of our customers like to use different formats in complementary ways. Above all, our priority is to continue to provide for the ever-changing nature of the digital environment, reflecting shifts in customer expectation and innovating our way to solutions. That way we can be sure that the world-class scholarship these monographs contain isn’t locked away on a library shelf, but is right at the researcher’s fingertips.


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