Interdisciplinary publishing has been Berkshire’s focus since early days, perhaps because our partnership is interdisciplinary. I studied English and comparative literature and write about environmental issues and community. I also have a great interest in science (I’ve been called a science groupie) and in new technologies (my teenage son has some comments on that, too). David Levinson, on the other hand, is a cultural anthropologist who has done much work in psychology and criminology. Each of us brings a set of interests and expertise to our publishing, and we’ve consciously developed a network of scholarly advisors from other disciplines.

We tackled the subject of interdisciplinary scholarship and librarianship at the Charleston Conference in November, by organizing a panel that included Sarah Pritchard, University Librarian at UC Santa Barbara, and Rolf Janke, VP and Publisher at Sage Reference. Sarah explained that librarians generally relish interdisciplinary thinking and publications but struggle with the practicalities involved in managing them and making them readily accessible to students. It’s a common challenge. Publishers, or at least some of us, truly want to respond to our customers’ desire for more integrated, holistic resources. But we too face a host of real-life challenges when we do this.

There’s the task of recruiting and managing a group of contributors from many disciplines. Even when these scholars quickly recognize the value of a major interdisciplinary publication in their field, as they did with Berkshire’s Encyclopedia of Community, for example, they often do not know one another, have different perspectives on what matters most, and use different terminology.
Second, the effort of directing their writing, reviewing and editing articles, and finalizing content is far more challenging in interdisciplinary scholarship than when working within an established field with clear boundaries.

Much staff time and expertise is required to create works that are integrated and consistent.

Existing systems for categorizing publications, both at the Library of Congress and in distributor and library databases, often do not allow for even the simplest of crossdisciplinary and interdisciplinary tagging. For example, the Berkshire Encyclopedia of Human-Computer Interaction is both computer science and social science: that’s the nature of the new but well-established field of HCI! This work needed to be tagged as human and computer, but we could choose only one. (We chose computer, but realize that means people in psychology, sociology, and philosophy may never find a work that would be very helpful in some of the newest areas of their field.)

Finally, it’s more difficult to find the particular person who is ready to make a purchase decision. We know that we’re creating publications that a considerable community of scholars, students, and professionals want, and reviewers are always enthusiastic about the interdisciplinary coverage (have you ever seen a work criticized for being interdisciplinary?). But as Sarah explains, it’s often hard within the library to know just who is responsible for buying a book or encyclopedia in an interdisciplinary field.

Nonetheless, interdisciplinary scholarship continues to be highly valued (a quick Google search with “interdisciplinary scholarship,” in fact, makes this blazingly clear) and the fascinating project before us is to make it easier to understand and navigate, both in the library itself and in individual databases and other publications. There are a variety of technologies that may be helpful (human-computer interaction comes in here), from mapping tools to wikis. Berkshire will be continuing this discussion about interdisciplinary scholarship, here on the blog, and perhaps even in a wiki that will enable publishers, librarians, aggregators, and scholars to create an open dialogue about this vital, transformative approach to knowledge creation.