New Research from the Rebus Foundation: An Open Approach to Scholarly Reading and Knowledge Management


A little over a year ago, The Rebus Foundation embarked on a research and development project to prototype an open, web-based reading system, with funding from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, Scholarly Communications program.

Our main goals with this project were to clearly identify and understand the different players involved in the publication, distribution, and consumption of scholarly monographs, and to explore how the Open Web could improve scholars’ access to, and interaction with, scholarly monographs. To achieve this, we developed a prototype for an open, web-based scholarly reading system, and in parallel began conducting in-depth interviews with librarians, university presses, and scholarly readers and researchers, and finally, organized an online survey on deep-reading for longform scholarly works.

Having now completed the project, we’ve summarized our findings in a public report and encourage you to take a read. The report is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution license, and is available free on the web, and as PDF and EPUB download. Feedback is welcome.

While we set out with an (appropriately) open mind, we were particularly interested in existing tools and infrastructure that support “deep reading,” (that is, deliberate, critical, and reflective reading) and made that a focus of our inquiry.

Out of our interviews came some fascinating and invaluable insights into academic researcher workflows, readers’ needs, librarians’ frustrations with the current systems, and opportunities for scholarly publishers in the face of the changing economics of publishing monographs.

Highlights include:

  1. Scholarly readers are not just content consumers; scholarly reading is an act of creation as well. Reading and writing are inseparable.
  2. Publishers and aggregators lack strong incentivizes to create better tools to support scholarly reading.
  3. Scholars largely resort to unique combinations tools and processes to manage their reading and collections of texts.
  4. Multiple parties have concerns over the ways in which digital rights management (DRM) and closed platforms hinder reading, annotation, and other interaction with scholarly texts.
  5. All parties expressed interest in more interoperability between tools and formats.

Overall, what emerged during our research was a clear desire for open and flexible tools for reading and interacting with texts. It is this need that the Rebus Foundation is working to address as we hope to turn our prototype into a fully functioning, open platform for scholarly reading and collection management.

To find out more about publisher, librarian, and reader perspectives, and Rebus’ proposed approach to an open scholarly reading system, read the complete report on the Rebus Press.

We’d like to express our deepest thanks to all those who participated in our research, and to Don Waters and his team at the Mellon Foundation for their support.

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