Saturday, February 6, 2010

"Assessing the Future Landscape of Scholarly Communication" in Archaeology

A frightening amount of work has gone in the January 2010 publication by Diane Harley and her colleagues of "Assessing the Future Landscape of Scholarly Communication: An Exploration of Faculty Values and Needs in Seven Disciplines." The field is fortunate indeed that one of her case studies (on itself 134 pages long, and this is one of seven, remember!) is of archaeology, and she has covered a lot of ground. The case study is divided into sections on: Requirements for tenure and promotion; challenges and opportunities for disseminating research; sharing and "keeping up-to-date" behaviors; collaboration with other scholars; support needs; and public engagement. Each case study is organized in the same way. The others are on astrophysics (interestingly noted as having many similarities to archaeology), biology, economics, history, music, and political sciences. The report was based on the responses of 160 interviewees that delved into assessing their needs both as producers and users of research results, lengthy quotes from them make up much of the publication, and the research was conducted between 2007 and 2010 with support from the Mellon Foundation.

There is a lot of good stuff here for all of us to explore our personal interests (such as mine in the challenges of publishing archaeological data). Some may feel like "common sense" or "stuff we have always known" but having real evidence to back up our hunches is often the most useful contribution a research report can make.

I am still reading, but a few points jump out:

  • Digital tools for manipulating and analyzing information continue to proliferate, but the infrastructure for managing, preserving, and disseminating this data is not keeping up. While the report notes that "one-size-fits-all" solutions generally fall short, it also admits that most scholars rely on their own institutions rather than discipline-based solutions for technical support. It surprised me in the archaeology case study that none of the scholars interviewed seemed to be aware of the increasing availability of digital repositories at their institutions. Making data available digitally always seemed to be equated with "building a website" or putting a CD in the back of a book. Even if the Library's repository doesn't fit the disciplinary needs exactly, it still provides stability and citability. Archaeologists should be encouraged to go and just ask their Libraries if a repository exists at their institution, especially at a time when many of the repositories developed are actively looking for content.
  • Hybrid publications, incorporating a "conventional" peer-reviewed print or "print-surrogate-PDF" layer linking down to the data are clearly the way forward in the short- and possibly in the longer-term, as the community sorts out ways of evaluating the quality of data-only publications. The core role of peer-review as a quality assurance mechanism, and traditional publication as its physical manifestation, is powerfully restated in the report. A layer of synthesis, presented in a conventional form, that then introduces the rich digital data sources below, not only answers the needs of the tenure committees, but also helps make sense of the archaeological data -- how it was collected, what level of questions it can help answers, why it is important.
  • As publishers, we shouldn't expect younger scholars to want to work on innovative publication projects or share their data. As the report notes, across all seven disciplines surveyed, "we found no evidence to suggest that 'tech savvy' young graduate students, postdoctoral scholars, or assistant professors are bucking traditional publishing practices. In fact, as arguably the most vulnerable populations in the scholarly community, one would expect them to hew to the norms of their chosen discipline, and they do" (Executive Summary, p. ii). It's up to the grey panthers again to lead the way and change these norms; something that the report sees as happening. "Some scholars we interviewed, however, believe that archaeology may be near the tipping point for recognizing and crediting emerging forms of scholarship. The key here is a critical mass of scholars and institutions in the field that acknowledge alternative forms of scholarship as such" Ch. 2, p. 42.
Now back to the next 700 pages . . . .

Sunday, January 3, 2010

A New Class of Guests at the Roach Motel: Three Proven Strategies for Populating Digital Repositories with Content that Matters

As we turn the corner on a decade of investment in digital repositories, strategies for making what many critics have regarded as white elephants "work" are finally emerging. Dorothea Salo's beautifully titled article "Innkeeper at the Roach Motel" (Library Trends, 57.2, 2008) defined the problem that many libraries faced in the first decade of their existence -- that the IRs that were meant to provide an alternative scholarly communications channel to over-expensive journals were simply not attracting the scholarly participation that might make them a success. The "guests" at the expensively-built, shiny hostelries were (in general) post-prints of less important articles, extracted from journals that had already extracted the value from them. In short, not the sort that pays . . . in any currency!

As librarians have gradually become more embedded with scholars ("liaison 2.0," in Kara Whatley's words), working hand-in-hand with faculty in more decentralized, subject-focused collections, they have come to realize that talk of "improving access" or "solving the periodicals price crisis" has limited resonance. Certainly, they may value the idea of improving access as readers (although surveys in most disciplines do not reveal dissatisfaction with access), but as authors, scholars have other things on their minds. "Not surprisingly, authors are driven by personal egotistical desires, career advancement, and improved funding for their research," as Michael Mabe and Mayur Amin have pointed out in their classic article, "Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde: Author-Reader Asymmetries in Scholarly Publishing" (ASLIB Proceedings, 54.3, 2002).

Although the characterization is unflattering, any author will recognize the motivators identified by Mabe and Amin in themselves (why else would I be writing this?). And it is noticeable that the proven strategies for successfully recruiting content into IRs tie directly to Dr. Jekyll's three motivators:

1. Flattery gets you everywhere, so facilitate the expression of "personal egotistical desires" with individually-branded pages. A breakthrough in encouraging faculty to deposit their post-prints into IRs came when repository managers marketed the opportunities for scholars to link published papers within the repository to their own online presences. As Nancy Fried Foster and Susan Gibbons found in their innovative ethnographic studies at the University of Rochester, the creation of "Researcher Pages" was influential in building support for the repository. Not only could scholars easily find their own past papers, but the "individual branded presence" offered easy discoverability for everyone from hiring committees to media companies looking for their next pundit.

2. "Publishing" matters to "career advancement" so use the magic word. For most faculty, at least while tenure committee practices remain archaic, career advancement equates with one's publication record. Marketing the IR as a "publishing channel" has proven an increasingly successful way of marketing the service, especially when the promise can be backed up with value-added services such as copyediting, design, and (maybe most importantly) regular feedback about quantity and quality of usage. The University of California's move toward offering library publishing services through repositories with value-added adjuncts provided by the university press looks promising. Publishing original content instead of only focusing on the final products of scholarship was seen as crucial by Carole Palmer and her colleagues in their final (2008) report on "Identifying Factors of Success in CIC Institutional Repository Development."And this makes sense! After all, it may not be ISI ranked, but who cares when half the population of China appears to have downloaded one's article?

3. Gear up for data and the "improved funding for research" will follow. The gradual introduction of the requirement that grant applicants have a "data management plan" by NSF and other funding agencies offers great opportunity to libraries whose repositories are sophisticated enough to cope with complex data sets. The NSF Cyberinfrastructure Vision for 21st Century Discovery requires, for example, that "science and engineering data generated with NSF funding will be readily accessible and easily usable, and will be appropriately, responsibly, and reliably preserved." The harried researcher, overdue on their grant proposal, will agree to almost anything if the library can help her fill in the dreaded "data management plan" box on the submission form, especially if similar help can be given in "dissemination" (see point 2 above).

Whether it starts in 2010 or 2011, the "Teenies" (as one hopes it will not be called) may well be the decade when the digital repository comes of age. The secret, as we are starting to learn, is in aligning the services that repositories offer with the motivators that drive the scholars libraries serve. So, be of good cheer, innkeepers! Sure, some roaches are still going to be hanging out in your motels, but a few paying guests have started to arrive.