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 . . . .


Anonymous said...

Hi Charles We love you

Your secret admirers in Princeton

Anonymous said...


thought you'd like to know your old college/employer the 'American School of Classical Studies at Athens' has Greece Scholarships for those with an interest in the ancient Greek culture and Greek archaeology. This is a fascinating field for those with the burning desire to study the old Greek culture in college. The American School of Classical Studies at Athens has a neat college nich that's for sure.