Re-inventing the scholarly record: taking inspiration from Renaissance Florence

Ponte Vecchio, Florence Italy

Ponte Vecchio, Florence Italy


On February 11th, we presented the Evolving Scholarly Record (ESR) Framework at the EMEA Regional Council annual meeting, in Florence. The topic was on spot, as the plenary talks preceding the ESR break-out session had paved the way for a more in-depth discussion of how libraries can re-invent their future stewardship roles in the digital domain.

Keynote David Weinberger had argued compellingly the day before, that the Web was a much better place for information to be in than the fixed physical containers of books and journals, and that its shape allowed for unlimited expansion, so that “on the web, nothing is filtered out, only filtered forward.” He continued to say: “Researchers like to put their findings on the web because it allows for discussion and a multiplicity of views, including disagreement.” In the follow-up session, Jim Neal made the same observation but phrased it somewhat differently, saying “researchers dump their work everywhere,” denouncing the “repository chaos” and asking who was responsible for ensuring scholarly integrity on the web? He sent a strong message about the need to decide what of continuing value should be preserved and the imperative to devise new types of cooperative strategies to steer the scholarly ecosystem in the right direction.

As the first speaker at the ESR-break-out session, I presented the Framework, highlighting: 1) the scattering of research outputs on the web and the expanding boundaries of the scholarly record, 2) the increased use of common web platforms by scholars for sharing their work at the risk of compromising scholarly integrity practices and of losing the ability to capture and preserve the scholarly record and 3) the fast changing configuration of stakeholder roles and the need for innovative practices to ensure that the recording of the ESR is organized in consistent and reliable ways.  Ulf-Göran Nilsson (Jönköping University) wondered if the Framework might benefit from being complemented with an underlying economic framework, as he argued that the journal subscription model determined the traditional “Fix” and “Collect” roles of publishers and libraries respectively. He suggested that the economic models for OA-publishing are similarly likely to affect the dynamics of the ESR-stakeholder roles. Cendrella Habre (Lebanese American University) asked what libraries should do to start addressing the ESR-problem space?

Brian Schottlaender (UC San Diego), our second speaker, gave an enlightening reaction. He spoke about “rising to the stewardship challenge” and described how the curation of research data is becoming an increasingly important part of the stewardship tasks of the scholarly record. His “full-spectrum stewardship”-diagram gave a process view of the SR, with 1) the scholarly raw material as “inputs,” 2) the scholarly enquiry and discourse as “operators” and 3) scholarly publishing as “outputs.” Whilst libraries have traditionally focused on the outputs, they are now hiring archivists to capture the raw data as well. John MacColl (St Andrews), our third speaker/reactor, lifted the session to higher policy-levels – stressing the need for community conversations and for taking ownership of and control over stewardship. He thought the ESR-Framework could be instrumental in identifying problems and inefficiencies – and, solving these would in turn help counter chaos and “surrendering to the web.” With his metaphor of librarians as “hydraulic engineers of information flow,” he came full circle back to the theme of the Florentine meeting: “The art of invention.”


The talks will have inspired the audience to ask questions and to add their perspectives to the discussion – however there was too little time left. I would therefore like to invite those who attended and those who read this blog post, to leave their comments behind and to continue the conversation right here!

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