Research dissemination and ‘the archive’

Ithaka S+R recently published its Faculty Survey 2009: Key Strategic Insights for Libraries, Publishers, and Societies. It considers the way faculty views of the library are changing, and analyses library roles into three key functions:

“The library is a starting point or ‘gateway’ for locating information for my research” (which we refer to as the gateway function). “The library pays for resources I need, from academic journals to books to electronic databases” (which we refer to as the buyer function). “The library is a repository of resources – in other words, it archives, preserves, and keeps track of resources” (which we refer to as the archive function).

Ithaka’s analysis shows that the gateway function has declined (its importance rating has dropped from 70%-58%) over the six years in which the biennnial studies have been made, while the buyer function has steadily increased (81%-90%). The archive function has remained relatively static at just over 70%.

Many of the findings in this report are interesting, and relevant to us as we focus – via our Working Group on Research Services – on the specific topic of Support for Research Dissemination. We have chosen the word dissemination with some care. What we will be looking at is researcher behaviours and practices concerning institutional repositories, individual websites, subject archives, virtual research environments, blogs, blog aggregations and other social venues. In other words, every research dissemination venue except the conventional (and still overpoweringly influential) modes of scholarly publishing – the journal, the monograph and the conference paper. We will look at the way researchers use these alternative venues to disseminate their work, and the factors that account for the types and rates of dissemination.

It may be very desirable for some researchers, for example, to blog about their latest findings or outputs in a social network site that they share with their fellow scientists, especially if they perceive strong credit value from it. This activity may be almost as desirable as submitting a paper for publication in a high impact journal. Others, perhaps less resident on the network, may be unaware of the value of these tools and services. The value may perhaps be stronger for researchers at different points in their careers, with different requirements for credit, for reputation or in the search for collaborators. While the dissemination value around journal and monograph publishing is clear, in the case of some new venues, the value is not yet fully established, and it could be the case that some assistance in this form of dissemination would improve the research reputation of an individual, and the performance of his or her unit and institution.

In the library world, we are familiar with the two ends of the dissemination spectrum: the high end, of traditional publishing, and the low end, where dissemination rates stick at low levels. The low end is the place in which venues such as our institutional repositories and our research publications databases feature. Venues from outwith the institution can also appear here, such as research funder repositories. Academics are often cajoled into spending their precious time depositing materials in these places either out of a sense of guilt or because of a general or specific mandate (such as are enforced during research assessment exercises).

We know this is a difficult space to occupy, and yet this is the area that must be battled in to complete the archive that the Ithaka survey shows remains important to faculty. What do we mean by archive here? Publication in journals or monographs of course contributes importantly to the archive as the resulting publications are purchased institutionally and collectively by libraries. But this is no longer enough. The institution wishes to claim its share of the credit, as does the funding agency. The campus research information systems that determine whose work counts towards whose credit require their own corpus of evidence. And while the managers of those systems on our campuses might be happy with a mere list of bibliographic records, the library community really wants to build up a resource of archival quality: full-text where possible, with – in time – unique identifiers for authors, controlled name headings, links to other versions and to supporting data (all of this is difficult at institutional scale). We want an archive that will support the research that our faculty colleagues race to get back to once they have spent the minimum possible time on deposit. And it matters that we do this efficiently – ie once only. As we think about new service roles for libraries and other research support services in this area, we might posit a mirror-image relationship between the degree of dissemination and the completeness of the archive.

Dissemination and the Archive

Libraries understand the two extremes quite well, but the area in the middle is messy. Faculty might want to blog about their recent work but be unclear about which repository they should deposit in and therefore point at. Research outputs need better traffic management and capture systems. The more complete we can make dissemination, the more complete will be the archive. Both sides of that relationship experience deficit to various degrees because of disciplinary cultures and lack of research library and publishing infrastructure. How the library can address these deficits is what our Working Group will look at.

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