The scholarly record: a view from the campus

[Thanks to Geneva Henry, University Librarian and Vice Provost for Libraries at the George Washington University, for contributing this guest blog post.]

Geneva Henry, George Washington University
Geneva Henry, George Washington University

While many may think of the scholarly record as the products surrounding scholarly works that are eventually disseminated, usually through publications, there is another aspect to the scholarly record that people at academic institutions – especially administrators – care about. This can be thought of as the campus scholarly record that frames the identity of an institution. In considering this perspective, there is an even more compelling reason to consider how the many activities surrounding scholarly dissemination are captured and managed. The libraries at academic institutions are arguably the obvious leaders to assume responsibility for managing these resources; libraries have been the stewards of the scholarly record for a very long time.  But librarians must now recognize the changing nature of the elements of that record and take a proactive role in its capture and preservation. Moreover, they have a responsibility to the many campus stakeholders who have an interest in these resources for differing and sometimes conflicting purposes.

Research activities and early dissemination of findings have changed with the proliferation of social media and the Web. Scholars can exchange information via blog posts, twitter messages, Facebook posts and every other means of social media available, with feedback from colleagues helping to refine the final formal publication. The traditional methods of peer review are now being further enhanced through web-based prepublications and blogs where reviewers from anywhere can provide less formal feedback to authors. For an increasing number of scholars, social media is the new preprint. Data is posted and shared, comments are exchanged, methods are presented and questioned, revisions happen and the process can continue, even after the “formal” publication has been released in a more traditional form. This requires librarians to think about how they’re preserving their websites and social media outputs that now need to be part of the scholarly record as well as the overall campus record of scholarship.

The campus is full of stakeholders who have an interest in this new, constantly evolving record. Some would like all of this information fully exposed to publicize the work being done, while others feel that there are limits to how much should be made available for everyone to view. Systems such as VIVO and Elements provide platforms that will highlight faculty activities to provide more visibility into the research activities on campus. Sponsored research offices want insights into what people are doing so that they can match research opportunities with relevant researchers and help with identifying partners at other institutions. Media relations staff want to identify experts as media inquiries come in related to current issues happening in the world. Academic departments are interested in showcasing the scholarly record of their faculty in order to attract more graduate students and new faculty to their departments. Promotion and tenure committees want a full understanding of all of the activities of faculty members, including their service activities; increasingly, social media is blurring the line between scholarship and service as one feeds into the other.

Faculty members, the source of creating these resources, are understandably confused. Their attitudes and perceptions range from excited to worried, from protective to open. Their activities on social media do not always relate cleanly to a single scholarly record and will often be mixed with personal, non-scholarly information they may not want the world to see (e.g. pictures of their dinner, political commentaries, stories of their family vacation). This mixed landscape helps to fuel the legal concerns of an institution’s general counsel and the image consciousness of the public relations folks who are cautious about what might end up in the public with the exercising of academic freedom.

Circling back, now, to the library as the logical keeper of the academic record, it is important to realize that there is a vast range of stakeholders that the records serve. These stakeholders become partners with the library in helping to determine what information will be kept, what will be exposed and what needs to remain in restricted access. Partnerships with campus IT units that manage security and authoritative feeds from enterprise systems are critical. Sometimes some stakeholders will ask that exposed information be “redacted” from its online availability and librarians must be able to intelligently communicate the limits of successfully removing this from the world wide web.

The change in the scholarly record raises many questions and will continue to present challenges for libraries and academic institutions. As faculty change institutions, who will be responsible for managing their record of scholarship that is disseminated through social media so that it is preserved long-term? Constantly changing methods for communicating and sharing knowledge will require a scholarly record that can readily accommodate innovations. What will the scholarly record of the future be and what should be captured?  While we don’t have a crystal ball to help with this prediction, we do have a good barometer surrounding us in our libraries everyday: study your students and how they communicate.