“New library-like services will be offered by publishers and wholesalers, scholars will enter materials directly into libraries, libraries will perform publisher-like or bookstore-like functions.”
(Scholarly Communication: The Report of the National Enquiry, 1979)
For years libraries were considered by researchers as a place to study and access scientific information. Librarians supported faculty researchers with the discovery of information sources for their research and had no other role to play in the rest of the research and publishing cycle.
However, the burgeoning costs of journal subscriptions with negligible increases in academic budgets have led to an increase in most academic libraries’ involvement in scholarly communication. Libraries today are becoming indispensable at several stages of the research cycle, from initial scoping for research topics to eventual dissemination of research results. It is no longer surprising to come across vacancies for ‘Scholarly Communication Librarians’ on university job boards.
What the National Enquiry — a group of scholars, university press directors, publishers, editors and librarians — predicted in their scholarly communication report back in 1979, has come to pass.
I. A glimpse at the libraries of the future
Technological innovations in the 1970s ushered in rapid changes in the way libraries and librarians function. And, as digital technologies evolve further, academic libraries have to keep pace — something they have managed to do beautifully so far.
Utrecht University’s librarian, Anja Smit, commissioned a Library Policy Plan 2015–2017, with a view to ensure their library’s integral involvement in scholarly communication, not only in the present, but also going forward as the research communications landscape continues to evolve.
Inge Werner, who authored the report writes:
“It is entirely possible that in 2030, the year which was the focus of the 2015–2017 Utrecht University Library Policy Plan, all scientific publications will be open access, data sets will in principle be freely accessible and open education will no longer be a future goal, it will be a reality.”
By the time the report was published in July 2018, several of the predictions Werner made were well underway. This led her to conclude that while researchers and librarians have already had to cope with dramatic changes in scholarly communication in the past few decades, the expectation is that changes will now occur far more rapidly and affect academia on a global scale.
These changes are currently being driven by open access and iterative technological tools, and solutions and systems are being developed by publishers, universities and entrepreneurial innovators in response to OA needs.
II. An overview of the current landscape of scholarly communications tools and systems
Jeroen Bosman and Bianca Kramer, also from Utrecht University, released a report titled “101 Innovations in Scholarly Communication: How researchers are getting to grip with the myriad of new tools” as part of the University Library project. In a publicly available Google Sheet they share over 400 tools currently in use for scholarly communication.
They’ve segregated the tools according to the phases in a research cycle as:
Assessment > Discovery > Analysis > Writing > Publication > Outreach
The list by Bosman and Kramer is far from exhaustive, but serves as a good indicator of the choices and possibilities available to researchers and librarians today.
Institutional repositories, disciplinary repositories, online bibliographies, self-archival systems, open access platforms, Open Conference System, entire ETD and research publication workflows are systems most universities need to work towards implementing to be truly open science ready. And making these systems efficient is what calls for integration of some of the many scholarly communications tools.
III. A closer look…
Of all the systems listed above, institutional repositories are the most important and the ones poised to make the most impact in OA. Librarians should view IR as a means of aggregating, archiving, and preserving the institution’s research outputs on a digital level, and, eventually, making those outputs public. This can be done by making the data in the IR visible and indexed for search and/or by submitting it to an Open access archival platform like DSpace or disciplinary repositories like arXiv.
The Scholarly Publishing and Academic Resources Coalition (SPARC), published a white paper titled “The Case for Institutional Repositories” (Crow, 2002) in recognition of the impact of IRs.
Crow writes that institutional repositories
“expand access to research, reassert control over scholarship by the academy, increase competition and reduce the monopoly power of journals”…[while]…”increasing [an] institution’s visibility, status and public value”.
However, setting up institutional repositories, and establishing OA mandates to ensure the faculty uses them to publish and self-archive their work, comes with its own set of challenges as we covered in our previous blog post on open access mandates in universities.
At this point, it is also important to mention Current Research Information Systems or CRIS, which typically has data on projects, researchers involved, organizational units, funding programs, research outputs, facilities, equipment and events. Linking IRs with CRIS can help the institution manage its intellectual property in a formalized manner with a reliable workflow and eliminate the need for manual metadata inputs.
Interlacing all SC systems in place are the numerous tools illustrated in Bosman and Kramer’s illustration above. To understand the need for this array of tools, it would help if we were to take a bird’s eye view of the scholarly communication lifecycle, which would look something like this:
To be honest, this is a very simplistic depiction of what actually needs to be done to take a research from initiation to archiving, as any researcher or librarian will attest. So, each of the four phases depicted above are standalone workflows in themselves and can take anywhere from a few days to several years to be deemed complete.
It is no wonder, then, that Bosman and Kramer found that researchers, universities and librarians were using tools for practically everything, from discovery to analysis to writing, publishing, outreach and eventual peer review and assessment. They write:
“For researchers it is important to know whether using a new tool will reduce time needed to get desired results or even get results that were hitherto impossible to get. Assessing this is not straightforward, because the use of tools, platforms and websites is tied together over the entire research cycle. Ideas, information, data, publications and assessment move through this cycle and researchers need transitions from one tool or platform to the other to be smooth. Interoperability of tools is key. In addition, researchers’ actions and options are not isolated and individual, but linked to the entire ecosystem of tools.”
The problems that are immediately obvious are:
a. there exist far too many tools and most of them are siloed, solving just one pain point and
b. most of them aren’t interoperable (i.e. don’t play well with each other).
Instead of building up and strengthening the scholarly communications cycle in libraries, many tools used by researchers and librarians tend to lead to further segregation of an already chaotic landscape.
This leads us to the question:
IV. What tools and systems does a future-ready library really need?
The scholarly communication cycle, in the short term and the long term, needs systems and tools that are interoperable (i.e. work well with each other) and eliminate the need for tool hopping. Implementing a seamless workflow, where systems and tools integrate with each other, offering the author an intuitive writing, publishing and archiving experience is what all libraries should aim for.
As technology evolves at an unprecedented pace, solutions that are more efficient and better equipped to address the demands of OA are surfacing. Librarians need to be open to exploring these newer innovations if they truly want to lead in the scholarly communications space. These newer tools might also probably offer them better commercials than existing solutions.
V. Typeset: Built for 2020 and beyond
At Typeset, we are building a platform that straddles the needs of researchers, librarians, universities and publishers across several stages of the scholarly communication cycle.
Less than two years after its launch, Typeset is being used by over half a million academics to
- write research,
- collaborate in real-time with co-authors, reviewers, editors and supervisors,
- create publication-ready XML documents
- directly auto-archive and submit the research to their institutional repository and
- make university publications openly discoverable by search engines with richer metadata and markups.
Typeset also has integrations with several major tools used by researchers including Mendeley, LabArchives, Paperpile and Google Scholar.
Incorporating Typeset into ETD and research workflows is estimated to cut costs by over 50% and save several hours of processing time per research paper.
We’re building Typeset to be an indispensable enabler for libraries of the future and are taking on pilots with a few handpicked university libraries to integrate Typeset into their current scholarly communication flow and establish the extent of cost and time effectiveness — estimated at over 50%.