Libraries have the answers on digital publishing

Researchers have lots of questions about new publishing models, writes Jennifer Howard in the Chronicle of Higher Education. (A subscription is required for access to the article. The article is now available for free.)

Where can researchers find a guide to lead them through this 21st-century obstacle course?

The library, of course.

I’ve always been our local copyright expert (or copyright police, depending on your point of view). I’ve been increasingly getting questions about publishing, and this has increased even further as I’ve reached out to our research associates to make sure they are complying with the National Institutes of Health (NIH) public access policy.

When I was first asked to take on responsibility for advising about the NIH policy, I was taken aback. Isn’t that the grant administrator’s job? But the more I learn about it, the more of a natural fit it seems.

The Chronicle focuses on big research libraries (Duke, Harvard, and Brown), but in a way, I think a library like mine that serves a select set of faculty is almost better suited to do this work, because I can talk to individual faculty about their individual concerns. Almost all that I’ve talked to agree that the public access policy is a good thing, but in the midst of managing a research project, co-authors, graduate assistants, and the necessity of publication to get tenure, the greater good may not always be at the forefront of their minds.

Didn’t they teach us to share in kindergarten?

In my post about Google hosting scientific data, I mentioned that the first obstacle to any data-sharing project is to getting researchers to want to share their data.

Yes, there are many proponents of open source and open access in the scientific community – but that doesn’t mean everyone wants to share. Biostatistician Andrew Vickers writes in the New York Times that many cancer researchers refuse to share their data, even when sharing it could potentially save lives.

The National Institutes of Health (NIH) request that researchers they fund share their data:

The NIH expects and supports the timely release and sharing of final research data from NIH-supported studies for use by other researchers. Starting with the October 1, 2003 receipt date, investigators submitting an NIH application seeking $500,000 or more in direct costs in any single year are expected to include a plan for data sharing or state why data sharing is not possible. (NIH Data Sharing Policy)

However, I do not think they are enforcing this policy, which has been in place much longer than the Public Access Policy mandating public access to peer-reviewed publications resulting from NIH-funded studies.

Googling for data

Google plans to host open access scientific data, according to a blog post at Wired Science.

I work with social science data sets, which are generally not as large as hard science data sets can be, but there are some similar issues.

First among them is getting the researchers who are collecting the data excited about sharing that data. The National Institutes of Health (NIH) mandate data sharing for research projects they fund, but this is often the last step of the research process, conducted when funds are running out or have been exhausted.

Even if the researcher is interested in sharing his or her data, it is not a simple process. Just putting raw data online doesn’t do any good without appropriate documentation, description, and access tools. In addition, social science datasets usually involve human participants, so any identifying information must be stripped from the data, or the data must be restricted to researchers who have signed usage agreements and put appropriate security measures in place to protect participants’ personal information. Google does not exactly have a spotless record when it comes to privacy protection.

Archiving and preservation, however, is where I’m really not sure I trust Google. As I mentioned, data dissemination often comes at a stage in the research when funding has run out, so free looks good. But will Google’s free service continue to exist if Google someday decides that it is not a good business investment? Or what happens if (gasp!) Google goes out of business, or is sold to another company?

Libraries and institutional archives have a good track record on privacy and on long-term preservation. Google may provide increased open access, but I don’t think it can eliminate the need for solid, continually funded institutional data archiving.

Blogs as scholarly communication

The Chronicle of Higher Education‘s Wired Campus blog reports on a concrete example of scholarly collaboration formed through blogging, presented at ALA midwinter. I wasn’t at ALA for the presentation, but it’s interesting to see an example of scholarly blogs at work, after alluding to their growing impact in my discussion of the popularization of science.

A commenter notes that this kind of informal communication is nothing that hasn’t been happening in other forms for years – but the public nature of blogs brings a new dimension to such communication.

YouTube U

Yesterday I wrote about the popularization of science and the role it plays in scholarly communication. Technology can make popularization easier than ever. One example is the proliferation of academic lectures on YouTube, as reported in the Chronicle of Higher Education (free online article).

Easier does not mean easy. The article quotes Michael L. Wesch, an assistant professor of cultural anthropology at Kansas State University, on making online videos:

The thought process is very different, which I actually think can be very valuable. I mean we think a lot about how to present our work in writing, and I think when you shift into thinking about how to present this work visually, it actually forces you to think through things in new ways.

Popular science

science is so very specialized now, that anyone outside of the exact area needs a popularized view

Popularization of science is not merely a dumbing down of scientific ideas for a lay audience, but an essential part of scholarly communication, writes Christina Pikas at Christina’s LIS Rant.

My library serves an interdisciplinary research institute, and this kind of popularization is essential. We have a brown bag seminar series where our researchers essentially popularize their research for their colleagues in other departments. I produce a feature highlighting a recent article by one of our researchers that appears on our bulletin board and our web site. I regularly scan news feeds looking for items of interest to our researchers in the popular press – and researchers have responded asking for a citation to the original source so often that I now include citations and links along with the news snippets.

I’m not sure if my library collection includes popularizations on the “sciencey end of the continuum,” though, and if it does I’m sure we don’t market them enough.

Part of the reason we don’t purchase these popularizations is that they are probably already owned by the main university library system. We are not part of that system, but we try not to duplicate their holdings except for heavily-used items. I’ve often thought that we should do more to make our patrons aware of materials in the main library system that are related to population. They are well-served by their subject liaisons, but there are probably materials of interest in other subject areas, especially if they are collaborating with researchers from other departments.