The 2017 Edge Question responses have just been released. Over 200 of the world’s finest minds answer “What scientific term or concept ought to be more widely known?”. As usual the combined single mega-page weighs in at around the length of two novels, on which the likes of Instapaper will choke. So Kindle ereader owners may want the unabridged unofficial .mobi ebook conversion for the Kindle.
A major new consultancy report, “How Readers Discover Content in Scholarly Publications” (March 2016)….
* “… people working in the Government, Corporate and Charity sectors think Google is the most important discovery resource for books.”
This sentiment would have been rather more pronounced, if the Google respondees had been bundled with those who favoured Google Books.
* “… people working in Humanities and Religion & Theology prefer to use Google [rather than Google Scholar, to find articles]”
* “… people in Humanities are much less likely to use ToC alerts [to find their ‘last article accessed’] and have “other sources” they may use.”
Wide-spectrum serendipitous ‘topic search’, of the sort enabled by JURN, is also strongly favoured in the Humanities….
And the researchers found that…
* “Librarians behave quite differently to everyone else in search, preferring professional search databases and library-acquired resources.”
I’m very pleased to see that the U.N. has launched the new comprehensive U.N. iLibrary, to act as a repository for all its major open-access items…
The United Nations iLibrary is the first comprehensive global search, discovery, and viewing source for digital content created by the United Nations. … Every year around 500 new titles are planned to be added to United Nations iLibrary.”
This new public site has over 700 books and annual reports accessible via /books/all.
A new white paper from publisher SAGE, “Expecting the Unexpected: Serendipity, Discovery, and the Scholarly Research Process”.
Serendipity is considered mainly in the context of discovery via automated content-recommendation systems, since the research (a survey and a literature review) was done in the context of the making of the new SAGE Recommends system.
So the report’s not really about serendipity in the wild frontier of academic keyword search on the open Web. There are some interesting observations, however…
“Serendipitous discovery should be of particular interest to information providers precisely because there is so little precedent; there is still tremendous scope for individual organizations to bring their own priorities and values to bear on how they recommend or otherwise help researchers discover their content.”
“If discovery is too exacting or too precise, it can end up reinforcing habits rather than exposing students and researchers to new information, sharply limiting the researcher’s view of the world of information. … We might even suggest that there is room for errors and luck in recommendation systems; a serendipitous system that does not include some element of chance is hardly serendipitous at all.”
“… based on our research, it appears that approaches to encourage serendipity that do not place the content front and centre might encounter problems.” [i.e.: academic searchers want recommendations based on the actual content, rather than on the behaviour or tastes of other system users]
“The less exciting, but equally as important, corollary to discovery is delivery, or access: providing the patron with the material once they have found it. Given that “the researcher’s discovery-to-access workflow is [already] much more difficult than it should be” (Schonfeld, 2015 $ paywall), improving discovery before solving the challenges of infrastructure and access is perhaps kicking the can down the road. This is not to say that there is no value to tools and solutions that promote discovery within an isolated silo, but their potential is limited until publishers, libraries, and discovery vendors make interoperability a priority.”
OAPEN-UK’s final report on open access monographs, OAPEN-UK final report: A five-year study into open access monograph publishing in the humanities and social sciences.
“Many libraries will […] be providing links to the open access copies of monographs through their discovery systems, but librarians are not always aware of this. A minority are also reluctant to include open access content within their catalogues.”
“30% of respondents currently identify open access monographs for inclusion within their library collections – 49% do not, while 21% were unsure.” — Librarian survey for the report.
Unsure about including OA at all, or unsure if anyone on staff was identifying OA items?
“There are also large numbers of researchers – especially early career and retired academics – who do extremely valuable research which deserves publication but who work outside academic institutions. Changing publishing culture in a way that affected these researchers negatively would damage the overall discipline.”
JISC has commissioned a new September 2015 Spotlight Literature Review on scholarly discovery, which is available now in PDF. Short, but to-the-point…
in most cases staff over-estimate the extent to which users use different library services, in some cases very greatly. […] overall they think, it seems mistakenly, that the library discovery layer attracts very similar usage to Google Scholar”
one recent ethnographic study of student research behaviour (Dalal et al, 2015) highlights the low levels of information literacy skills displayed by many undergraduates even after library training in research skills [… they still had] very basic search techniques and poor search strategies [and a] Failure to locate the full text of articles.”
I’m interested in serendipity’s role in online search, and so I was pleased that the report pointed me to the December 2014 Library Journal article “Serendipitous Discovery: Is it Getting Harder?”. I was also rather tickled to discover that the word ‘serendipity’ was invented by Horace Walpole.
“No open access discovery index has been created.” (p.15)
[The white paper’s] “review of the [required] components of an index-based discovery service [purely for open access content] highlights the enormous level of resources required to create and maintain them. The creation of an open access discovery index would require the allocation of capital, personnel, and technical resources at least at the level of what any of the commercial providers has devoted to their projects.” (p.21)
HEFCE report on Monographs and open access is out now…
The perception that academic books are not being read, or even read in depth, does not appear to be sustained by the evidence.”
A quick search and read-through of the main report shows no use of the words “index” or “indexing”, in the context of discovery. There are only fleeting and cursory mentions of “discovery”. Discovery for download-and-reading barely merits a full paragraph…
There appears to be disagreement about whether providing open access to a book without active measures to disseminate it is sufficient. … the rise of aggregation and distribution services for open-access books, as well as increasing sophistication in search engine technology and an ever-greater reliance among academics and others on the Web as a discovery tool, might help smaller operations to challenge the larger publishers … For policymakers this is a critical area of concern: a key benefit of open access is surely increased dissemination; if particular models are likely to fail in this regard, then the benefit could be lost.”
It would have been interesting to know if the current standard monograph practice requires that the author must submit a publicity and marketing plan along with their open monograph. That practice isn’t mentioned, so I wonder how often it happens in the UK. It seems a pity to overlook active paid-for marketing, of the sort that proper publishers take for granted. Especially when there might be an opportunity now to embed this widely for even the most diffident or overworked authors, potentially enhancing everything from the scholar’s career and the university’s standing through to the UK’s wider projection of ‘soft power’. So the report might have suggested (at least) a new flowchart / guide for planning some basic academic book marketing, and a requirement that it be completed and submitted along with the monograph. Something that would take just six hours to enact, by someone other than the author (one has to factor in how utterly sick of a book an author can be by the time it’s completed, and how they just want to see the back of it). Asking for specifics such as a list of Facebook groups and listservs etc; contacts for likely book reviewers; magazine and newsletter contacts for tailored press releases; ‘local author writes book’ local newspaper contacts (since their stories, naff though they may be in tone, show up in Google News); niche radio and podcast interview possibilities, and so on. Such a one-day publication-day campaign might then most usefully be handed off to a freelance marketeer on oDesk for $350 or so, rather than be dumped on someone who either lacks the skills or doesn’t have the time.
Note that there’s also an “Annex 3: Patterns of scholarly communication in the humanities and social sciences” for the report…
Humanities and social science researchers also seem to make significant use of relatively old content, compared to other disciplines. Tenopir et al (2012) find that around half of the ‘last articles read’ in the critical incident component of their survey were more than 6.5 years old; a quarter were more than 15 years old.”
The new book-length Humanities World Report 2015 is now available for download in Kindle or PDF…
“The first of its kind, this ‘Report’ gives an overview of the humanities worldwide. Published as an Open Access title and based on an extensive literature review and enlightening interviews conducted with 90 humanities scholars across 40 countries, the book offers a first step in attempting to assess the state of the humanities globally.”
Some nicely pithy comments from interviewees throughout, drawn from interviews undertaken since 2011. But, rather oddly, a quick search of the body of the book for the phrase “open access” reveals not a single mention.
I had some fun boiling the report’s recommendations down to:
* Truth | [attempt to] reinstate confidence in the humanities as truth finding disciplines [and convey that] we do generate answers, as well as questions.
* Experience | position the humanities as the guardian of human diversity, [a] unique repository of knowledge and insight into the rich diversity of the human experience, past and present.
* Impact | [encourage] support systems for effective[ly and meaningfully conveying one’s work to wider audiences than just peers and students. Add] incentives to encourage more academics to engage in [this].
* Digital bridges | digital humanities experts [should] start the process of bridge-building [with those who either fear or don’t see the potential of digital humanities]. [We should also gently push supervisors for better] training [of] the next generation of humanists [enabling them to] exploit the potential of digital technologies and methods.
* Interdisciplinary (when it works) | not all research requires [a strong] quest for interdisciplinarity [and so it] should not be treated as an end in itself [by funders]. [We should be more aware of the contexts where] interdisciplinary [research] does have considerable [demonstrable] value [and learn how to break down] significant institutional barriers [to unlock that value]. [University] promotion criteria should be reformed so as to give due weight to interdisciplinary research [thus making it less] risky in terms of publication and career advancement.
* Integrity | increased scrutiny of [large funding programmes] to see how well they maintain academic freedom alongside [their role in government] decision-making [and validation of completed government schemes].
* Exploration | humanists should not typically be expected to answer the [“what use is this apparently useless research?”] question.
* Nomadics | there is a crying need for experiment over and above the traditional university and its disciplinary divides.
* Expeditions | [we need major new long-term] integrative platforms as spaces for networking, capacity building and preparation of research on questions [which aid the] understanding [of] the human condition. [These would go far beyond the existing traditional advanced] centres and institutes, visiting fellowships and stakeholder interaction [initiatives]. They might identify [what we don’t know] and what we might know [if the funding and will and focus were enough to] lower the barriers between the human, the social and the natural sciences, [and if researchers were allowed to pay no] regard to national priorities.
On that last point, the 10,000-year perspective and vigourous autonomy of The Long Now Foundation springs immediately to mind. They are, effectively, an expedition to the future.
On both the Impact and “what use is this apparently useless research?” points, I would have suggested a role for a new type of naturally inquisitive ‘curator and explicator’. Someone able to naturally pick up and draw out such tenuous or obscured connections, and from across a wide range of disparate research. Such a unique matchmaking/publicist role would rise far above the low orbit of a university’s PR department, or the middle manager who routinely bundles researchers into funding-worthy projects. Such a role would need a rare combination of curious journalist, art curator, brilliant academic, political operator and publicist.
David Prosser at Jisc blogs on the need for action on discoverability…
… 40% of researchers kicked off their project with a trawl through the Internet for material, while only 2% preferred to make a visit to a physical library space. [yet] nearly half of all items within digitised collections are not discoverable via major search engines by their name or title [and, even worse] digitised collections become harder and harder to find over time, for a variety of complex reasons.
A Thomson ISI / Web of Science study is reported in Nature, dated 26th May 2014, as “Do Open Access journals have impact?”. They concluded that…
“Open Access journals [a selection of 190 titles, “core scientific publications”] can have similar impact to other journals, and prospective authors should not fear publishing in these journals merely because of their access model.”
CultureCase, a new UK overlay service that provides a short plain-English summary of selected academic research on the impacts and effects of the arts and arts policy. There are OA links where possible, but most of the outbound links are to research that’s behind a paywall — which shows why these summaries may be especially useful for bootstrapping arts organisations which need to “make the case” for culture to sceptical bureaucrats. Though, in my experience, one does ideally need access to the original papers and reports since much arts advocacy research tends to rest on shaky foundations. Once you track back the estimates and ‘received wisdom’ factoids to their sources, the case being made can start to totter. This is especially true when people are making numbers claims about the boost to cultural employment or regional tourism income.
CultureCase currently has no links to OA journals on their links page, so I’ve sent them the following list…
Irish Journal of Arts Management and Cultural Policy
Asia Pacific Journal of Arts and Cultural Management
Working Paper Series, The Princeton University Center for Arts and Cultural Policy Studies
Current Opinion in Creativity, Innovation and Entrepreneurship
Nordic Journal of Cultural Policy
Arts Professional (UK, now free)
A Google search shows that CultureCase only have 27 OA articles at present, which can be found via a Google site: search. It would be useful if there was a http://www.culturecase.org/research-category/open-access/ tag which would collect all the open article records onto a single page.
The other problem is that they are linking to JSTOR and calling it ‘open access’ — but most people outside academia don’t have access to JSTOR, or only have very partial access.
“In 2013, the SciELO Network of national journal collections covered 16 countries, 15 in Ibero-America [South and Central America] plus South Africa, which as a whole, index around 1,000 journal titles and publish more than 40,000 articles a year…”
“A priority action line of SciELO is internationalization that, among other strategies, includes the gradual adoption of the English language for the communication of research with the aim of expanding its international visibility. All article texts must have at least the title, abstract and keywords in English. … journals are increasingly adopting English as either their only language of communication of journal content or are using a multilingual format together with Spanish or Portuguese.”
“What were librarians thinking of?” A question I often ask myself, as I glance at various pointless and fruitless busy-work projects. But now there’s a new survey of the views of “academic library directors in the U.S.”, which gives some insight. Scholarly Kitchen has a handy digest of the report…
In 2010, 41% of library directors said that, if given a 10% budget increase, they would like to spend at least some of it on discovery tools. In 2013 only 16% said the same thing.
Joseph Esposito has usefully had a peek inside a very expensive commercial market report titled Global Social Science & Humanities Publishing 2013-2014.
Social/Humanities publishing is found to be perhaps 25% of the size of Science/Technology/Medicine, at around $5bn. That actually strikes me as something of an achievement, when you consider that we have far smaller research funding inputs and a smaller technical/training infrastructure to call on. But perhaps the $5bn figure is given a strong boost by teacher training textbooks, social work manuals and the like?
Joseph highlights the report’s finding of a highly fragmented market. This market fragmentation is one of the reasons I’m skeptical about the success of a ‘one metadata to rule them all’ solution to OA indexing and discovery. It seems that DOAJ-listed OA journal titles can’t even find their way in full-text into the largest of commercial databases (such as EBSCO Complete) at higher levels than just over 20%. When last heard of the Web of Science / Scopus seemed to be barely scraping 1,000 OA titles indexed. One art history study found that Google Scholar could index only half the DOAJ’s OA art history titles. A dastardly conspiracy to keep OA titles out of these big indexes seems unlikely. So I suspect it’s largely due to many OA editors in the arts and humanities not giving a fig about providing the means to automatically index their content. Their widespread lack of something as basic as RSS feeds seems to confirm that. Add to that the fact that only 56% of DOAJ journals can supply the DOAJ with article metadata. Persuading non-librarian types to do something as simple tag all their back-issue content with some simple new machine-readable OA tag thus seems rather a long shot. Persuading mainstream publishers to do the same? Well… maybe, but what’s their incentive for that? Even if they do, will they allow mass harvesting of the OA articles? Nor are librarians likely to be of much use, after the fact of publication — since they seem to have mostly failed to apply even their own metadata standards to open content, and open repository metadata quality is reported to be dire.
New White Paper from commercial publisher SAGE: Discoverability of Scholarly Content: Accomplishments, Aspirations and Opportunities, written after the moment…
“in 2013, [when commercial paywall] academic content providers around the world were forced to consider alternate methods of open-web discoverability when Google’s primary web search ceased its special treatment of access-controlled scholarly materials”
The consusus here and elsewhere seems to be ‘just add metadata’ to open content, and it will slot right into existing closed discovery systems. Good luck with that one, and don’t forget to shut the stable door.
Interesting comment spotted in the paper, in relation to the oft-heard complaint that Google uses closed proprietary search algorithms…
“The research also noted the variability among [academic library Web-scale] discovery services’ proprietary search algorithms, which — lacking transparency — disallows local customization, which libraries and end users expect.”
What it doesn’t mention is the quality of the ranking done by the proprietary search algorithms in services such as Summon. To see what I mean, try the dozy search | what is history carr | in Summon, then try it again in JURN.
New Innovating Pedagogy report from the UK’s Open University…
* There does not seem to be a consensus among academic librarians regarding what is desirable in terms of humanities book offerings.
* Many librarians do not distinguish scholarly titles from academic titles. Librarians seem to lean toward known brands (e.g., EBSCO, JSTOR), irrespective of the content that these aggregators offer.
* Most libraries are still in the early stages of developing an e-book strategy, and many are unsure of which direction they should take.
* …there is no agreement amongst librarians as to which humanities content is considered necessary, which collections are essential, which aggregators to use or what fields to cover
* Most librarians surveyed believe that the various aggregators and publishers all offer the same (overlapping) content
That last one is pretty amazing.
A free online report/book, Chasing Sustainability on the Net (Juvenes Print Tampere, Finland, Oct 2012)…
“International research on 69 journalistic pure players and their business models”
For those not conversant with suit-speak, a “pure play” is an “internet only business”. Might there be some lessons in the report for academic and scholarly ejournals?