Friday, August 17, 2007

Open Source Scholarly Publishing

It is fairly clear that a growing number of librarians (other than myself!) are frustrated with publication lag time. I also find that many of my ideas can't be stretched into a full length papers. The lag time and the fact that not all ideas warrant a full treatment are the primary reasons I began this blog.

There are many librarians out there with interesting and innovative ideas that are important to the profession and should be disseminated. Many of these librarians may not want to a develop full blown manuscripts. Sometimes a concept doesn't immediately lend itself to a manuscript. Perhaps there that a librarian wishes to throw a theory or concept out there so it can be poked at and prodded. Some of those concepts could evolve into a manuscript, maybe most don't.

One possible model I came across is called open source publishing, a concept being proposed by Dr. Eric Mockensturm, Associate Professor of Mechanical Engineering at The Pennsylvania State University.
"The system will allow authors to submit papers, reviewers to immediately comment on them, and authors to immediately make revisions in a very dynamic way. The ultimate goal is to not only have open access to the papers but also make the reviewing process open (i.e. not anonymous) and the papers open source so that anyone can make revisions."
This publishing model allows anyone (registered) to submit a manuscript or even an concept outline. Access to this manuscript can be closed to all but the submitter, open to a group of users, or open to all. The first option allows the author to submit something not ready to be viewed and critiqued by others. The author(s) can continue to work on the manuscript for as long as they wish. The second option allows specified individuals to view and comment on a manuscript. The authors can continue to revise it as needed.

Once the article is ready and opened to all it is considered published, but not necessarily accepted for publication in 'traditional' static journal format.

The model makes use of a rapid review process that creates real-time communication between an author and reviewers. Authors can solicit reviews, respond to comments, and revise their manuscript accordingly. Comments are organized in a hierarchical structure to make it easier to locate discussion topics that may result in multiple threads.

When an author decide the article is ready for official review for the 'traditional static publication', a request is sent to the editor, who then assigns formal reviewers. The assigned reviewers can post quick, short comments for rapid response from the authors, without waiting to write an extensive review. The rapid communication between the authors and reviewers can significantly accelerate the review process. The manuscript remains open for discussion by the community throughout this process.

Once official reviews are submitted and sufficient discussion has occurred, the editors decide to either accept or reject the manuscript. This process is different from traditional journals because, hopefully, the author has been revising their manuscript during the review process. There would be no need for an ‘accepted with revisions' option. Reviewers will be able to post follow-up comments about any revisions which are made. If the author and reviewers cannot agree on changes, an editor can personally review all the comments make a publication decision.

If the manuscript is rejected, the author decides to keep it in the dynamic section for further revision, or pull and submit it elsewhere (all submissions are protected by a Creative Commons License). Should the author decide to leave the manuscript in the system, they can request that the editors to reconsider it after additional revisions. If a breakthrough occurs the author could inform the editors to consider it.

If the author pulls the manuscript the comments and reviews remain so a history of the discussion and credit for reviewing the paper will be retained in case reviewers would like to cite their reviews. If subsequent work does not validate the idea, the authors could retract the work, or leave it posted indefinitely for further comment and the education of others who might be considering similar ideas.

There are several characteristics that I like about this model.

- It maintains the pre-publication peer review process and generates a static final version of traditional publications which could help satisfy promotion and tenure committees. There is no reason the author can not remain anonymous through the review period to satisfy double blind review.

- The dynamic environment allows authors to present their ideas rapidly, even in 'half baked' unfinished form, and then fill in material as it becomes available. The manuscripts can evolve based on the comments and grow only to a length needed to effectively communicate an idea rather than being bloated to meet minimum manuscript length requirements.

- Subsequent study might also show that the original idea was not good from the start. Such submissions could be maintained in the dynamic section for comment, dissemination, or revision. The result is a forum for ideas that did not work out. Partial or failed concepts could even be revisited later by the original authors or others might try to determine why a seemingly good idea just did not materialize into something useful. This is what makes this model 'open source.'

- The model makes use of a ranking system that allows readers to rate reviews (or manuscripts) based on their intellectual merit. Such reader-based ranking systems exist on in community-based sites such as A community ranking system could lead to a more objective rating with the accumulative rating of a review being considered regardless if it is signed or anonymous.

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