Sunday, March 15, 2009

Transitioning to the Digital Dossier

The past few years have been filled with numerous analog to digital transitions. Why not propose another?

Each year I am responsible for generating a Faculty Annual Report (FAR). The FAR is essentially a core dossier that contains narrative focusing on my activities over the past year. 

In 1994, my FAR was generated by photo copying documents from one year to the next and adding new items in with a typewriter (!). The image on the right is my first FAR. Word processing templates were phased in a few years later which allowed me to cut and paste content electronically

My dossier and associated CV are used as documentation of my activities for the purposes of promotion and tenure review. More specifically, they provide critical information for external peer-reviewers.  

While the dossier I create is technically digital, the processes used to communicate and distribute the document treat it as if it were analog.  External reviewers receive a print dossier along with printed copies of scholarly materials via snail mail. Since the dossier is a flat text file, even if sent has an attachment the reviewer still needs to cut and paste URLs. 

With all the connectivity to content that we now have, academia really needs to rethink the dossier paradigm and transition it from analog to digital. I speculate that this transition WILL happen in the next few years anyway, why shouldn't academic librarians be the first? 

  • The only information that would be sent to an external reviewer would be a single URL. I think I'm making a reasonable assumption here that MOST academic librarians are online and would prefer digital rather than have a stack of paper. The reviewers could generate the paper versions, if that is the format they prefer.  
  • All network-based content (e.g. web sites, blogs) would be hyperlinked and navigated to though the digital dossier. This would allow certain scholarly communications to be viewed and interacted with in their native formats (side bar: I once had an interactive web site printed off and sent to external reviewers).  
  • Traditional content would be made accessible through the use of any combination of OpenURL / Link Resolvers / DOI. Most academic librarians have online access to a growing amount of published literature. Why print content off when it can be linked?
  • Content in open access publications or stored in institutional repositories could also be linked.  
  • Presentation materials stored on services such as SlideShare could also be linked. 
  • Sure, the evaluation of monographs would be a problem - in the short term.  
Over the past few years, Ohio State has been developing an expertise system called OSU:Pro. Your university may have built a similar system to store and build dossiers. The wonderful thing about OSU:Pro, and other expertise solutions, are their potential  to create a digital dossier. 

We aren't there - yet.  All the materials are still printed off and sent through the mail. The argument I hear is that paper is provided for the convenience of the reviewer. They can throw it in their briefcase and take it with them. I think the ubiquity of the Internet pretty much cancels out that argument these days.  

Serving as an external evaluator takes a good deal of time. I know I would be more willing to serve if it were easier to access all the supporting documentation online.  However, the barriers to the digital dossier are primarily of a cultural, historical, and work flow nature - not technical. 
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