Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Faculty Rewards Systems Discourage Alternative Scholarly Communications

"As a young scholar, with a family to support and without a secured position, my main selection criteria is in practice how the chosen journal would look in my CV."
The above is a comment by Jan Kunnas in reaction to an article by Zoƫ Corbyn entitled A Threat to Scientific Communication that appeared in the British Times Higher Education Supplement. In fact, Kunnas' reaction is typical in most academic disciplines. One reason why junior faculty continue to focus on using traditional print publications for their scholarly communication can be summed up in Corbyn's quote of Richard Smith, former editor of the British Medical Journal:
"We have an industry in which most journals exist to perpetuate an inward-looking academic-reward system, and there is no clear purpose that has anything to do with science."
As Michael Nielsen observes in Doing Science in the Open, the continued reliance upon tradition journals is not only slowing the flow of information but inhibits the move towards the use of alternative scholarly communication methods:
"The adoption of the journal system was achieved by subsidizing scientists who published their discoveries in journals. This same subsidy now inhibits the adoption of more effective technologies, because it continues to incentivize scientists to share their work in conventional journals and not in more modern media."
A University of California, Berkeley report The Influence of Academic Values on Scholarly Publication and Communication Practices indicates that faculty realize the value of experimenting and using alternative methods of scholarly communication:
"There are clear advantages to newer forms of publication that are recognized by a wider circle of scholars than those who have actually used them for publishing their own work. These include the ability to reach a larger audience, ease of access by readers, more rapid publication even when peer reviewed, the ability to search within and across texts, and the opportunity to make use of hyperlinks."
The report then concludes:
"There is presently a somewhat dichotomous situation in which electronic forms of print publications are used heavily, even nearly exclusively, by performers of research in many fields, but perceptions and realities of the reward system keep a strong adherence to conventional, high-stature print publications as the means of record for reporting research and having it evaluated institutionally."
Why do scholars continue to have a strong adherence to conventional print publications and avoid experimenting with modern methods? It comes back around to the academic-rewards system, as highlighted in Digital Scholarship in the University Tenure and Promotion Process: A Report on the Sixth Scholarly Communication Symposium at Georgetown University Library. The report quotes Stephen Nichols, professor of medieval French literature at Johns Hopkins University:
"the operative concepts here are fear and snobbery, and the disincentives are so powerful as to discourage experimentation. Young scholars are counselled that they need solid print dossiers before they attempt digital scholarship and that, even then, they are still at some risk."
Yet, there can be a significant fallout from perpetuating an inward-looking academic-reward system that continues to rely upon the journal while discouraging the use of alternative scholarly communication methods.

An article in the New York Times discusses the possibility that it may inhibit the world’s ability to respond to the sudden emergence of a widespread illness, including H1N1. The reason? Researchers are waiting to report their findings until it is published in traditional journals:

"Officials and experts say they have learned a lot about human swine influenza. But relatively little of that information, including periodic summaries of what has been learned since the beginning of the pandemic, has been reported and published. Some experts said researchers were waiting to publish in journals, which can take months or longer."

However, the Internet has afforded great opportunity for experimentation in alternative forms of scholarly communications, as Joseph Heller observes:
"The integration of digital technology into nearly every aspect of the daily workflow of scholars and researchers has begun to produce new channels of communication that do not fit neatly into the category of ‘journal’ or ‘pre-print’ or even ‘email communication’. These new mechanisms include blogs and wikis that spring up organically around a topic or an experiment and collaborative annotations on a web page. These advances are the natural result of scholars using digital technology in ways that they independently determine best serve their immediate needs and the needs of their community."
When compared to other disciplines, academic librarianship has more liberty to be experimental with our scholarly communication. Advancing the nature of scholarship in academic librarianship is less dependent on adhering to traditional norms. Yet, the major hurtle remains faculty rewards systems that contend that only those communications that go through a pre-publication anonymous peer-review have any value.

Instead, academic libraries need to retool their faculty rewards systems so they more closely resemble the vision of Michael Jensen:
"For universities, the challenge will be ensuring that scholars who are making more and more of their material available online will be fairly judged in hiring and promotion decisions. It will mean being open to the widening context in which scholarship is published, and it will mean that faculty members will have to take the time to learn about — and give credit for — the new authority metrics, instead of relying on scholarly publishers to establish the importance of material for them.

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Friday, September 18, 2009

The Uncertain Future of QuickDoc: UPDATE

Earlier this month, I wrote about the Uncertain Future of QuickDoc in light of the spring passing of Jay Daly. A colleague passed on the following message, which appeared on the DOCLINE-L list on Weds Sept 16, 2009:
Dear Colleagues,

I am happy to report that we have a few possibilities for the take-over of QuickDoc. Jay's daughter and son-in-law (Eowyn and Tommy Griffin) are endeavoring to find the best fit. An RFP went out to several vendors and independent programmers and the Griffins are pursuing the most promising offers. It is very important to them (and to all of us!) that whoever takes over QD will have the same dedication to the user base that Jay did. Be assured that Eowyn and Tommy are well aware of the time frame they have to work with and they are trying to come to an agreement as soon as possible. In the meantime, feel free to contact me with any questions or concerns. I will do my best to help!


Margo Coletti, AMLS, AHIP
Knowledge Services
Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center
One Deaconess Road
Boston, MA 02215

First off, few, if any, traditionally commercial vendors could EVER provide the same level of personalized support Jay provided. There is nothing else that needs to be said.

I remained perplexed that NLM hasn't stepped up (publicly at least) and offered to take over the development of the system. What role, if any, does NLM plans to play in the future of QuickDoc? Perhaps there are some legal issues that prevents NLM form taking it over. Perhaps they are one of the opportunities which Margo refers. Perhaps they may be one of the vendor's which will respond to the RFP. Perhaps NLM does not have the development and support resources.

The reality is that Jay was able to manage all this by himself PLUS perform his functions at
Beth Israel PLUS have a life outside of work. If Jay could do it, I'm certain NLM could.

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Tuesday, September 15, 2009

The Futurity.org Research News Channel

There has been some concern expressed in science communities that the coverage of science news has also been reduced as newspaper publishers have had to reduce the size of their issues to adapt to changing economic climate and information seeking patterns.

In an effort to keep news about new research discoveries flowing, about three dozen North America's Association of American Universities (AAU) research universities began a news research channel in March '09 named Futurity. The channel includes news and discoveries in the categories of earth & environment, health & medicine, science & design, society & culture.

From a University of Rochester press release:
"Futurity is a direct link to the research pipeline. If you want a glimpse of where research is today and where it's headed tomorrow, Futurity offers that in a very accessible way," said Lisa Lapin, one of Futurity's cofounders and assistant vice president for communications at Stanford University. "Today's online environment is perfectly suited for this type of direct communication. There's something very natural about universities working together to share knowledge."
"In light of the shifting news landscape, universities are looking for new ways to share important breakthroughs with the public. Futurity gives our partners an opportunity to communicate in a novel and direct way—and to remind the public why research matters," Murphy said.
"It's not often you see high-powered universities working to communicate together in such a collaborative way," says Schoenfeld, a Futurity cofounder. "That fact alone indicates the project's significance. Universities are the world's laboratories. They host the brightest minds working to answer some of today's most urgent questions. The breadth and caliber—and the collective force—of the research featured on Futurity is truly extraordinary.

Hmmm. Why didn't academic libraries think of this? The release could have / should have read:
"XXXX is a direct link to the academic librarianship. If you want a glimpse of where academic libraries are today and where it's headed tomorrow, XXXX offers that in a very accessible way.....Today's online environment is perfectly suited for this type of direct communication. There's something very natural about academic libraries working together to share knowledge."

"In light of the shifting landscape, academic libraries are looking for new ways to share important breakthroughs with the public. XXXX gives our partners an opportunity to communicate in a novel and direct way—and to remind the public why academic libraries matter"
"It's not often you see high-powered academic libraries working to communicate together in such a collaborative way. That fact alone indicates the project's significance. Academic Libraries are the world's laboratories. They host the brightest minds working to answer some of today's most urgent questions. The breadth and caliber—and the collective force—of the activities featured on XXXX is truly extraordinary."
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Wednesday, September 02, 2009

The Uncertain Future of QuickDoc

The library community lost a colleague this past spring with the passing of Jay Daly. Among his accomplishments was the conception and development of QuickDoc, an ILL-management system designed to interface with the Nation Library of Medicine's NLM's DOCLINE system and was used by around 1,500 medical libraries at the time of his passing. Jay would will call libraries to work through any unresolved problems and was very personable. He will be missed.

QuickDoc filled an important gap in the service offered by NLM; a more user friendly interface and management module. NLM was likely happy that Jay built the system since it saved them development time. Since Jay's death, NLM has posted a note on their site that the future of QuickDoc is uncertain. In a note to MEDLIB-L, Margo Coletti, Director of Knowledge Services at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center, indicated that it has fallen on her to figure out what to do with QuickDoc:
I don't know what plans Jay had, if any, for the continuation of QD should he be unable to continue. I'm guessing that he did not have any idea that this would happen. His death was not at all predictable or expected. I am still trying to access Jay's files and his program. I cannot promise anything at all to you, Jay's customers. I'm not a programmer and I haven't been able to access the program, anyway. If I can access it, I'll ask someone to look at it and figure out if they can take it on. Please be patient. This will take some time.
I don't monitor the QuickDoc email list and am not up to date on current discussions. Unless QuickDoc was written as a work for hire and Beth Israel owns it, or was willed, it will likely be tied up in probate. The truth is that NLM should have taken over the development of the system long ago since so many of their DOCLINE customers were using it.

As a community, libraries should not have to reply on innovative people like Jay to develop systems that bridge the functionality gaps we expect from our systems. We continue to see such development occurring since many of us are getting tired getting responses from vendors like this (a real vendor response):
"...our development folks have talked about...I'll let them know of your interest in such functionality and we'll consider it as potential enhancement to the system"
When we have to out of necessity, as a community we need to jump in to help support and make sure those solutions remain viable in an unforeseen event.

The future of QuickDoc is indeed uncertain. Many hospital libraries will probably continue to use the QuickDoc application until problems occur that can not be fixed locally. When an install does fail, there will be few alternative solutions. Some may land up paying substantial licensing feeds for solutions that are really too sophisticated for their needs.

The thought that some will have no choice but to go back to the manual processing methods used decades ago is too hard to comprehend this day and age. It could soon be the reality.
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