So far in this series I have described two types of publishing we are going to see more of as the humanities (with the rest of academia) retool for the digital age: electronic publication of conventional scholarship, and Open Access publication. In this post, I discuss a third type of electronic publishing: the online archive. But wait a minute, you might say, archiving and publishing are very different things. Scholars publish; librarians archive. Right? Well, the lines have blurred, as has the very definition of what constitutes publishing today. But before discussing the changing nature of publishing, let me quickly define the online archive and sketch how it works.
An online archive is organized by a place or by a discipline; thus, an "institutional repository" like DigitalCommons@University of Nebraska-Lincoln or a "disciplinary repository" like Research Papers in Economics). Such an archive typically includes pre-prints (articles undergoing peer review) as well as finished articles. Authors who have retained copyright of their publications (or made appropriate contractual arrangements) can include copies of their works published elsewhere within such archives. But why would anyone want to go to the trouble to do that? It's hard enough to get legitimately published. Leave to the librarians all that archiving. Right?
No. Academics have a huge stake in what these repositories can and will mean to the circulation of scholarship--but it will require some new thinking about what is really wanted or expected when referring to "publication" and a recognition of how these repositories can service scholarship even better than traditional publishing.
Print publishing has conditioned us to link publishing both with editorial evaluation and with the printing and distribution of physical copies according to a schedule. To have something published has meant it has 1) passed a scholarly evaluation, thereby allowing it 2) to be printed and distributed by the publisher. That's why academic presses and journals have been so critical; they have handled both evaluation (through editorial boards and peer review) and distribution (through printing and marketing). As discussed in the previous post about Open Access, the days of toll-access knowledge are numbered. This doesn't mean that academic presses or journals are going away; it just means that their role will be more about vetting knowledge than distributing it.
That's where the online archive or repository emerges as a critical player in academic publishing of the future. It used to be that archives were for dated knowledge. We were grateful for librarians for maintaining these for research purposes, but everyone knew that cutting edge information was only to be found in recent issues of respected journals. But this has changed. The digital age has brought digital archives into the front lines of scholarly communication. Why? Because these archives can be more current than journals, and because their reach is exponentially greater. First open access digital archives will complement traditional journals; ultimately, they will surpass them.
Or at least give them a run for their money. Here's how. These repositories can get scholars' work into circulation before the peer-reviewed, official version of that article gets published in a journal--months or even years earlier. This is what scientists have done for a long time by circulating pre-prints, making it possible for their work to have an impact well before something is officially published. Those in the humanities do not have a comparable culture of quickly sharing their work--largely because this has not been possible and partly because something like an analysis of Hamlet may not be as time sensitive as cancer research.
But let's say that humanities scholars are discovering that timeliness is indeed a great value for their work and that they wish to circulate their pre-published work. What are the options? You can email your work to those interested, and since the 1990s, it's been possible to post one's not-yet-published work on a local website. But scholars are reluctant to post something online precisely because this is a kind of publication and they have not wanted to jeopardize their chances of being published in official channels. Those are legitimate concerns (nicey resolved through Open Access), but even without such qualms over early publishing, how is your work going to reach people that don't know to come to your website? Google does index, but very broadly, and Google Scholar is not likely to lead researchers to a pre-print hosted on your faculty website. And don't count on that journal whisking your Word document onto their website before it's gone the rounds of peer review.
"Publishing" one's work in an institutional or disciplinary repository exposes that work intelligently to the web through metadata--and this goes for scholarly work that has already appeared in conventional journals as well as for work undergoing review. All work submitted to these archives has its content described in appropriate metadata fields, making it machine readable (see my prior post about how this works with data harvesters). The result is that scholarship (even work still under review) can have relevance far beyond the limited scope of the subscribers to a specific academic journal--and it can appear far sooner than in that journal where the work will finally get its more limited release. Of course,any pre-print gets linked to the "official" version (wherever that may reside) once that version appears.
Depositing one's scholarship in one of these electronic archives can be seen as a kind of co-pubishing. The organizations that run them don't review the scholarship; they leave that to traditional methods. The official publication can be anywhere, but can also appear within a repository (This requires the work either to be published as Open Access or for permission to be obtained from the copyright holder). Archive publication works better than having one's work appear solely in a journal--even a leading one--because one's work is exposed not only to the semantic web, but to the social web. With some exception, even those journals with a strong web presence lack the interconnectedness offered by the combination of semantic mark-up and social media.
Most of academia hasn't figured out social media yet, and it may seem a far stretch to be talking about library archives in the same breath as something like facebook or Twitter, but it doesn't take knowing the difference between ontology and folksonomy to recognize that repositories like arXiv.org or Social Science Research Network are now high-profile, high-traffic hubs of scholarly inquiry. They are what journals have been to a prior generation, or perhaps journals and academic conferences combined. They are not just huge databases passively hosting documents until a search awakens their sleeping contents. No, they are destination sites for scholars keeping up in their fields.
You really don't get a sense of how a repository is a living organism of scholarly exchange until you see how it is made part of a scholar's research and publication cycle. A case example (not from the humanities) comes from Tyler Jarvis, chair of the Math department at Brigham Young University. He responded to a query about how he uses the repository for his discipline, arXiv.org, within his research and publishing strategy (slighty edited):
I think my use of the mathematical literature is typical for researchers in my sub-disciplines of algebraic geometry and mathematical physics. When I need a paper, I look for it first on the arXiv. If I cannot find it there, I look on authors' webpages and on other preprint servers. Only if I cannot find it in these places (which is rare) will I turn to the journals where they were published--first trying online via BYU subscriptions and then to the paper versions.
If the results of a preprint are difficult for me to verify or evaluate myself, then I will eventually (before publishing my own work that depends on the paper) check that the final published (peer- reviewed) version agrees with the preprint versions; but often I just read to get a sense of what people are working on and how they are thinking about things.
To stay abreast of the field, I browse the daily postings on the arXiv in my areas. I very rarely browse journal tables of contents or read journals unless I already know they have a specific article that I need. Part of this is because journals articles are often very slow to appear (sometimes several years after the preprint is posted on the arXiv). Also, publishers generally make it hard for others to access articles by charging high prices for their journals and by requiring authors to relinquish both the copyright and the right to post copies on preprint servers and personal webpages.
So if I want my colleagues to read and appreciate my work, and especially if I want them to read it in a timely manner, I must post a copy on the arXiv [...] [A] journal primarily provides two things
1. the organizational work of coordinating the editing and refereeing process (the editors and referees normally do their jobs for free) and
2. name recognition.
Otherwise they generally obstruct research and sharing of information more than they facilitate it.
I have personal experience with articles I published in good journals that colleagues never realized existed because they were not posted on the arXiv. For that reason, and for the other reasons listed above, I now *only* publish in journals that allow me to post a copy of my work on my own webpage and on the arXiv.
There you have it. Tyler is a mathematician, not a humanist, but his experience as a researcher and publisher is indicative of the general way in which academics are evolving their research and publishing practices. The humanities lack a significant central disciplinary repository such as arXiv.org, but minor disciplinary repositories for the humanities have begun to appear, such as the Nordic arts and humanities e-print archive (hprints.org). As the humanist versions of Tyler Jarvis begin to emerge, we will see more development with humanities-oriented archives.
Another way to measure the "live" nature of open access archive publishing is to recognize that these repositories are set up with RSS feeds. An RSS feed (RSS="really simple syndication") can be created around any kind of search or can be associated with a specific subject, collection, or keyword. These highly customizable information streams are a kind of stock ticker for very focused subjects (They can be focused much tighter than the scope of a specialized journal, for example)--with obvious benefits for scholarly research. AND, those feeds can be ported to blogs, news readers, email alerts, and pretty much anywhere you can point an electron nowadays. Ultimately syndication will in some respects replace publication--the subject of a future post. My point here is that repositories will essentially broadcast their rich contents through the tight beams of RSS feeds out to those that are seeking research in a given area. Simultaneously, they will be a destination point for scholars of a given discipline who are looking for what is really going on in their field. Repositories will both push out scholarship more intelligently and pull in scholars more organically. It's publishing on steroids, and it makes restricted-access publication in the loftiest of journals seem pathetically understated.
Want to try out how you can get notifications sent to you automatically (either through email alert or RSS feed) from an institutional repository--focused on a specific search or keyword? Visit this page at DigitalCommons@University of Nebraska-Lincoln. You'll see how cool it is. Then, imagine how rich and specific the scholarly stream coming to you will be once scholarship migrates more fully to the repository environment.
Still want to keep your publishing and research limited to that small set of reputable journals?