The scholarly record…now on Twitter

Brian Lavoie

scholarly-record

Literary criticism is not new. Conducting it via Twitter is.

In early 2016, distinguished Shakespearean scholar Brian Vickers published The One King Lear, a volume intended to address, and put to rest, a point of scholarly debate suggesting the play may have been revised after its initial publication. Another scholar, Holger Syme, found Vickers’ book wanting and shared his criticism in a series of 500+ tweets. Vickers, in turn, found Syme’s critique wanting, retorting: “He trivializes literary criticism, reducing it to attention-catching sound bites. Is this the way to go?”

In a print-based world, Syme’s criticism would have appeared as a formal article in a traditional journal.  Not so in the digital, networked world. Yet no academic library is likely to collect these tweets and curate them.

Changes in volume, diversity and responsibility

There is more to the evolution of the scholarly record than a shift in format. Changes in scholarly research and communication practices have led to other significant shifts in the nature and scope of the scholarly record:

  • The volume of materials poised to enter the scholarly record has dramatically increased: Today, we see strong interest in collecting and curating scholarly outputs from all phases of the research cycle. Research data is the foremost example, with services like Dryad and DataCite emerging to support its ongoing availability; funder mandates, reproducibility of reported findings and re-use are key drivers in this space.
  • Content entering the scholarly record is growing in both diversity and complexity: This diversity crosses several dimensions, including type of content, channel of communication and the technological complexity that comes with a wide range of formats and applications.
  • The diffusion of custodial responsibility for the scholarly record is expanding: More and more of the scholarly record is collected and curated by organizations outside the library, including nonlibrary campus units, discipline-specific repositories, government agencies and commercial services. Libraries increasingly find themselves pointing at materials out of their custodial control.

scholarly_record_illustration

Here is a picture, developed by OCLC Research and from The Evolving Scholarly Record, that illustrates trends in the evolution of the scholarly record in a digital, networked environment:

Final published outcomes like books and articles (the blue rectangle) are still the coin of the realm for scholarly communication, documentation of findings and establishment of credentials. But these are increasingly accompanied into the scholarly record by additional scholarly outputs generated from the process of scholarly inquiry (red) and from its aftermath (green).

Environment drives evolution

The evolution of the scholarly record is driven largely by changes in scholarly practices. For example, there is greater emphasis on “showing your work” to facilitate replication of, and building on, published findings. Another example is the migration of scholarly discourse to new online channels; we saw this with the Twitterized literary criticism mentioned earlier, and it is also evident in the use of blogs as a source of scholarly commentary. A recent survey suggests that the most common uses of the blogs operated by PLOS are to access “expert commentaries on current scientific issues” and “in-depth analyses of single research papers.”

The materials represented in the picture are not new. What is different are the systematic efforts to collect and curate them, make them citable, and secure them for future access. An interesting—and ambitious—example of the deepening scholarly record is Research Ideas and Outcomes, an open access journal that publishes all outputs from the research cycle, such as project proposals, data, methods and final articles—in other words, just about everything represented in our picture above.

Research Ideas and Outcomes describes itself as “making better use of the vast effort spent on writing and evaluating research proposals and other valuable products of the research cycle. It harnesses the full value of investment in the academic system by registering, reviewing, publishing and permanently archiving a wider variety of research outputs that aren’t traditionally made public.” This sums up quite nicely the nature of the scholarly record as it is evolving in a digital, networked environment.

Question…How is your library responding to the changes in the scholarly record? Let us know on Twitter with the hashtag #OCLCnext