Understanding the Needs of Scholars in a Contemporary Publishing Environment
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This is the extended abstract of the author’s presentation given at IFLA 2016. View the video recording of the author’s presentation. The presentation begins at 46:02.
To ensure that the rapidly expanding development of library publishing programs, services, and tools is driven by scholarly need, we must learn more about what and how scholars want to publish, why they choose to publish digitally, and how they understand the success of their digital publications.
We report on preliminary results of an ongoing investigation of humanities scholars’ objectives and needs related to library publishing services and platforms.
Our multi-modal study informs the overarching project, “Publishing Without Walls: Understanding the Needs of Scholars in a Contemporary Publishing Environment”, a Mellon-funded digital scholarly publishing initiative at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. The Publishing Without Walls project (PWW) aims to build capacity for participation in innovative publishing initiatives by scholars across the digital divide, and for scholars participating in a multi-institutional research consortium. At the same time, the project will develop a library-based scholarly publishing service model, which prioritizes scholar-driven, openly accessible, scalable, and sustainable scholarly communication practices.
PWW development efforts are driven by the understanding that for a service or tool to be sustainable – that is, for it to participate over the long term in the diverse ecology of scholarly communication – it must be built on, and it must continuously respond to, a strong and inclusive understanding of what users or scholars need. To this end, we are conducting a large-scale survey, along with focus groups and interviews, on how emerging services and tools align with scholars’ publishing needs. Focus groups and interviews are targeting participants engaged with digital publishing, particularly participants in the Humanities Without Walls Global Midwest initiative and scholars from Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs).
Preliminary results of our research provide insights into U.S. scholars’ current publishing practices, particularly in how they consume or want to consume research results and publications; their personal, professional, and community objectives for publishing; their perceptions of and requirements for publishing tools and platforms; their perceptions of and requirements for publishing services and support; and their attitudes toward digital publication, generally. While our study concerns scholarly publishing in the U.S. context, we anticipate that our results resonate in other contexts.
This paper briefly discusses select, preliminary outcomes of our national survey of humanities scholars. Respondents were recruited through a broad range of humanities-oriented email listservs, along with listservs in LIS and scholarly communications. At the time of this presentation, we had approximately 200 respondents. Here we offer an overview of our respondents’ publishing practices; their reported challenges to digital publishing; and the publishing services they desire, in contrast to how well they perceive those services to be supported.
At the time of this presentation, the vast majority of our respondents reported publishing both in print and digitally, though about 12% of our respondents published in print alone, and 7% only digitally. Most of our respondents reported sharing preliminary results in one way or another, most through conferences and direct communication (such as face-to-face or through email). In preliminary results, alternative outlets for sharing of intermediate results were more common than we anticipated: approximately 33% of respondents reported sharing preliminary results through a blog and approximately 20% through social media. Despite common assumptions about humanities authorship, most respondents (77%) reported authoring collaboratively, albeit with a limited number of remote or local coauthors; 11% authored solo. Preliminary results indicate extremely limited use of open-peer-review tools, but 60% of respondents indicated that they would consider the use of an open-review tool either during publication development or after publication.
The three greatest and two least challenges to digital publication reported by our respondents are given in Figure 1 (the greatest challenges are shown in bold). Obtaining editorial, technical, and financial support to publish are all the greatest challenges for our respondents in preliminary results, and are all approximately even in difficulty. In contrast, respondents seem to find reaching their intended audience and publishing in a timely manner to be unchallenging. In addition, more people found every aspect of digital publishing unchallenging than found it challenging. Fuller results will address other challenges that were found to be of middling difficulty in early results, such as manuscript preparation, securing a publisher, finding a venue, and securing third-party permissions for content.
Figure 2 shows the top desired publishing services, as reported in preliminary results of our survey. The services scholars report to want the most include transparency in the process, such as timely progress updates and clear communication between publisher or publishing service and author; peer review coordination; digital archiving for long-term access to their content; publisher intervention for representation of their content in a professional style (as opposed to organizational or conceptual interventions); and hosting supplementary materials for their publications. Other desired services included marketing, navigating third-party permissions issues, organizational and conceptual input, instruction in digital tools, help planning projects.
When asked about how available or well supported they considered these services to be in their own publishing experience, the results for those most desired services are much more varied. Figure 3 shows the preliminary results of this question: in this illustration, the darker green on the left end of the spectrum indicates a higher level of perceived support. Peer review seems to be fairly well supported in their experience, but they want more from publishing services in terms of transparency and communication, and in terms of help representing their content. Least well supported are the two services highlighted with arrows: digital archiving of their work, and hosting supplementary materials. As we are forging new library publishing services that cater to scholars’ needs, we must not neglectissues that may seem as after-the-fact or subsidiary considerations, and yet which appear ahead in their concerns of marketing and other issues usually considered to be central to publishing.
Final results of this research will be disseminated in 2017 and will immediately inform development of a shared service model for library publishing. In the meantime, PWW is launching two new monograph series: one focusing on the outcomes of a particular research initiative: the Humanities Without Walls Global Midwest initiative, and another concentrating on African American Studies with targeted outreach to scholars from HBCUs and cultural heritage institutions specializing in African American history and culture. PWW aims to help scholars navigate the new opportunities presented by collaborative, multi-modal, and interim phase works. We are actively seeking innovative digital publication projects, including enriched scholarly editions, thematic research collections, and multimedia texts.