By Cameron Cook, Digital Curation Assistant and SLIS Graduate Student

Amy Buckland presenting at the Teaching and Learning Retreat. August 6th, 2015.

Amy Buckland presenting at the Teaching and Learning Retreat. August 6th, 2015. Image from Brianna Marshall.

On August 6th, 2015 I attended the afternoon workshop of the UW-Madison Teaching and Learning Retreat, which was led by University of Chicago’s Institutional Repository Manager, Amy Buckland. The focus of the daylong retreat was the intersections of scholarly communication and information literacy. Amy’s talk narrowed in on issues of public access and libraries’ role in scholarly communication – both as content consumers and content creators.

What then, you might ask, does Amy’s talk have to do with researchers and the purpose of Research Data Services? The answer is something very simple but a key concept for all of us involved in research and research data to move forward with in mind. It is that, as Amy said, “the new normal will be public access.”

Why will it be the new normal? Amy highlighted some big issues at play that support the idea that current formal scholarly communication models need a critical reevaluation.

First, let’s define scholarly communication. Per the Association of Research Libraries, scholarly communications is:

“the system through which research and other scholarly writings are created, evaluated for quality, disseminated to the scholarly community, and preserved for future use. The system includes both formal means of communication, such as publication in peer-reviewed journals, and informal channels, such as electronic listservs.”

The current formal means of scholarly communication are problematic because there are barriers. Research is trapped behind inaccessible formats, pay walls, copyright, and more. The paths of evaluation, dissemination, and preservation require expensive access, making it available to few. This goes in hand with the second issue, which is that the promotion and tenure system require these formal channels and enforces the barriers put in place by the publishers and vendors.

It is a system that does not work well. As Amy pointed out, at its core scholarship is to be shared. Scholarship is to be disseminated and built upon in order to advance knowledge for the benefit of the public. This aligns with the Wisconsin Idea, which states that “the university should improve people’s lives beyond the classroom.” Instead, scholarship is tied up in a complicated web of licensing, publishing, and monetary issues.

On top of the need to reevaluate scholarly communication processes, federal agencies are pushing for more access to funded research. The Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP) memo from February of 2013 set forth policy that every funding agency with over 100 million in research and development must require public access to published works and data. Subsequently in July 2015, hoping to extend access requirements past the current administration, the Fair Access to Science and Technology Research (FASTR) bill was passed by the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee. The bill would require agencies with extramural research budgets to ensure public access to funded research within a timeline similar to the OSTP memo.

Changes are happening on the federal level, discussion on scholarly communications are happening in academic communities, and as such public access issues are not going away and will become the new normal.

At a university, we are all involved in the scholarly communications process and as Amy said, “everything we do in our day-to-day is essential to it.” There are ways in which as a researcher, as a content creator, you can have impact in this area.

The first is to recognize the myths surrounding open access resources. For instance, one of my favorite takeaways from Amy at the retreat was: “Open access is a business model. It has nothing to do with quality of content.” A few other myths that we touched on at the retreat were the myth of no peer review, the claim that open access is a money grab, that OA journals are just vanity presses, and that they have no meaningful metrics, such as an impact factor*. If you have questions, ask your librarians.

Data management is also a way to get involved. Research Data Services can help you learn more about best practices for saving, storing, and sharing your data to make research accessible and reproducible. Contact us or browse the resources on our website.

Once you are comfortable with the concepts, become part of the conversation or put the concepts to practice. Do it to ensure your work’s sustainability and potential for future impact. At the very least, do it because this is the path scholarship will be taking as we look forward.



*Open Data Myths Explained

ARL Scholarly Communication Definition

FASTR Information
Peet, Lisa. (2015). “FASTR Approved by Senate Committee”. Retrieved September 2015.

Wisconsin Idea