Open Access News

News from the open access movement

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

Faculty views on the future of scholarly communication

Diane Harley and four co-authors, Assessing the Future Landscape of Scholarly Communication: An In-depth Study of Faculty Needs and Ways of Meeting Them, a "Draft Interim Report" from the University of California Berkeley's Center for Studies in Higher Education, Spring 2008. 

Abstract:   The Center for Studies in Higher Education, with generous funding from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, is conducting research to understand the needs and desires of faculty for in-progress scholarly communication (i.e., forms of communication employed as research is being executed) as well as archival publication. In the interest of developing a deeper understanding of how and why scholars do what they do to advance their fields as well as their careers, our approach focuses on fine-grained analyses of faculty values and behaviors throughout the scholarly communication lifecycle, including sharing, collaborating, publishing, and engaging with the public. Well into our second year, we have posted a draft interim report describing some of our early results and impressions based on the responses of more than 150 interviewees in the fields of astrophysics, archaeology, biology, economics, history, music, and political science.

Our work to date has confirmed the important impact of disciplinary culture and tradition on many scholarly communication habits. These traditions may override the perceived “opportunities” afforded by new technologies, including those falling into the Web 2.0 category. As we have listened to our diverse informants, as well as followed closely the prognostications about the likely future of scholarly communication, we note that it is absolutely imperative to be precise about terms. That includes being clear about what is meant by “open access” publishing (i.e., using preprint or postprint servers for work published in prestigious outlets, versus publishing in new, untested open access journals, or the more casual individual posting of working papers, blogs, and other non-peer-reviewed work). Our work suggests that enthusiasm for technology development and adoption should not be conflated with the hard reality of tenure and promotion requirements (including the needs and goals of final archival publication) in highly competitive professional environments.

Despite its mention in the abstract, there's little about OA in the body of the report:

Electronic publishing should not be used as a proxy for open access publishing, as many commercial journals are accessed predominantly online....

[W]hen choosing where to publish, the stature and selectivity of the publication organ, as well as its appropriateness for targeted audiences, are of importance to all disciplines. We suspect that the desire for “wide readership” is an outgrowth of these criteria and not the primary motivation for selecting a publication venue (i.e., an open-access online publication without a prestigious imprimatur will not usually be chosen over a prestigious commercial publisher)....

We have heard little about a crisis in scholarly communication from our interviewees, with a few exceptions. For example, some biologists exhibit a pro-open access journal bias, are well aware of the serials “crisis,” and may refuse to publish in commercial journals (especially Elsevier)....

PS:  For background, also see the July 2006 report by most of the same authors, from the same Berkeley Center, Scholarly Communication: Academic Values and Sustainable Models.  In my blog excerpts, I highlighted the findings which documented widespread faculty ignorance and misunderstanding of OA.