My thoughts on revolutionising scholarly publishing in the digital age

On 14 February I am on a panel talking about the future of academic publishing for ALIA Information Online 2017. I doubt I’ll be able to say or explain all of this so I thought I’d post it all here with all the relevant links.

Essentially, I’m exploring the following key issues that need to be dealt with if we are ever to substantially improve, let alone revolutionise, academic publishing: speed (to access); improved reach (wider audience, not just the privileged); transparency of process; openness (for access); an expectation to use multi-media (sound, video, images); appropriate metrics; better facility and recognition for collaboration across disciplines; and interactivity.

And as a university librarian (i.e. not a scholar), I can’t stop myself from thinking that maybe we also need to decide whether scholarly publishing is really about the sharing of knowledge or just a competitive game where points are scored for individual and institutional reputations.

I must also thank some of my colleagues at UTS for their advice and suggestions, but what is written here is my personal view and it is not necessarily reflective of our institution.

Speed

Traffic on Harris St., Ultimo

I am aware of the frustration (particularly) of younger researchers with the time-lag in traditional publishing, especially when their research relates to topical issues – I’ve heard US academics talking about it in relation to issues like Black Lives Matter, and medical research, but climate change is another case in point. It really points to the need for changes around how we measure the quality of journals, especially accepting new types of peer review and editorial control.  F1000Research videos are good on this – scientists say that every day the research is delayed somebody dies. A further example is Aggregate – an online platform to support the production, peer review, publication and discussion of innovative scholarship in architectural history. Places Journal seeks to combine serious journalism and open scholarship in their online free platform. They focus on the environment, social inequity, climate change, resource scarcity, human migration, technology innovation and the erosion of the public sphere. They have many academic partners across North America, Europe and now at UTS.

Transparency of process 

Corners 5082

Some researchers are very frustrated by the agonising process of peer review (and know that could be addressed more easily in the digital age with ongoing peer review).  They also know that currently most peer review is NOT transparent (i.e. anonymous). See F1000 again – science should be transparent and open. In most cases, the effort put into peer review or editing is not currently recognised. This is not to suggest that we should throw the (quality) baby out with the bathwater, so an alternative is something like Publons which helps to link peer reviewers to publishers/editors and track/verify/showcase their efforts, leading to recognition for reviewing and editing.

F1000Research also say that in traditional publishing a lot of science remains unpublished, wasting the time and funding of those researchers, so they say publish everything, including dead ends – it stops other wasting years on the same nonsense.

Interactivity

DT Drinks crowd

The frustration of younger researchers with the lack of interactivity is something that could be solved by adding things like hypothesis.is – which we are now adding to our UTS ePRESS journals. Some of the examples cited above like Aggregate, F100Research and Places also seek to include more open debate, discussion and feedback well beyond the initial date of publication.

Better facility and recognition for collaboration across disciplines

Untitled

Some researchers are frustrated that traditional publishing is more “siloed” in an age when most people think that complex problems need to be solved by collaborative work across several disciplines. It is also useful to have the insights of people from different fields and from actual practitioners. So, they seem to be approaching Open Access publishers to start new trans/cross disciplinary journals and the like.

This often becomes a bit of a problem because journals and research publications are still measured by traditional bibliometrics and impact factors and they are classified by fields of research which tend to categorise journals via single subject areas or disciplines. Some close-to-home examples include our Gateways: International Journal of Community Research and Engagement and the relatively new journal Project Management and Research Practice.

Openness (for access)

oa-cc-by_logo

There are genuine frustrations surrounding scholarly publishing NOT being able to reach the objective of the research (e.g. the poor, the sick, the less privileged, the third world, etc.).  Around the time of the Zika virus, there was some discussion about this which basically demonstrated that open and immediate access to information is critical to public health: eg. http://www.nature.com/nature/journal/v533/n7604/full/533469b.html 

In Australia, almost all of the research done in universities is funded by the tax payer. I think the community deserves to have access to that research when published. Traditional scholarly publishers were not built to do this and now to meet funders’ mandates for open access they are levying fees on the authors. I think we need to dramatically rethink that model and to encourage more open access publishers within universities because it is now more feasible than ever in the digital age. Perhaps initiatives like the Open Library of Humanities (@OpenLibHums), UTS ePRESS, ANU Press, University of Adelaide Press, and Monash University Publishing,  are better indicators of more open publishing platforms.

Improved reach

Sydney Harbour Bridge 6

I think we could increase the impact and reach of the research by thinking outside current scholarly publishing methods and formats (e.g. articles and monographs), particularly for the humanities and social sciences. This was recently brought home to me thru my obsession with podcasts … I was listening to James Weirick on Military Justice and in introducing his new podcast in December he said he had been inspired by the three “pod-mothers” who have shown what podcasts can achieve. Here he was referring to the work of Julie Snyder, Sarah Koenig and Rabia Chaudry who did so much to bring the plights of Adnan Syed (Serial S1), Bowe Bergdahl (Serial S2) and Joey Watkins (Undisclosed S2) to many MILLIONS of podcast subscribers all over the world. Weirick (that’s what he likes to be called) said that if those three women had just written newspaper or journal articles, not so much would have happened, but now much has happened and a lot of people have donated funds or written letters of support for those three people. So, I think the mediums of knowledge exchange and storytelling need to be re-examined, especially in the digital age.  

I’ve noticed that quite a lot of law academics are now getting involved in those legal/justice podcasts, or being interviewed on them. There was a little bit of that here in Australia too with Dan Box’s Bowraville podcast, which probably had a good deal to do with the retrial of a suspect that is happening right now. Podcasts can go much deeper than just an article or even a segment on 60 Minutes and I think that element of weekly story telling in sound is a really powerful thing that academic publishing could benefit from.

Improved metrics

Growing Knowledge exhibition

Within improved reach we will need improved metrics that show the impact of the research. I think we need to start using services like Kudos to help research get read more widely and for the research to be applied where it is most relevant. Some large publishers are already using Kudos to extend their audiences. It can also help track the networks and improve metrics for impact, showing the reach of the research publications in the community and industry. It can help reveal what is essentially hidden research.

(See also collaboration across disciplines, above.)

An expectation to use multi-media

From Extended Stage by Ian Burns

I recently attended a Sydney Festival Big Thinking event at UTS in which a panel of Australian Indigenous people spoke about different ways of knowing, preserving and exchanging knowledge (customs, dance, art, storytelling, languages, objects, places designed to encourage this, etc). I think the contemporary academic publishing world is still stuck in the age of the printing press (via what are essentially still pretty strictly limited textual documents in monograph or article form – on the bloody internet!).

It is now so much easier and there is an expectation for better story telling and different media to be used. For me, it is almost like we are re-learning lessons lost from the age before Gutenberg when illuminated manuscripts contained, preserved (very well) and shared songs, art, music, traditions, laws, dance, science, knowledge, commentary and stories. Is this not what we are currently struggling with in the form of “new” scholarly multi-media formats? I think a lot of social sciences and humanities “knowledge” needs non-textual forms for it to be shared and preserved, yet scholarly publishers seem not very interested in this kind of thing. Do we have something or maybe a lot to learn from the traditional owners of this land? 

Kapi Warku

The panel of elders and others at the Sydney Festival event also mentioned that since Australia was first settled and claimed by the British a little over 200 years ago, we’ve managed to create major problems with the soil, the forests, the waters and the general civilisation of the continent.  Indigenous Australians seemed to have managed quite well for about 50,000 years before we arrived – so they must have had ways of sharing that knowledge and known how to live more gently and cooperatively in this environment, yet this was all done without books and journals.  So, are traditional monograph and journal models such a great way of sharing and publishing knowledge or just more convenient forms we can point to, measure and count?

Open data

11-808: Visualising the Library's Retrieval System (screen) 3

I guess someone should at least raise the issue of open data. Major publishers are now “buying” this up and major researcher funders have been slower to react, partly because it is harder for us to meet such a mandate for open data and partly because the necessary infrastructure isn’t there yet. The longer we leave it, however, the harder it will be to catch up. There must be some initiative to start attaching open data to research outputs. The data is really important. Data is not less valuable than conclusions and discussions. It should be available to others. Falsification of open data would be easier to detect.

A somewhat related matter is the question of data and text mining: yet another issue we need to look at. Most publishers have strict controls over text mining their published content and the mechanisms to get permission to do so are clunky. The Right to Read is the Right to Mine campaign that grew out of EU copyright reviews and reform is a useful reference here: http://www.leru.org/index.php/public/news/the-right-to-read-is-the-right-to-mine/ 

Conclusion

I don’t think there is an easy answer to this question and I will not even try to put a timeline on it nor estimate a rate of success against any of these issues. I do think, however, that attitudes towards and expectations of academic research publishing are changing. People are now more aware of new possibilities in the digital age, they expect immediate access to everything, everywhere and they will not want to pay for it if it is publicly funded. Many other industries have been dramatically changed or completely reinvented because of similar attitudes and expectations. Eventually scholarly publishing will change too.

Note: All images used above are mine except the Open Access diagram and they are all covered by CC licenses.

Rectify S4, Undisclosed S2 and Serial S1: Parallels

Ghosts in the Surf 1
I’ve been watching the beautiful TV series Rectify for four seasons now. In Australia it has been programmed late at night on our Special Broadcasting Service (SBS). SBS seems to have extraordinarily good taste in selecting foreign drama series, but they’re not promoted or scheduled that well so many people seem to have no idea about the late-night gems they are missing on this free-to-air service. Fortunately, many such series can also be viewed via SBS On Demand, their wonderful free streaming service.

I’ve really enjoyed Rectify. It progresses at a gentle pace that is very well supported by a strong cast, great acting and writing, brave direction and superb music. The pacing allows us to see the multiple dimensions of the impact of criminal convictions and to see how so many things can change with time. The lack of special effects makes it very very different from most US TV series. I’m not, however, trying to present a review of the series here. Instead I want to just list a series of observations that dawned on me during the wonderful finale to Series 4.

While watching this episode I kept thinking of the many parallels between Rectify and at least two of the crime podcasts I posted about here True Crime Podcasts: Serial S1 (about Adnan Syed and the murder of Hae Min Lee) and Undisclosed S2 (about Joey Watkins and the killing of Isaac Dawkins). Through its key character Daniel and his family, I think that Rectify effectively tells many of the stories about the convictions of both Adnan and Joey that have been covered in so much detail in these podcasts. So here are the parallels that I’ve observed:

  • The many people who become “victims” in these cases and how their own lives are changed (adversely).
  • The sheer incompetence and bias of so many legal authorities and office holders.
  • The fact that “beliefs” can actually change over time as truths are revealed. People can also forgive.
  • The conspiracies of the guilty and the lying of so-called “witnesses”.
  • The eventual acceptance of their fate (if not their guilt) by the convicted and sometimes by their families. In Rectify, Daniel portrays superbly what I’ve gleaned of both Adnan’s and Joey’s attitude from the two podcasts.
  • The patience and determination of the convicted, their families and their legal support teams. The pace of real justice and legal change (like retrials) is very slow.
  • The loyalty and belief in innocence of the families of the convicted and some of their friends.
  • The bitterness of those wedded to their lies or twisted by their own guilt. Is there actually some Karma in this world?
  • The cautious approach to hope by the convicted and their families.

Finally, I would like to add my hope that if Adnan and Joey are innocent, their convictions can be overturned as soon as possible.

True Crime Podcasts

I started again with podcasts because my music collection was starting to bore me and I walk just about everywhere listening to either an iPod or something on my phone. I bought a new Alfa recently and my phone automatically connects via Bluetooth, so I try to keep the latest podcasts ready to go for driving too.

I blame Sarah Koenig and Serial (see below). I just could not get enough of it and I’ve enjoyed both seasons released to date. I’m slightly obsessive-compulsive, so after the second season of Serial I needed to find all the podcasts about Serial and that led me to many other true crime podcasts of a similar ilk.

And so dear reader, here is a listing of those I’d recommend for you. Just you, not that dull bloke sitting behind you in a blue shirt. But first, an unrelated image:
Super Moon 3

These podcasts are all available in iTunes:

Criminal – one of the major crime podcasts that really got it all going and set a bench-mark in production quality. It is hosted by Phoebe Judge and like her colleagues, she has a background in public radio. This podcast tells stories of “people who’ve done wrong, been wronged or gotten caught somewhere in the middle”. I’m really enjoying it and they now have over 50 episodes online.

Up and Vanished – I’m really enjoying this podcast by young documentary film maker Payne Lindsey. The sound editing is superb and I really enjoy his voice. Payne investigates the unsolved disappearance of Tara Grinstead 11 years ago in a small town in Georgia.

… These Are Their Stories: The Law and Order Podcast – this is devoted to that long running TV series and all its spin-offs – Law & Order. It is presented by Rebecca and Kevin from Crime Writers On and they usually have a special guest for each episode which focuses on an episode of either L&A “original recipe” or one of the franchise varieties, like SVU. All of the episodes I’ve listened to so far have been pretty funny and they deal with all kinds of matters like Lenny Briscoe’s best wise-cracks or Olivia’s acting, make-up or hair styles or the various actors that have been featured as guest stars or long running characters. Very entertaining.

Undisclosed – this one can get very detailed and might be best left until you’ve listened to a few of the others, including Serial as that is what inspired this podcast. It investigates wrongful convictions and the US criminal justice system, sometimes finding new evidence that did not make it to court. In Season 1, the focus was on Adnan Syed from Serial Season 1. In Season 2, which I am just starting now, they look into the conviction of Joey Watkins who is serving a life sentence for the killing of Isaac Dawkins in 2000. This case came to them from the Georgia Innocence Project. His conviction does seem to be unfair on the face of it.

Accused – this is a superb podcast on the unsolved killing of Elizabeth Andes in her Ohio apartment in 1978. Police quickly focus their attention on her boyfriend Robert Young and he was coerced into a confession by local police, but he was acquitted at two successive trials, so did they ignore critically important evidence and also ignore other suspects?

Offshore – presented by reporter Jessica Terrell this is another well-produced and thoughtful podcast that investigates injustice and exposes racial tensions in the underbelly of Hawaii. It tells of the tragic killing of Kollin Elderts by off-duty State Department agent Christopher Deedy and also a killing that happened 80 years earlier when another native Hawaiian, Joseph Kahahawai was brutally murdered by a Navy officer, Lt. Thomas Massie and his eccentric mother-in-law.

SBS True Crime Stories (season Three) – this series was inspired by the Deep Water series including a drama, documentary and online investigation of a series of gay-hate murders in and around Sydney in the late 1980s and 1990s. The podcast focuses on Adelaide’s gay-hate murders that stretch back to the 1970s. It is a very disturbing series.

In The Dark – Most of the podcasts in this listing are about unsolved crimes or wrongful convictions. This podcast was to be about an unsolved child abduction, but just before they started the podcast the abductor and murderer turned himself in and confessed that he was guilty of this crime. So the presenter, Madeleine Baran instead focuses on how law enforcement authorities mishandled this case and how that failure in part led to national anxiety about stranger-danger and sex-offender registries. Really well produced and the tragic tale gets you in on so many levels and from very different perspectives – victims, victims’  families, offenders who have done their time, offenders who are never caught, and law enforcement.

Serial – This is the one that started it all for me. It is hosted by the wonderfully unique Sarah Koenig and produced by Sarah and Julie Snyder. It is so good that this podcast has many podcasts about it (such as Crime Writers On and Undisclosed) and its own thread on Reddit. The first series was about the murder of a young woman, Hae Min Lee in Baltimore by her boyfriend, Adnan Syed, who has been in prison ever since and who has just had his conviction vacated as a result of this podcast. The second series was about a US serviceman, Bowe Bergdahl who wandered off-base in Afghanistan only to be captured by the Taliban and held prisoner in terrible conditions for several years. He was eventually released in exchange for five Guantanamo Bay detainees, but now faces military charges for desertion and possibly treason. A third series in in the works now. It is one of the most downloaded podcasts ever.

Crime Writers On … – These guys started doing a podcast on the Serial podcast, but now they cover other journalism, crime and crime writing, pop culture (hit shows like The Night Of, Game of Thrones and Stranger Things) and just general junk. They are pretty funny and also review other podcasts, so through them I was encouraged to listen to things like Accused, In The Dark, Phoebe’s Fall, Offshore and Up and Vanished.

Phoebe’s Fall – This is another sad and very brutal tale that I didn’t really want to get hooked on at first. It is well presented and produced and  there is something just not right about the circumstances of her death: managing to get herself into a high-rise garbage chute and then plunge 40 metres, feet first down the chute before progressing through the compactor and then bleeding out.

Bowraville – Dan Box from The Australian newspaper investigates the unsolved murders of three children all killed within five months and all living on the same street. Very good journalism and well produced sound. Didn’t want to get hooked but I did and very quickly.

My sincere thanks to all the people making all these podcasts.

Books, eBooks and Preserving Public Knowledge

Here is a link to a recent radio interview that I did with 2ser 107.3 on a range of topics concerning libraries. At nine minutes it is not that long and the wonderful producer Jake Morcom has edited out all of my incoherent mumblings and ramblings.

http://www.2ser.com/component/k2/item/25657-books-vs-ebooks-making-libraries-more-sustainable 

And here is a totally irrelevant image that I took on the weekend, just because I can:

Mess

“The Inevitable” by Kevin Kelly (and what it means for libraries)

I recently read The Inevitable by Kevin Kelly and was taken by his description of the technological forces busy shaping our future. I’ve given a couple of talks based on what I got out of this book and what some of these forces mean for libraries. Below are the slides I used in those talks (you’ll need to download from the pdf link below the image). I’ll progressively add some notes explaining my points.

The Inevitable.png

the-inevitable-pdf

1. Becoming

  • Get used to constant change
  • Get used to our users or clients creating and making their own things
  • Big pointer to personalisation and anticipating user needs – but what are we doing about that in libraries – discovery & services?
  • Stop waiting for perfect before releasing new services – people understand that now.
  • Do we even notice what has happened when the changes are incremental. Can we do some of that ourselves?

2. Cognifying

  • In an age of robots and self-driving cars, what work will matter for us? How do we add real value?
  • There are more pointers here to providing deeper, richer and more personalised services for our clients.

3. Flowing

  • We need to stop relying on static collection growth and start providing just-in-time services and understand subscriptions better.
  • I think UTS ePRESS has already started experimenting with the fluidity of the page, edition, container and format, but maybe we can go even further with things like open peer-review, constant improvement, broader collaboration?
  • Maybe understanding how the stages of flowing impact on all media (towards being more open) is a new form of digital literacy.

4. Screening

  • Can we look at our libraries as a platform for cultural life within our communities and how do we do that effectively – finding more audiences and giving them a deeper, improved understanding with context for knowledge?

5. Accessing

  • Using without owning is a concept that actually comes from libraries, but maybe now it is being pushed even further through platform synergy. I guess with things like ILL and Bonus+ we are already there too, but perhaps these things can be massively improved and decentralised even further using new technologies and concepts – shared collections, single platform LMS, rethinking “membership”?

6. Sharing

  • I guess this relates heavily to #5 for libraries as it talks about more collaboration and then extreme decentralisation – maybe we need to get our act together and start thinking more imaginatively about how we do that.
  • Understanding how the “crowd” works and how we can participate in some of those crowd activities may well be increasingly important. Maybe we even become a bit of a hub for some crowd activities or movements?

7. Filtering

  • Again he talks about the importance of harnessing personalisation to anticipate and meet user needs. I don’t think we have done a great deal yet in libraries to match services offered like those of Netflix and Amazon. We could and we should.
  • It also relates to the real experiences we offer our users in library spaces – with real people. This is a layer that will be increasingly appreciated in an age where screening is convenient, but where people still want face-to-face services and physical experiences. I think that the programs we offer in our spaces (training, assistance and curations) need to go much further than what can be gained from page or screen.

8. Remixing

  • This relates to us in a couple of ways – firstly helping others to understand the complex legal issues and secondly in assisting people to safely use and remix different types of media for all kinds of reasons. I see this as part of the new need for libraries to provide  assistance and training in digital literacies (not just information literacies).

9. Interacting

  • Maybe there is something for us to learn from here in terms of maximising engagement with our programs (we’ve already started doing that at UTS Library with our orientation programs) and in terms of engaging more openly with games as they for part of contemporary culture and literacies.
  • The other interesting aspect is the research showing that immersion into VR worlds is helping some people to re-establish neural pathways and connections after injury, so perhaps we need to throw out those awful; static personas and understand that our audiences will increasingly have more fluid identities?

10. Tracking

  • This seems inevitable already, so again I think we need to be aware of what is happening so that we can help people understand some of the benefits and also how to protect their privacy.
  • We are the kings of metadata and as there is more data becoming available every day perhaps where we come in is giving that data context through reliable metadata.

11. Questioning

  • We must understand that questions are much more powerful than answers and maybe we start to harness them and learn how to use them in libraries? Sure we need to help people find and use data as well, but we also need to see that so many more things are possible now through constant questioning – like why not or how can we?

12. Beginning

  • There is even more here pointing to massive scale convergence, but we still need to help people negotiate some of the challenges and I think also become advocates for the changes needed to deliver the full potential pf this brave new world.

Sleepfalling

New music from my best friend and ex-partner Ken Spiteri. My fave is Track 2 He Goes – it is instantly likeable, but the whole album is really well made. Both the music and lyrics are great!