What is the Future of Scholarly Communications for the Arts & Humanities?

June 9, 2016

The aim of this brief is to identify emerging themes, technological drivers, and social practices that shape the future of scholarly communications in the arts and humanities. It consists of a qualitative analysis of 414 open-ended responses to the question, “What do you think will be the most important development in scholarly communication in the coming years?”

We envision our audience using these categories to foster their own thinking about the future, as well as that of their colleagues, students, and supervisors. For many readers, few of the following trends will be a surprise; many of these patterns have been incubating for a decade or more. The role of this article is to provide some basic clarity around the current identity, shape, and distribution of these trends.

Each of the categorized themes represents a cluster of responses. Each cluster was given a common name and described to highlight salient patterns. The listed themes are not mutually exclusive, and most (if not all) of the themes can be creatively recombined with others to produce variations on these patterns.

Response counts by theme

Theme Number of Responses
Open Access 143
Better Collaborative Tools 35
New Funding & Publishing Models 33
Unsure 33
Online Publishing 27
Communities of Practice 17
Better Peer Review 16
End-to-End Interoperable Toolsets 15
Meaning-Making, Filtering, and Information Overload 11
Search and Indexing 11
Alternative Metrics & Incentives 9
Big Data, Machine Learning, Artificial Intelligence, and Analytics 9
Fair Use & Copyright 8
Libraries as Platform 8
Social Media 8
Article-level Publishing, Sharing, and Impact 7
Repository Aggregation 7
Archival Publishing Formats for New Forms and Multimedia 5
Public Engagement 4
Traditional Formats 4
Reproducibility 2
The Undiscovered Future 1
Visualization 1
Total 414

The Shift to Online Publishing from Traditional Formats
The future of scholarship in the arts and humanities is reflected in the shift from physical journals, monographs, books, and other media to more online, digital modes of scholarly publication. This appears to encompass all forms of scholarship, signaling the continued embedding of the internet into academic practices. An important tension will continue to be the role of physical objects versus digital files. Books and objects still have meaning and value, and they serve many important functions in the daily lives of scholars and practitioners. However, online publishing is highly valued for its flexible role in communication and dissemination, as well as the ease and reduced cost of many tasks. New Publishing and Funding Models and Better Peer Review are tightly coupled to this shift.

New Publishing and Funding Models
Open Access | Fair Use and Copyright | Libraries as Platform | Repository Aggregation
One-third of all responses cited Open Access as the most important development in the coming years. Responses about Open Access associated it with widespread availability of scholarly works, access to knowledge resources and networks, data, and tools for participation in the knowledge economy. New publishing and funding models appear to play a critical role in either limiting or advancing the adoption of Open Access values, and university libraries are seen as a key arbiter and platform for the future. New models included aggregation or merging of repositories, more media-driven formats, Do-It-Yourself publishing, crossover publications, evolving fair-use and copyright norms, and more informal (in addition to formal) modes of publishing. In many of the responses, the call for Open Access is driven by the perceived cartel of the academic publishing businesses and the accompanying costs of academic journal and knowledge access.

Better Peer Review
Alternative Metrics & Incentives | Article-Level Publishing, Sharing & Impact
The call for better systems of peer review can be seen as a call to widen and adjust the norms of participation in the academic and scholarly communication enterprise, but maintaining quality remains a concern. Important shifts in peer review include more widespread sharing of articles and citations, greater transparency in the process, faster turnaround, better feedback, revision and version control, alternative metrics and measures of impact, realignment of peer review incentives, targeted communities of peers, new standards for evaluation, and an “unbundling” of journals, volumes, and issues in favor of the article as the primary trade-space of scholarly impact and community engagement.

Collaborative Communities
Better Collaborative Tools | Communities of Practice | Social Media
Whether referencing a trend already in progress or pointing out a new one, respondents felt that better tools were needed to reshape collaborative practices across boundaries of all kinds. The work is happening theory and practice and across disciplines, geography, and institutions. Specific needs pointed to manuscript editing, channeling crowdsourced knowledge, sharing of research in progress, working with data for real-time analysis, expanded mobility, and seamless video, chat, and mail communications. These needs point to central role that communities of practice, learning networks, and conferences play in scholarly communications, whether experienced online or in person. Social media is an agent of that work and a vector for reaching new audiences and disseminating research. End-to-End Interoperable Toolsets are a both a catalyst and outcome.

End-to-End Interoperable Toolsets
Big Data, Machine Learning, Artificial Intelligence, and Analytics | Archival Publishing Formats for New Forms and Multimedia | Reproducibility
Along with the desire for Better Collaborative Tools, respondents shared the desire for practice-driven toolsets to bring coherent workflows into focus across the complete research lifecycle – from idea inception to project assessment. Some of the features driving this interoperability are the ability to host multiple formats, linked data, archiving and preservation, faithful authentication across tools, consolidation of services, and the ability to work across diverse platforms. With domain knowledge guiding the deployment of emerging technologies like big data, analytics, machine learning, language translation, and artificial intelligence, enhanced domain knowledge is seen as an outcome.

Searching and Sensemaking
Search and Indexing | Meaning-Making, Filtering, and Information Overload | Visualization
Searching for and making sense of information across diverse knowledge networks is a core capability for the future of scholarly communication. Relevance and information overload drive this concern, coupled with the ability of practitioners to meaningfully filter and reduce the complexity of that information. Emerging areas include information-vetting, quality indicators for results and tools, complex knowledge visualization and discoverability, linked data, federated knowledge hubs, and subject ontologies for research. Managing generational knowledge sharing, technological learning curves, and the adoption rate of old and new capabilities is likely to be fundamental.

Scholarship, Communication, and the Future
Uncertainty | Public Engagement | The Undiscovered Future
A small proportion of respondents directly communicated their uncertainty. While the data are too sparse to make broad assumptions about the role that uncertainty plays in shaping ongoing and future practices, there does seem to be a need for active engagement around the future of academic and scholarly practices in the arts and humanities, in only because many of the values listed are contested in some form or another. Dissemination of research outcomes and accessible scholarship were pervasive themes throughout. A single respondent pointed out that the most important development in scholarly communication is yet to be discovered.
Data Sample and Distribution
Taken together, these patterns paint an impression of the current scholarly communications landscape according the survey respondents. Care should be taken in interpreting these results, as they may not be wholly representative. A more likely interpretation is that responses represent so-called “early adopters”. These are highly engaged practitioners who readily adopt new practices and technologies.
The entire survey was sampled to include responses only from the United States and who had at least one discipline listed as the Arts & Humanities. 41% of the sample listed other disciplines in addition to arts & humanities. From a total of 423 responses, 414 open-ended responses were used, with 9 dropped from the dataset for unclear language.

Downloaded the sampled data in tab-delimited format here: https://umich.box.com/s/yga6pi63m651hihr7dlqugvyhtn6oh7e

Distribution of responses by role

Professor / Associate professor / Assistant professor 187
Librarian 106
Other 52
PhD student 23
Bachelor/Master student 19
Postdoc 12
Publisher 10
Industry / Government 5

From which year dates your first scholarly publication?

1991-2000 80
2001-2005 51
2006-2010 72
2011-2016 68
before 1991 71
I haven’t published (yet) 68

Data Background and Methodology
The data were collected as part of the global 2015-2016 survey on innovations in scholarly communication. The motivation and methods of the survey are (briefly) described as follows:

“Many new websites and online tools have come into existence to support
scholarly communication in all phases of the research workflow. To what extent
researchers are using these and more traditional tools has been largely
unknown. This 2015-2016 survey aimed to fill that gap. Its results may help
decision making by stakeholders supporting researchers and may also help
researchers wishing to reflect on their own online workflows. In addition,
information on tools usage can inform studies of changing research workflows.
The online survey employed an open, non-probability sample. A largely
self-selected group of 20663 researchers, librarians, editors, publishers and
other groups involved in research took the survey, which was available in seven
languages. The survey was open from May 10, 2015 to February 10, 2016. It
captured information on tool usage for 17 research activities, stance towards
open access and open science, and expectations of the most important
development in scholarly communication. Respondents’ demographics
included research roles, country of affiliation, research discipline and year of
first publication.”

A full description of data collection, survey response and methodology is in a data publication in F1000 Research:
Kramer, Bianca & Jeroen Bosman (2016) Innovations in scholarly communication – global survey on research tool usage. F1000 Research. DOI:10.12688/f1000research.8414.1 http://f1000research.com/articles/5-692/v1
Innovations in Scholarly Communication

Research Reports from the Mellon Foundation on the role of the arts and humanities in higher education, emerging technologies, and other topics: https://mellon.org/resources/research-reports/

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