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Issues in Science and Technology Librarianship
Fall 2009

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[Board accepted]

A Season of Change: How Science Librarians Can Remain Relevant with Open Access and Scholarly Communications Initiatives

Elizabeth Brown
Scholarly Communications and Library Grants Officer
Chemistry, Physics, Mathematics, Materials Science Librarian
Binghamton University Libraries
Binghamton, New York

Copyright 2009, Elizabeth Brown. Used with permission.

The current landscape of scholarly communications is an environment in metamorphosis. A variety of recent activities have been built upon established models of scholarship to create a complex mixture of freely available and commercial resources for scholars. Universities and national research funding groups have issued Gold OA policies (Suber 2007) for faculty to support Open Access and make research more widely available. Commercial and society publishers have created Open Access publishing options for journal articles. Scientists and researchers have also begun to explore funding models for discipline-based research output such as the SCOAP3 (Sponsoring Consortium for Open Access Publishing in Particle Physics) funding and distribution model proposed by the high energy physics research community. The recently enacted NIH Public Access Policy has created a mandate for scientists to deposit research output into PubMedCentral. The growth of Wikipedia and other social networking sites as a potential research tool is beginning to be exploited with applications such as Chemspider, Science Commons, and Open NoteBook Science. Growing concerns about intellectual property rights and the increased sharing of results and research data has resulted in the growth of Creative Commons licensing for creative works. There are clearly many intersecting issues and concerns that directly affect today's scientific researchers and scholars.

These recent developments have built upon earlier efforts by the scientific community to collectively share scholarship and creative activities., the earliest article preprint server, is now close to 20 years old and has established the model for discipline-based sharing of article preprints. Additional preprint collections in the sciences and social sciences have been developed. Citation indexes, which began with Science Citation Index developed by Eugene Garfield, are being interpreted in new ways, most notably by the implementation of several tools expanding upon this concept. The author h-index developed by J.E. Hirsch at the University of California, San Diego, article level citation metrics recently begun at the Public Library of Science (PLoS), and the journal mapping and influence tool Eigenfactor are examples of these new tools for citation analysis. These tools measure the impact of an author's work, individual articles, and relationships between interconnected disciplines. Web search engines are incorporating more sophisticated analysis and display tools to better present search results and replicate charts, data, and graphs from print reference tools. Examples of these tools include WolframAlpha, {Bing}, and KartOO. Personal communication tools such as e-mail are being supplemented and in some cases replaced by instant messaging, cell phone texting, and social networks such as Twitter, FriendFeed, Facebook and LinkedIn.

Issues Today

Clearly the growth of new publishing models such as Open Access, and intellectual property issues such as Creative Commons licensing have implications for the practice of science librarianship. A snapshot of science collections in 2009 demonstrates the impact of these initiatives:

Issues Tomorrow

What might happen in the future? While it is difficult to predict, some observations based on recent developments indicate that interest in the curation of locally produced research data and support for the research process may become an area of focus. The library is a natural location to base these types of activities. Interoperability and development of standards to share data and library collections will become increasingly important. Work has already begun developing a variety of standards. Some of these include:

Work will continue as more standards are identified to connect repositories, databases and data sets. Research reporting mandates similar to the NIH Public Access Policy may come from additional funding agencies such as the NSF, who recently stated a commitment to support greater sharing of scholarly output, research data, and source codes generated from funded research projects. Additional mandates may result in partnerships to share reporting duties with other campus groups such as the library and research support offices. Early career scholars may also establish and expand existing personal social networking channels to facilitate online sharing of research and data and create new norms of behavior for their disciplines. Publishing relationships have begun to change, with libraries and university presses beginning to merge operations to create new campus partnerships (Swanson 2009). This trend could continue with the economy putting pressure on universities to consolidate similar operations.

How can science librarians remain relevant in the face of these fundamental changes? Our current season of change is likely to last for some time, as the current economic situation seems to be accelerating changes in scholarly communications. The liaison role can be a powerful tool to reach academic faculty members. Continue with the traditional roles of the position: collections building, instruction activities, and reference service. Discuss new developments in the context of liaison activities and identify how a new policy or model can support peer review. Peer review is the cornerstone of scientific research and researchers will not support a journal or price model that doesn't support this practice. Reassure faculty that Open Access in many cases does incorporate the same peer review process as a subscription journal, and show them how they can determine this for their publications. Attend departmental events such as seminars and campus instructional events to interact more closely with your users. Consider all of the applications and tools your patrons use in their work, such as course reserves, teaching tools, social networking sites, and software. These tools will influence how patrons can best incorporate scholarly communications into their work. Identify a champion of new practices or an influential researcher who has strong ties to the library. Collaborating with one person of influence can encourage future projects with others. Develop a system for current awareness and emerging technologies, keeping in mind it will require effort to sustain and adjust as new tools are created. Existing social networks such as Twitter and Friendfeed are useful to learn about new technology developments. Newer networks are continually emerging, like Mendeley and Google Wave, which as of this writing are in the beta or preview stage.

The current rate of change suggests scholarly communications issues such as new publication models and technology to connect library and research tools is expected to continue into the foreseeable future. As models evolve, standards develop, and scientists evolve in their communication patterns, we librarians will need to embrace transitional tools and be prepared to continuously modify or discard applications as necessary. Monitoring and adjusting to this changing landscape can be challenging. Keep in mind that scientific research is also evolving quickly, and our users are also experiencing this change in their professional careers, although in different forms and at a different pace. Breakthroughs in reaching faculty and programs can occur at any time. Remaining relevant is a process, not a destination.


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