NASIG 2012: Is the Journal Dead? Possible Futures for Serial Scholarship

Speaker: Rick Anderson, University of Utah

He started with an anecdote about a picture of his dog that he thought made her look like Jean Paul Sartre. He then went to find a picture of him on Google, and had absolutely no doubt he’d not only find one quickly, but that he would find one with the same expression. In a world where he can find that picture in less than a minute makes it absurd for us to think we can keep doing serial scholarship in the way we have always done it.

The latest version of Siri can identify a reference-type question and go to Wolfram-Alpha to find the answer. How far away are we from this kind of thing doing very specific article identification and retrieval?

When budgets are falling or flat, there is a rising impatience with waste in libraries. One of the most egregious waste is that we have now and always bought stuff that nobody wants, and we still hold onto those things.

Market saturation is becoming an increasing issue as more and more articles are being submitted, and rejecting them or publishing them costs more money. A landslide of data is being created, with more coming every year. Open access mandates (whether seriously enforced or not) are forcing authors to think about copyright, putting pressure on the existing scholarly communications structure.

The Google books case, the Hathi Trust case, and the Georgia State ruling will all have impacts on copyright law and the traditional model of scholarly communication. The ground is soft — we can make changes now that may not have been possible 5 years ago, and may not be possible 2 years from now. Moving documents from print to digital is not a revolutionary change, but moving from a non-networked to a networked environment is. Distribution is at the heart of publishing, and is obviated if everyone has access to a document in a central location.

Before iTunes and the internet, we had to hope that the record store would carry the music we were interested in. Now, we can access any music from anywhere, and that’s the kind of thing that is happening to scholarly communications.

The environment is changing. The Digital Public Library of America and Google Books are changing the conversation. Patron-driven acquisitions and print on demand are only possible because of the networked environment. As we move towards this granular collecting, the whole dynamic of library collections is going to change.

This brings up some serious questions about the Big Deal and the Medium Deal. Anderson calls the Medium Deal individual title subscriptions, where you buy a bunch of articles you don’t need in order to ensure that you get them at a better price per download.

Anderson believes that there is little likelihood that open access is going to become the main publishing of scholarly communications in the foreseeable future, but it is going to become an increasing niche in the marketplace.

What does the journal do for us that is still necessary? What problem is solved for us by each element of the article citation? Volume, issue, and page number are not really necessary in the networked age. Our students don’t necessarily think about journals, they think about sources. The journal matters as a branding mechanism for articles, and gives us an idea of the reliability of the article. It matters who the author is. It matters when it was published. The article title tells us what the article is about, and the journal title lends that authority. But, the journal and issue don’t really tell you anything, and has more to do with the economics of print distribution. Finally the DOI matters, so you can retrieve it. So, why is the publisher missing? Because it doesn’t matter for identifying or retrieving or selecting the article.

There really is no such thing as “serials” scholarship. There are articles, but they aren’t serials. They may be in journals or a collection/server/repository. Typically there isn’t anything serial about a book, a review, a report, but… blog postings might be serial. What’s really interesting are the new categories of publication, such as data sets (as by-products of research or as an intentional product) and book+ (ongoing updated monographic publications, or monographs that morph into databases).

A database (or article or book) can be a “flow site,” such as Peggy Battin’s The Ethics of Suicide book, which she’s been working on for a decade. It will be published as both a book and as a website with ever growing content/data. It’s no longer a static thing, and gives us the benefit of currency with a cost of stability. How do you quote it? What is the version of record?

The people we serve have access to far more content than ever before, and they are more able to access it outside of the services we provide. So how do we stay relevant in this changing environment?

Definitions will get fuzzier, not clearer. This will be a tremendous boon to researchers. What emerges will be cool, exciting, incredibly useful and productive, and hard to manage. If we try to force our traditional methods of control onto the emerging models of scholarship, we will not only frustrate ourselves, but also our scholars. It is our job to internalize complexity so that we are the ones experiencing it so that our users don’t have to.