SCI 9 Responses to Questionnaire
This is a summary of responses to the pre-Institute questionnaire prepared for SCI 9, “New-Model Scholarly Communication: Road Map for Change.” All direct quotes are in italics.
PDF version: SCI9 Questionnaire Responses
SCI participants reported a wide spectrum of new information technology adoption and practice in the humanities, with three significant clusters of actors.
While all disciplines routinely use technologies such as online search, email, and word-processing—so much so that they are never remarked—there are some disciplines that report being relatively untouched by other new technology practices. Art history is at one extreme of the continuum. “Research and authoring practices in art history have simply not changed (yet) in significant ways in response to new information technologies.”
Respondents who identify themselves as digital humanists occupy the other end of the continuum. They report heavy reliance on digital resources for research and analysis and on social media for directing attention to ideas, resources, and influential conversations. Disciplines in-between present a more nuanced—at times quite spotty or localized—variety of practices. They are shaped as much by individual areas of research within a given discipline or the ready availability of digital resources (including software, hardware, collections, and expert practitioners). In cinema and media studies, for example, communication technology, digital media, and their cultures constitute the primary research subject. The field has access to a greater sample size and data for both material and born-digital content; however, because of copyright and other issues this does not equate to greater use of these sources in published work.
Challenges: unevenness of adoption within and across disciplines; idiosyncratic development of practices; lack of access to expertise and expert communities.
Technologies & communities of practice
Participants who use visualization, geospatial technologies, or text mining in fields as diverse as history and literary studies report heavy reliance on technology for research and analysis. Among digital humanists, use of technology for all aspects of scholarly production penetrates deeply into practice and theory, subject and methodology.
More significantly, the use of social media—especially Twitter—as rapid-response communication channels plays a strong role in constituting communities of discourse and practice. Their use results in an acceleration of spirited and deep adoption of digital practices “to share knowledge, interpretations, and insights about events unfolding more or less in real time.” Twitter is used for disseminating ideas, spotting and following emerging trends, sharing pointers, and directing attention. While social media end up proliferating information and audiences, they can also be deployed as a filter for scholarly attention. “…People who are most effective at finding, contextualizing, and spreading what amount to good ‘links’” have great impact on the near-term direction of scholarly discourses and production.
Challenges: keeping up with platform changes and new venues for conversations; keeping up with and contributing to the conversations themselves.
An increasing number of institutions are standing up technical and personnel capacity for humanities in venues such as humanities center with digital infrastructure, digital commons, digital laboratories, or departmental research centers. Respondents with access to such infrastructure reflected on their good fortune and then cited the need for more resources. They expressed great confidence in the value of such infrastructure for faculty and students. Those at institutions without such capacity noted that the lack severely hampered their work, curtailed their aspirations, and made them feel isolated both from their on-campus colleagues who do not share such aspirations and from like-minded colleagues at other institutions.
Challenges: access to infrastructure and expertise.
Scholarly communication and dissemination
No one cited major changes in research outcomes as a result of these practices. On the contrary, everyone who addressed this question agreed:
“Most research using new tools seems to pose not radically new questions, but different versions of the same questions.”
“…research teams are using new technologies, but simply to replace older forms of communication…”
“..the majority of scholars are still using technology as a means to facilitate more traditional forms of scholarly investigation and communication/publication.”
The learning and staying-current curves for using technology-intensive applications are onerous. The opportunity and need to work collaboratively in teams (of researchers, designers, librarians, technologists, programmers, and so on) are exciting but also resource- and time-intensive. The difficulties of ensuring persistence of research outcomes present the most formidable challenges for many. The effort involved in collaborations results in great rewards and powerful lessons, but not, in the view of many, in sustainable scholarship.
Publishers report continuing to see manuscripts submissions first at the end of an essentially print-model authoring process. One scholar notes: “Many of us compose with a linear sensibility, yet are aware that our readers are approaching the material with little intention of reading from beginning to end.”
Review and assessment
For digital scholarship aimed primarily at peer audiences—which means almost all digital work—authors and disseminators understand the need to demonstrate its value. That comprehends value perceived within the consensus-driven world of scholarship, and value to the larger public expected to support this work and higher education in general. There is no shared understanding of what the value of “multimodal scholarship” is, what the markers of excellence are, and certainly no consensus on metrics of excellence. Demonstrating public value is moot when there are insufficient data on use and reuse among “the public,” a term that is much used and seldom defined.
One component necessary for peer evaluation of digital scholarship is agreement about the forms and uses of genres beyond the monograph and article. What they are appropriate for? What constitutes their scholarly merit? What is the metric of excellence? No one reported any such clarity emerging around genres that originate in digital form, even digital derivatives of “traditional” genres such as the long-form argument modeled after a monograph, or short-from arguments modeled on the journal article. We want both long and short forms, but rethought, redesigned, and re-theorized in born-digital mode.
“Many in [my] field believe wiki, web-based scholarship is easy to produce…[But] digitally produced scholarship requires attending to new models of persistence, reliability, etc.”
“There are huge unsolved problem around revision cycles for digital work.”
Awareness of new audiences is driving examination of received practices. Is the audience for long-form is going away? If so, why, and how should scholarship respond to this change? Both scholarly audiences and the public live in the “always on” mode of consuming content, and only some of the consumption is linear reading. A publisher notes that
“Researchers and customers will expect aggregation in the years ahead. They will also expect chunking and accessibility on a wide array of devices and apps and value added features—all of which will be expensive for publishers, and which will cause disruptions to traditional monograph workflow models.”
And while we are in the “always on” mode, there is no persistence, especially in social media content. Similar to the versioning question, people wonder what role permanence and its offspring reliability are supposed to play in multimodal scholarship.
Challenges: lack of common platform for authoring and dissemination, decried by scholars, publishers, and librarians; efficient and stable workflow; the capital needed to make fundamental infrastructure investments; and confidence about timing investments, given technology churn.
Enabling resources, partnerships, and infrastructure
“ Humanities is quickly developing into a have and have-not landscape of digital scholarship.”
“There is a serious gap developing between places that have established digital programs and those that don’t. I’m not entirely sure that infrastructure projects like Bamboo can close the gap; it may be social as well as technical.”
Societies note that neither their journals (subject to open-access pressures) nor their annual meetings (obviated by initial job interviews conducted on Skype) are high-value anymore and thus threaten their economic model. What are the core values offered by associations?
“Credibility and scholarly authority constitute a major asset that scholarly societies need to figure out how to deploy in the digital realm, where authority and credibility are essential commodities.”
“These are the organizations that have the potential both to help guide entire fields in developing new relationships with information technologies and to shape the ways that academic institutions (and particularly elements like tenure and promotion committees) understand those relationships. The scholarly societies have the ability to validate and promote new areas and modes of exploration, as well as a platform from which to demonstrate the significance of the work that new scholarship in the field can have.”
Societies report lacking the web-friendly infrastructure that will allow them to be disciplinary hubs.
Centers see themselves as providing awareness of key intellectual trends and, in some instances, providing training of students and scholars in digital literacies.
Libraries are hubs for digital services, collections, pedagogy, training, and increasing dissemination, publishing, and community support.
Publishers offer a unique ability to bring a work of scholarship to its intended audience and to build that audience. Just like societies, centers and libraries, they would be far more effective, they believe, if they could achieve scale through shared platforms and services; greater stability and reliability of service that such scale would allow; and greater efficiencies across the continuum of scholarly communication if they worked more closely and harmoniously with others.
Funders can help by providing incentives to collaborate and build sustainable scholarship.
“There’s an obvious role for philanthropic funding in the start-up phase for such services, and for new economic models that structure community support in ways that avoid collective action problems. This is, of course, nothing new and in fact the textbook description of the role and development of institutions; …. I’m most interested in the mediating role that can be (and thus far often isn’t) played by institutions rather than individual researchers/centers/etc.”
Such focus on community actions, founded firmly on new economic models that support equal access and opportunity for the “have and have-nots,” appears to be the very kind of “network effect” that comes naturally to digital practices. But that can happen only if attended to and nurtured by all.
“I’m very interested to think about how people at under-resourced institutions can connect with and contribute to advancing humanities scholarship (in new modes and venues). This is … just a specific iteration of the more general question about how to expand the network of resources and collaboration, as no institution will have all the resources. How best to build out this network to include the under-resourced? (One example of this thinking is the recent effort of digital humanities folks at liberal arts colleges to build a network of resources).”