The Many Pillars of Sustainable Scholarship

In late September 2010, ITHAKA hosted a two-day conference entitled “Sustainable Scholarship.” The first day focused on exploring topics relevant to recent projects of the ITHAKA service groups: the research and consulting arm, Ithaka S+R; JSTOR; and Portico. Day two brought all the attendees together for plenary sessions focusing on the discovery of scholarly content.

Both programs presented a surprisingly wide array of perspectives and angles. Sustaining scholarship through preservation is a topic addressed by many ITHAKA projects, and on day one presenters offered a comprehensive view of the issue: addressing the sometimes competing ideas of print and digital preservation, balancing access with preservation concerns, and discussing how funding models might provide preservation strategies and support. On the second day, the idea of access for sustainability led to discussion of concepts of discoverability—both the tools we give users of scholarly content and the strategies users bring to it. Throughout the conference, speakers ranged across the disciplines from STM to HSS, addressed different audience types including scholars and general readers, and dealt with the issues of sustainability, preservation, and discovery in a world of proliferating analog and digital formats.

It would be very difficult to summarize this diversity of topics and speakers and perspectives in a few succinct paragraphs. Fortunately, the presentations of both days, including video and audio from day two sessions are available at the following links:

Day Two: Discovering Scholarly Content

In order to not entirely abandon a “reporterly” duty, however, I’ll present a few highlights from several of the presentations as a guide to what might be worth watching. To make an egregious bid for currency in the Exchange, please think of this as a selected, long-form Twitter feed!

From “Ithaka S+R Overview”:

  • The research group is currently modeling the strategic, rather than incidental, building of “collaborative trust networks for preservation.”
  • Monographs are the next big question. E-preservation issues are just as thorny as with journals, and other concerns include managing withdrawal strategies and preservation in print collections as e-formats become available.
  • Questions and comments from the audience for Ithaka representatives Laura Brown, Nancy Maron, and Roger Schonfeld included issues of concern for small scholarly societies (i.e., do Ithaka recommendations scale?) and the difficulties of coordinating potential funders—and their agendas—of different phases of a new project.

From “Ensuring Preservation in a Digital Environment”:

  • Perhaps the most fascinating presentation was that of Deanna Marcum, Associate Librarian for Library Services at the Library of Congress, who reminded us of the still vast responsibility of preserving physical objects even as digital preservation is today’s hot question. She provided an overview of the materials science conducted by the LOC, including continuing research in de-acidification projects, and the new Packard National Audio-Visual Conservation Campus (NAVCC).
  • Fun facts! The Library of Congress occasionally works with such agencies as the CIA, NSA, FBI, and NYPD in overlapping areas of materials science interest. Strangely unrelated to that, the nitrate film vaults below the Packard Campus was the subject of much local rumor during construction—was this long hallway of doors being built into the mountain intended to be a relocation site for Guantanamo detainees?
  • Marcum also made the point that access still must be the priority even in preservation projects. To paraphrase her example: microfilm may be unmatched for preservation, but it is not a user-accepted access format.

From the Day Two Opening Keynote, Daniel Russell, Senior Research Scientist for Search Quality & User Happiness for Google:

  • There is video available for this presentation, worth watching for an expansive look at how Google’s search interface is constantly changing in an attempt to keep up with both user behavior and the ever-vaster index.
  • Discovery is not just reliant on the systems and tools provided by libraries, publishers, and content industry players such as Google, but on the set of search skills users bring to content. Russell seemed pleasantly surprised when 90+ percent of Ithaka attendees indicated that we do, in fact, know how to find a search term on a page of results. It seems that Google research shows that 90% of US users (and 50% of US teachers) do not know “how to Control+F.”

From “Publisher Panel: Metadata for Fun & Profit”:

  • After describing some of the ways that Oxford University Press builds its content metadata (including how they solicit active author participation in developing abstracts, chapter-level summaries, and keywords), Casper Grathwohl offered a few tips for publishers: smaller publishers should consider the market leaders to be their very own R&D departments; try to ensure that there is at least one data and technology expert in any publishing organization; and try to clearly articulate the business goals of any new initiative (“if you don’t understand it, don’t do it.”)
  • Stephen Rhind-Tutt of humanities publisher Alexander Street Press, and Jabin White of Wolters-Kluwer both spoke about work in semantic tagging. In STM fields, there are often well-established taxonomies, but Alexander Street has worked to build semantic taxonomies in fields such as drama.

From “Reader Referral in a Digital Age”:

  • Otis Chandler, the founder of GoodReads, announced that a publisher program would soon be launched through this increasingly popular social network (and used our own University of Texas Press’s page as an example of how publishers have already started to connect with GoodReads users).
  • Co-founder of Mendeley, Jan Reichelt, called the service “a GoodReads for research” and “a bottom-up approach to discovering scholarly content.”
  • And Jevin West, the creator of Eigenfactor, described that project’s work to map the citation networks of scholarly literature and understand what those maps and networks can tell us.

From “The Changing Role of Libraries in Discovery”:

  • ITHAKA’s Schonfeld reviewed some of the recent findings of ITHAKA’s survey of faculty attitudes toward libraries, including the much discussed finding that, even among humanists, faculty increasingly view libraries’ purchasing role as the most important.
  • Andrew Asher, lead researcher for the ERIAL project, made the claim (supported by ERIAL studies of student research and discovery techniques) that there has been too much time spent teaching students (and faculty) the tools that are available for search rather than the techniques for successful finding. This resonated with Google’s sobering glimpse into the sparse search toolbox of many users earlier in the day.

Brenna McLaughlin
Electronic & Strategic Initiatives Director, AAUP