Mendeley & Publishing for Museums, Libraries and Archives

Humanities Matter Infographic

These thoughts were initiated after coming across the new start-up PEERJ – which presented a new model for peer reviewed contributions relating to science and medicine.

In response to what it saw as a narrowing of publishing options and increasing number of problematic monetising models of peer review  PEERJ set up a new model – one which allows contributors to subscribe once and publish many times. As a museum curator I thought the PEERJ model looked like a really interesting solution to some of the problems I faced when I set about submitting museum based research to peer reviewed journals.

Unfortunately when I got in contact with Peter Binfield at PeerJ he informed me that they were not ready to expand into broader areas relating to Social Sciences and the Arts. Instead they were focussing on the physical sciences and medicine as a first point from which to start. He did list some other options I might follow up but they all required a down-payment to the journal before they would review it. In the Public Service, where many museum professionals are employed the paperwork and justifications needed to get this money for a ‘perhaps it might be published’  is always a difficult pathway to negotiate. On the other side some free options require the signing of rights to publishing houses that are in direct conflict the openness and sharing of public information that is fundamental to the modern museum.

But it all got me thinking that perhaps we could manufacture our own solution. Museums employ professionals whose expertise covers a wide range of the sciences and arts. What if we came up with a shared Museum based publication model that utilised this workforce as both contributors and reviewers of their peers?

Nice idea but making it work in practice – not so easy.

While I will go into a bit more detail about current publication structures and some of the options for where museums, libraries and archive professionals can place their research I’d like to suggest getting involved in an experiment to see if we can globally kick off something using an existing online site – Mendeley – where I have set up a group Museum, Library and Archive Research and Collections which I thought could be used to add collections based research including: papers, journal articles, and web based material.

Importantly we could also try adding drafts to this group and then send a request  out to other members to ask for peer review. I was thinking that given the range of expertise in our cultural institutions we should be able to cover most subject areas if we get enough members on board.  So feel free to send me a request to join or pass on the link and my email to anyone you think may be interested.

Mendeley is a free reference manager and academic social network that can help you organize your research, collaborate with others online, and discover the latest research.

Reference Manager – Generate citations and bibliographies in Microsoft Word, OpenOffice, and LaTeX.

Read and Annotate – Open PDFs and capture your thoughts through sticky notes and highlights.
Add and Organize – Import and organize PDFs from your computer, EndNote™, Papers or Zotero.
Collaborate – Connect with colleagues and securely share your papers, notes and annotations.
Backup, Sync and Mobile – Access your papers on the web, iPhone or iPad.
Network and Discover – Discover papers, people and public groups.

Anyway I thought I would clear up my primary motivation for this blog before we got into any more detail.

Sot let’s start with a basic question. If museums want to publish research papers on museology and their collections could a peer reviewed, online and freely accessed option be something Museum institutions globally would want to participate in?

For the sake of this argument I’m going to presume the answer yes and lay out the following steps needed to work toward a workable model

Peter Murray-Rust has produced a series of posts about his issues with the current peer review model which he believes has been seriously broken by forces which have nothing to do with science. In Peter’s words … Unless the process of scientific publication is rapidly and effectively revised there will be a catastrophic crash. It will be unpredictable in both its timing, speed and nature. It will destroy some of the current participants. It will change parts of the scientific process and will change academia. … The academic system (in which I include public funders) has, by default, given away a significant part of its decision-making to the publishing industry. 1

Jonathan M. Gitlin in  July 19 2011 clearly outlined some of the issues in his post Do we need an alternative to peer-reviewed journals? Here he cites Stuart Lyman’s letter to Nature Biotech on how the price of access has become a problem for private sector research and how for small or even medium-size companies, the costs of institutional subscriptions to journals quickly adds up. Gitlin also alerts us to the fact that a single journal can cost a library six-figure sums while non-institutional users can expect to be charged around $30 for a single article, as can academic users whose library doesn’t subscribe to the Journal of Obscure Factoids. … If you’ve spent your life in well-funded research institutes, this might not seem like an issue. But, for those at smaller schools or from less-affluent countries, this can be a substantial barrier to being able to participate in the exchange and dissemination of scientific ideas. These paywalls also stand between taxpayers and the research they’ve supported.

On the other hand Gitlin also says there are a number of open-access journals where the publication costs are met by the authors, not the readers (authors had been paying fees to publish in some journals anyway) have also been started up. This effort to make publicly funded discoveries publicly available has also been gaining ground. From 2008 onwards, recipients of NIH funding have been subject to NIH’s Public Access Policy, which requires that any publications that arise from its funds appear in either open-access journals or be placed in PubMed Central within 12 months. Similar policies have been implemented by other national funding bodies and private foundations, as well as individual institutions.

Paying for peer review is another vexed issue covered by Gitlin. Part of the price of a journal covers the process of peer review, which not only costs but can lead to extended delays between submitting a paper and having it accepted. A common criticism is that peer review is biased towards well-established research groups and they are unwilling to reject papers from big names in their fields out of fear, and they can be hostile to ideas that challenge their own, even if the supporting data is good. 2

Giltin also believes journals act as gatekeepers as they screen submissions for interest or importance as well as just the veracity of the work. The open access journal PLoS ONEattempts to address this by taking the first part out of the equation and rather than submitting to what the Editor/s think is interesting and will gain greater readership PLoS ONE will rigorously peer-review your submissions and publish all papers that are judged to be technically sound. Judgments about the importance of any particular paper are then made after publication by the readership (who are the most qualified to determine what is of interest to them). 3

The problem with this is the sheer volume of publications already makes this almost impossible to manage so there’s … always going to be a place for highly selective publishing outlets for work deemed “important”—that’s just human nature. 4

A new model.

Peter Murray-Rust has constructed a set of axioms which look pretty reasonable and which should apply to the creation of a museum model as well as a science journals. They are:

Science and scientists have a need and a duty to publish their work.
Funders rightly and increasingly require this in a formal manner.
This work should be available to everyone on the planet. Ideally the costs incurred in doing so should be invisible to the reader.
The purpose of publication in whatever degree of formality is:

To establish priority of the work
To communicate the work to any who wishes to consume it
To offer the work for formal and informal peer-review and to respond to discourse
To allow the work to be repeated, especially for falsifiability
To allow the work to be built on by others
To preserve the work

Apart from PeerJ there are a number of other new publishing models listed in The Future of Scientific Publishing : Is Here, Now by Luis Ibanez which attempt to address these points. But unfortunately none of these as yet work exclusively for museums and many are linked to more formal Scientific and Medical publications.

Personally I think a museums model should be able to ingest a range of contributor styles from formal academic articles to more informal posts and reviews and Mendeley is one platform able to do much of this right now. While publishing is currently spread across so many different parts of the web, from blog posts, journal, e-publications, linkedin discussions groups and the list goes on  and on much of this material can be aggregated in Mendeley.

However it would be interesting to get some feedback on whether it would be worth developing a specific site to act as a repository where research based work could be made freely accessible under a cc license. The more formal peer-reviewed articles could exist quite happily within the same space and once reviewed by professionals and published in this museum specific space could then be open to re-publication in other spaces as well. In fact publishers could be encouraged to visit the site to enquire about the re-publishing of these and other articles rather than museum professionals seeking out individual publications.

Currently the open access journal PLoS ONE manages what it refers to as an editorial boardand this is the kind of model that could work within the museum sector as well. This is an A-Z list of people who are able to do reviews and lists their area of expertise and their institution.# It is also a member of the Committee of Publication Ethics (COPE) which is a forum for editors and publishers of peer-reviewed journals to discuss all aspects of publication ethics. It also advises editors on how to handle cases of research and publication. 5

A final problem area is the way journals feed metrics, impact, and tracking within the scientific community. While this currently has a greater impact on the physical and medical sciences than perhaps in the social sciences and arts arena where museums reside, it is something which can influence and affect careers within the Museum sector as well. As Gitlin puts it
.. for better or worse (and I think there’s a very strong case for it being worse), academic career progression and research funding are explicitly tied to where a scientist publishes their work. This is done through the use of impact factors …  they’re a very imperfect measure. Journals that publish reviews as well as research articles can increase their impact factor, and publishing retractions or corrections does so as well. We have the tools to do a better job now, thanks to the move online. There have been experiments with algorithms like PageRank, and one could easily see something that works like Facebook’s “like” or Google’s “+1” being used. But as a researcher’s funding success and promotion remain tied to their publications, what’s to stop them from gaming the system? (I envision researchers organizing teams of undergrads to +1 their bibliography.

Although publishing will remain critical, it’s hard to escape the sense that it’s increasingly trailing behind the scientific community. Twitter, FriendFeed, Mendeley, and now Google+ have become venues where serious discussion about scientific work takes place. We’re already seeing friction at some conferences; not everyone is happy having their talk live-tweeted, and the backchannel can be cruel to speakers at times. But social media isn’t going anywhere, and neither is academic blogging. 6

One interesting approach I came across is evolutionary pharmacologist, and Fellow at Princeton University, Ethan O. Perlstein’s online research lab which utilises a variety of social media to publish ongoing research. The home page is made up from feeds from his twitter account @eperlste and synopsis of posts from the blogs. When you visit these pages we can see comments by others on the research and links to papers and definitions relating to the discussion. This is essentially a blog site but Perlstein has chosen to upload real scientific research, rather than wait until it is complete and then publish in a traditional academic journal.

Certainly within the museum sector this model would be easy enough to be modified to put people who are researching similar areas, (such as Sevres porcelain, or astronomical instruments to name some I’ve worked on recently) in contact with each other and this happens already on numerous blogs, wiki-spaces and sites around the globe.

Ethan’s model allows for researchers on the project to join as members of the Lab team while those that have worked on the project in the past are also listed. Certainly technologically there is nothing complicated or even terribly innovate going on – instead Perlstein is doing what I like most, recycling existing technology to resolve practical problems and at the same time opening up new opportunities for others to rethink the way they use existing models.

Another interesting model which may be more appropriate for educational resources in museums rather than for collection research publishing in the TakeControl ebook model. On July 20 2012 Tom Doherty Associates, publishers of Tor and Forge, announced that all of theirebooks would now be available DRM-free (Digital Rights Management-free) from Amazon, B&N, Apple, Kobo, Google, and most other major ebook retailers. The Publishers stated .. It’s clear to us that this is what our customers want. … We see it in the success of SF publishers like Baen and Angry Robot that have preceded us in going DRM-free. To the best of our knowledge we’re the first division of a Big Six publishing conglomerate to go down this road, but we doubt very much that we’ll be the last.7

cc by sa
Geoff Barker, 2012


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