Found and Not Found: Scholarly Literature on the Web

Spurred by a recent New Yorker article about the birth and necessity of the Internet Archive, and how it helped identify who might have shot down the civilian plane in Ukraine, I looked into Jill Lepore’s sources to learn more.

She references a December 26, 2014 and a May 9, 2014 article in the open access journal PLOS ONE that are significantly related to information literacy and scholarship on the Web.  I would be curious to hear your responses.

1. Not Found

Lepore mentions “reference rot” and an article that found that 1 in 5 links used as citations in scholarly literature no longer work.  The research was conducted by library researchers who analyzed Science, Technology, and Medicine journals between 1997 – 2012. This is certainly an important point for us to note and help our students and faculty choose wisely.

2. Found

Another set of researchers attempted to identify how many pieces of scholarly literature were freely available on the Web.  Of the 114 million English-language articles they found, 24% or 27 million were freely available.
I wonder how these two impact our services and how they contribute to and inform the perception that “everything is available online” in the domain of scholarly literature.  I can’t help but notice that the open access nature of the articles in PLOSOne helped update and enrich the information in this more “popular” magazine with scholarly information.

Georgia State Copyright Case Decided After Year of Deliberation

courthouseIn a May 30, 2011 Chronicle of Higher Education article,  “What’s at Stake in the Georgia State Copyright Case?”, set the stage for a potentially landmark copyright case that focused on fair use in the context of higher education’s user of e-reserves, and by association, course management systems. A clip from the above article best describes the core issues involved:

At issue before the court is the practice of putting class readings on electronic reserve (and, by extension, on faculty Web sites). Cambridge, Oxford University Press, and SAGE Publications, with support from the Association of American Publishers and the Copyright Clearance Center, are suing four administrators at Georgia State University.

The article mentioned that there would be a decision in several weeks but it extended into a year-long deliberation by the judge, Orinda Evans. Her final 350 page ruling (pdf) is posted courtesy of Nancy Sims‘ at the University of Minnesota if you want to read the full document. Jenny Howard followed up on the case in the Chronicle of Higher Ed Long Awaited Ruling on May 13, 2012. Up to this point, there was very little information about these specific kinds of uses online (e-reserves, course reserves) and now the community can interact with some of these points that were more ambiguous. The Association of Research Libraries put together an excellent issue brief of the Georgia State case (pdf) and a clear exposition of these points on May 15. For a good review of the background of this case, starting in 2008, see Hoffelder’s May 13 post.

James Grimmelman, a New York University Law Professor, summarized the implications this way on his blog, Laboratorium:

Thus, the operational bottom line for universities is that it’s likely to be fair use to assign less than 10% of a book, to assign larger portions of a book that is not available for digital licensing, or to assign larger portions of a book that is available for digital licensing but doesn’t make significant revenues through licensing

Kevin Smith in his Scholarly Communications @ Duke Blog has a helpful legal and educational analysis of the Judge’s decision and its implications for fair use. The findings (which are still subject to appeal and plaintiff creation of injunctions based on this ruling) include mostly encouraging and some frustrating news for libraries and higher education institutions. Here are some of Smith’s key points:

The Good

1. It is more likely that items can be used more than one semester if fair use applied in the first one.

Limiting the claim of fair use for an item for more than one semester or the “Subsequent Semester” rule is “an impractical, unnecessary limitation” (p. 71) according to Judge Evans.

2. Of the 99 claims made by the publishers, 95% were dismissed.

3. Revenue for permissions does not significantly impact the market value of the publishers content.

This is helpful for claims regarding the Fourth Fair Use Factor – Impact on market value.

The Bad

1. She chose 10% or one chapter as the allowable portion of a work to claim Fair Use.

This is much less flexible than the language of the original copyright law would allow.

2. it “heavily favors” the plaintiffs IF a license for the appropriate format is readily available at a reasonable price.


Open Access Reaches the Public Through Medical News

ABC News ran a story about doctors who expect to have access to the medical literature but can’t because of publisher costs.  They also mentioned the open access movement including the NIH mandate to deposit publications funded by the federal government to PubMed Central so they can be accessed by the public for free.

This is a great opportunity to educate the public about the need for Open Access promoted by advocates like Peter Suber in the United States and Steven Harnad in the UK.  The story begins with a direct connection between the doctor who did the research that would help many people and the lack of access by most people because of commercial publication costs.

Maybe us librarians could hit the comment section with a dose of open access education?  This way more people will understand that the disproportionately rising costs of journals compared to library budgets is a danger to them as well as the “ivory tower”. That’s the ticket.

Journal TOC Current Awareness Tool

The ticTOCs Journal Table of Contents Service from Joint Information Systems Committee (JISC) provides the Table of Contents from over 11,000 journals for free.  Faculty who want assistance in keeping up with new research in their field would appreciate this service.  The notification is through RSS only limting the usefulness to those who use RSS.  Librarians could email the contents of feeds for those who are less tech saavy as a servie.

Thanks to Richard Ackerman of Science Library Pad for bringing this service to my attention.

What Digital Scholarship Models Are Scholars Using?

In November 2008, a report written by Ithaka and commissioned by the Association of Research Libraries, entitled Current  Models of Digital Scholarly Communication, examined how faculty members use exclusively-digital, non-traditional scholarly resources. It identified 206 resources used by faculty that fit ARL’s category of “original and scholarly”. Those sources are aggregated in an ARL searchable database.

To be clear, “Original” means that the content was “born-digital” and appears in the chosen resource first. “Scholarly” refers to the author’s identity as a scholar and includes both peer-reviewed resources and informal sources like blogs and discussion forums.

Within the 206 resources, eight categories emerged:

  1. E-journals
  2. Reviews
  3. Preprints and Working Papers
  4. Encyclopedias, Dictionaries, and Annotated Content
  5. Data
  6. Blogs
  7. Discussion Forums
  8. Professional and Scholarly Hubs (Mixture of these categories)

Some interesting points:

  • Top reason for use of these resources across disciplines was to access most current research
  • Academic discipline influences which formats are considered important
    • E-journals among top choice across disciplines
    • Humanities highly value informal exchanges (blogs, discussion) more than other disciplines
    • Social Sciences highest rated – professional hubs, preprints (Social Science Research Network)
    • Science, Technical and Medical (STM) rated data sources the highest
  • Some preprint sources like SSRN and arXiv (STM) have been around for a while and are established but many others are new and still must gain respect from the broader community.
  • These resources have created new forms of scholarly contributions.  Are they being acknowledged by tenure committees?  Christine Borgman is interviewed about this in an article in the Chronicle of Higher Education, Bringing Tenure into the Digital Age.

This report provides a good foundation for integrating and encouraging the use of these resources for faculty.  It also gives more insight into the influence that a discipline has on their workflow.