London Day 3: Digital Publishing and Digital Humanities

Apocalyptic book display at Waterstones , stating The End is Nigh
Is this the end of scholarly publishing as we know it? Probably not. (Apocalyptic book display at Waterstones)

My third full day in London was actually the first full day of the course proper. We spent the morning talking about digital publishing and the afternoon learning about the research being done in the Department of Digital Humanities at King’s College London. This was followed by a reception in which we had the opportunity to mingle with a few of the researchers we had met earlier.

First up was Anthony Watkinson, who discussed the history, present and possible future of digital scholarly publishing, including the pressure on publishers to meet increasing user expectations for digital products and functionality, the role of (green and gold) open access, the Force 11 Manifesto, and some of the research CIBER Research Ltd. has done on trust, in which it was found that scholars still tend to place trust in traditional peer-reviewed journals, and less in sources such as social media and repositories.

Next, Michael Mabe from the International Association of STM Publishers gave a talk on the future of journal publishing, in which he noted that technology has changed researcher behavior very little and has not changed people’s motivations for publishing scholarship. In the publishing world, we are still “using new tools for old purposes.”

He also discussed the fundamental needs of researchers, and how these differ when a researcher is in author mode versus reader mode, which explains much of the variation between the results librarians and information scientists get when we study researchers and those publishers get: we’re studying the same populations in different modes, where different sets of needs dominate.

It is difficult to say at this point how the changing public and political attitudes towards open access Mabe discussed will ultimately change scholarly publishing or scholarly behavior. Certainly, the increasing number of mandates for sharing the results of research do force change in the behavior of many of the researchers to whom they apply. They also require technical solutions for the problems of storage and access.

But will these replace or even fundamentally alter traditional scholarly publishing? As Mabe pointed out, institutional repositories and pre-print archives exist, but neither fill the function of the scholarly journal. Researchers who use these tools are still publishing their research in traditional ways.

Is the end near for traditional scholarly publishing? From a researcher behavior standpoint, it would appear not, as most researchers who use tools such as repositories, preprint servers, and social media don’t seem to be using any of them as a substitute for traditional peer-reviewed publication. The business models for publication may be changing in some significant ways, however. I look forward to learning more about this in the coming weeks.

Things to read later:

And now for something completely different…

The afternoon’s presentations in digital humanities at KCL Drury Lane highlighted some impacts of technology on research that I hadn’t previously considered. Department Head Sheila Anderson notes that researchers there are studying not just digital humanities, but “the digital human,” and how technologies are changing both human lives and the way we produce culture.

As my focus for the past several years has been on STEM research and researchers, I’ve thought less about how new technologies are changing the kinds of research that can be done in the humanities, but we learned about some truly nifty things being developed and used, such as Faith Lawrence’s tool for annotating and analyzing fictional narratives, and the DigiPal tool for analyzing medieval handwriting. At the reception, I got to talk to many of these researchers about their dissertation work, and how communication and information sharing varies by discipline and by environment (academia vs. industry).

Finally, a group of us departed for dinner at a nearby Indian restaurant, then home.

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London Day 3: Digital Publishing and Digital Humanities

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