Academic social networking sites – boon or bane of institutions?

by Nicole Eva
University of Lethbridge
Alberta, Canada

At our University, we are struggling with getting researchers to understand the value of the institutional repository. They think that putting their output in or ResearchGate is equivalent to putting it into the IR. It’s not, and the reasons are many: as public, for-profit entities these sites are likely to start monetizing their services (as was seen this spring with; there is no guarantee that these for-profit entities will remain in perpetuity (and in fact, it’s quite likely they will not); and they aren’t truly ‘open’, as obtaining copies of articles posted requires a login (even if that login is free) and thus does not comply with some funders’ Open Access mandates. Not to mention the trouble they could get into if they are posting versions of the article online for which they’ve signed away their copyrights.

I had the idea that we could view the researchers associated with our institution that have posted in and ResearchGate and contact them to see if they would allow us to harvest their articles for deposit in our IR as well. In hindsight, I should not have been surprised that a number of the scholars listed under the University of Lethbridge were not actually members of our faculty. Many were listed as either Graduate or Undergraduate students, the latter of which I wasn’t aware were part of the target market for these products, and neither of which generally posted any actual articles – presumably they set up their profiles simply to follow other researchers. But others were listed as department members who clearly had no affiliation with the University. There was much ambiguity and lack of authority control in the selection of department listings, including at least one that was completely fabricated.

It made me really question the value of these tools – shouldn’t there be some sort of screening mechanism? There are also a few researchers with a two profiles within one site, with no way to merge the two. It is possible, whether purposely or accidentally, to set up more than one profile using different email addresses. A vetting process in ensuring the registrant has an email address associated with the institution they claim to be a part of would solve this problem in addition to the imposter problem. Allowing non-institutional email addresses may be by design, as Alumni are also allowed to create profiles and may no longer have access to their institutional email. But if these sites claim to be academic in nature, should there not be some sort of authority control or vetting process? What is the damage to the institution if multiple profiles associated with them are not legitimate? What if some of the articles posted by these phony researchers are terrible, tarnishing the university’s reputation? Should universities be taking a more active role in shaping these tools, or at least monitoring them? I have always told people that I see no harm in creating profiles as it just spreads the research wider (but recommend rather than posting papers on these that they redirect via URL to the institutional repository) but now I wonder if in fact these sites could be doing our institution more harm than good.

It was fortuitous that I began this process, because as these questions began to rise to mind I realized I could have a research project here. A quick literature search suggests that little to nothing has been done looking at these sites and asking these questions. There is a lot on how researchers feel about them, and how their metrics compare to more traditional metrics – but nothing looking at the institutional impact. I’ve been struggling for a few months with researcher’s block, feeling uninspired and unmotivated to start a new project; in fact, my lack of excitement over my planned research for a study leave led me to withdraw my application. Stumbling upon this was quite fortuitous so I’m hoping I manage to turn it into something useful. Perhaps not enough to sustain a study leave, but at least enough to get me out of my rut and get publishing again.

What do you counsel faculty members about creating academic social networking profiles? Do you think these tools have an obligation to institutions to try to provide a gatekeeping mechanism against fake profiles? Does it matter? I’m curious to hear others’ thoughts on this topic.

This article gives the views of the author and not necessarily the views the Centre for Evidence Based Library and Information Practice or the University Library, University of Saskatchewan.

Carrots & Sticks: Encouraging self-archiving in an IR. C-EBLIP Journal Club, Mar 31, 2016

by Shannon Lucky
IT Librarian
University Library, University of Saskatchewan

Article: Betz, S., & Hall, R. (2015). Self-Archiving with Ease in an Institutional Repository: Microinteractions and the User Experience. Information Technology and Libraries, 34(3), 43–58.

One of the things I love about the C-EBLIP journal club is the ease of having one of my colleagues pick out an interesting article from their area of specialization so I can poke my head into their world for an hour and see what ideas they are wrestling with. As an IT librarian, picking an article creates some anxiety because systems and technology aren’t always that accessible (or interesting) for a diverse audience. I was happy to see Sonya Betz and Robyn Hall’s article pop up on a library tech listserv as it was a great fit for our group.

The University Library currently doesn’t have an institutional repository (IR) for the entire campus, but we do have a DSpace eCommons repository for research by UofS librarians. Because we have all deposited our own work into eCommons our conversation started with a unanimous (good natured) rant about how hard it is to do self-archiving. It is time-consuming and the technology was deemed to be frustrating and unsatisfying. Like other tedious institutional reporting systems, we assumed this was the only way. As one member put it, “I didn’t know we could expect better”.

While we talked about how frustrating the process could be, we also wondered just how much effort, time, and money should be invested in improving a system that we all have to use, but that our library users will never see. When do we make the call that something is good enough and we, or our fellow faculty, can suck it up and figure it out or ask for help? One of my favourite suggestions was that a “good enough” scenario would have the user feeling “the absence of anger”. Apparently the bar is quite low. Betz and Hall talk about some of the barriers to self-archiving but don’t ask why, when contributing to IRs is so difficult, many academics voluntarily submit their work to sites like and ResearchGate – what is it they are doing right that we could learn from?

This led to a discussion about what libraries could do to encourage faculty, both within and outside the library, to deposit in an IR. We saw two routes: the carrot and the stick.

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• Link academic reporting systems together to cut down on the number of places this information needs to be input (e.g. have citations from the IR export to formatted CVs, link ORCHID accounts with IR entries for authority control and better exposure, etc.)
• Group scholarly output for colleges, departments, or research groups together in the IR to show the collective impact of their work
• Gamify the submission process with progress bars, badges, and the ability to level up you scholarly work

• Money. Canada Council requires submission to an IR as a part of their funding model
• Librarians armed with actual sticks going office to office “persuading” scholars to deposit their research

We agreed that libraries don’t wield an effective stick in this scenario. Research services, colleges, and departments have to be the ones to put on the pressure to deposit. Librarians can help make that happen and (hopefully) make it as pain-free as possible.

This article gives the views of the author(s) and not necessarily the views of the Centre for Evidence Based Library and Information Practice or the University Library, University of Saskatchewan.