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 Academia.edu 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 Academia.edu); 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 Academia.edu 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. http://doi.org/10.6017/ital.v34i3.5900

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 academia.edu 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.

1024px-Carrot_and_stick_motivation svg

Carrots:
• 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

Sticks:
• 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.

IR You Open? How Institutional Repositories and Open Access Publishing Benefit Universities

by Shannon Lucky
Library Systems & Information Technology, University of Saskatchewan

As we begin planning for Open Access Week (Oct 20 – 26, 2014) at the USask University Library, I have been thinking about institutional repositories (IRs) and the role they play in open access culture at universities. A well-managed, user friendly IR can be a great publicity piece for an academic institution, but not all post-secondary institutions have IRs and those that do don’t always require their faculty to contribute to them. Universities’ interest in IRs is growing, especially now that some major granting agencies require scholarly output be made available through these kind of services, and it is very often academic libraries that take the lead on developing and supporting these projects. CARL is active in promoting IRs in Canada and maintains a list of current universities that have IRs. There are even university IRs that any academic can contribute to if your institution does not have one. Libraries and IRs seem like a natural fit, libraries are the information and research specialists on any university campus, but it takes a larger institutional commitment to make these projects successful.

IRs are services provided by a university to its members to support the management and dissemination of intellectual output in a digital format. This can include digital documents and/or metadata for journal articles (preprints and postprints), monographs, theses and dissertations, instructional materials, admin documents, or other digital assets. The goal is to bring together all of the relevant intellectual output of an institution in one place and make it accessible based on the ideal of digital interoperability and open access. In a digital publishing environment where it has become increasingly easy to search and share articles, researchers are still often stymied by publisher paywalls and copyright issues. There has been no shortage of criticism about the current state of academic publishing relating to cost, bundling of journal subscriptions, library e-book lending, and using publication metrics to gauge faculty performance. While not a silver bullet, IRs are a useful way to make research more easily accessible while still working within recognized publication authority structures.

Alma Swan published a briefing paper in Open Scholarship (2013) that listed the ways universities benefit from developing IRs.

  • Opening up outputs of the institution to a worldwide audience;
  • Maximizing the visibility and impact of these outputs as a result;
  • Showcasing the institution to interested constituencies – prospective staff, prospective students and other stakeholders;
  • Collecting and curating digital output;
  • Managing and measuring research and teaching activities;
  • Providing a workspace for work-in-progress, and for collaborative or large-scale projects;
  • Enabling and encouraging interdisciplinary approaches to research;
  • Facilitating the development and sharing of digital teaching materials and aids, and
  • Supporting student endeavours, providing access to theses and dissertations and a location for the development of e-portfolios.

It is a persuasive argument, but large scale uptake in IR use is still a work in progress.

An IR that is actively embraced by the members of an institution and used to its full capacity is an incomparable advertisement for the quality and diversity of the research being done there. This is often a major selling point for institutions who choose to implement these large scale projects. It makes the institution look good and it raises the profile of all of their members who contribute to it. While this is often reason enough for a university to implement an IR project, the most powerful function of IRs is the interoperability protocols that will aid discovery and visibility. IRs are great ambassadors for institutions to show off all of the fantastic work their members do, but individual IRs are not meant to be siloed digital storage. The Confederation of Open Access Repositories (COAR) aims to connect institutional repositories together, using shared protocols, to create a seamless layer of content across Canada and around the world. This would mean the ability to search a network of international IRs providing open access to the combined published intellectual output of all participating institutions. Imagine what a fully developed system like this could do to support cross-institutional collaborative research, rapid dissemination of findings, and discovery of useful sources (not to mention increasing the discoverability – and citation numbers – for shared publications).

While I find all of this potential for sharing information thrilling, there are very real issues institutions need to confront. The process of setting up an IR framework is not difficult (there are a number of open source and proprietary software packages available) but working with institutional culture can be challenging. Encouraging buy-in and participation of researchers is critical to the success of an IR, without a critical mass of content an IR may as well be simple cloud storage. I have heard concerns that making work open access, particularly preprint articles or research data and findings that have not yet been published in a peer reviewed journal, could open academics up to being scooped on their research. There is also the concern that IRs might break copyright agreements with publishers. On top of these legal and intellectual challenges, academics are busy people and asking them to jump through one more hoop to enter their work in an IR once it has been published may not endear IR proponents to their colleagues.

To deposit or not to deposit, that is the question.

By Roche DG, Lanfear R, Binning SA, Haff TM, Schwanz LE, et al. (2014) [CC-BY-4.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/4.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

I believe that these concerns can be resolved, but it will mean improving the design, workflow, and understanding of the benefits of IRs within the university community. Following copyright agreements and protecting unpublished research is already accommodated in many IRs by embargoing publications and using integrated tools to track copyright permissions. Self-archiving can be an empowering and extremely beneficial practice, but it is much easier when you have the best tools to do it. A lack of interest and participation can cripple an otherwise well planned IR project, which may be one of the reasons some institutions make submitting work to their IR compulsory. Many universities now require graduate students to submit their theses and dissertations to an IR, for example. Requiring researchers to deposit their publications in an IR can get them more actively engaged in the copyright agreements they sign with publishers. While making IR contributions compulsory can work, it would be so much better if we didn’t have to strong-arm people into participating.

I propose a less stick, more carrot approach that would make keeping your IR profile up to date appealing by having additional tools that can export formatted publication information directly into institutional CV  templates or automatically update departmental or personal webpages with your most recent academic output. If an IR is designed with the needs of both searchers and contributors in mind it can become an invaluable resource for multiple aspects of disseminating your academic work, not just another tedious institutional task.

 


References

Swan, Alma. “Open Access institutional repositories: A Briefing Paper”Open Scholarship. Retrieved 05 September 2014.

 

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.