18 Aug 2014
Originally published in the Journal of Librarianship and Scholarly Communication
Zach Coble, Digital Scholarship Specialist, New York University
Sarah Potvin, Digital Scholarship Librarian, Texas A&M University
Roxanne Shirazi, Adjunct Reference & Digital Outreach Librarian, The Graduate Center, CUNY
Author names are listed alphabetically. The authors were equal contributors.
Scholarly communication outreach and education activities are proliferating in academic libraries. Simultaneously, digital humanists—a group that includes librarians and non-librarians based in libraries, as well as scholars and practitioners without library affiliation—have developed forms of scholarship that demand and introduce complementary innovations focused on infrastructure, modes of dissemination and evaluation, openness, and other areas with implications for scholarly communication. Digital humanities experiments in post-publication filtering, open peer review, middle-state publishing, decentering authority, and multimodal and nonlinear publication platforms are discussed in the context of broader library scholarly communication efforts.
Academic libraries have increasingly assumed responsibility for developing and promoting new publishing models and platforms, measures of impact, and advocacy around scholarly communication issues, most visibly in the sciences. In parallel to this burgeoning movement in libraries, the digital humanities (née humanities computing) have emerged into the spotlight of mainstream media and influential funding agencies. Much of this attention has characterized digital humanities (DH) as a “computational turn” in the humanities driven by the digitization of archival resources, or as a field concerned with the implications of “the digital” on humanities scholarship writ large.
Less prevalent a characterization, perhaps, but of no small significance, is the digital humanities’ investment in transforming the current system of scholarly communication. Whether through advocating for openness in its many forms, suggesting new models for evaluation and peer review, or advancing reforms to standard tools of scholarly communication and dissemination (journal articles, monographs, and conferences), digital humanists—a group which, notably, includes librarians— are actively shaping new practices for producing and communicating research. In doing so, they are building disciplinary-distinct practices that show potential for critical and collaborative partnerships with library scholarly communication efforts.
Scholarly communication offerings in libraries are often broadly construed and seemingly discipline-neutral. Yet, too often, the particular concerns and needs of humanists are presented as a coda, as outliers to broad scholarly communication patterns around article publication, disciplinary repositories, and data sharing and management prevalent in the sciences and social sciences.1
In this article, we hope to draw attention to disciplinary distinctions between the sciences (and social sciences) and the humanities with regard to scholarly communication advocacy by examining bourgeoning projects in the digital humanities. We begin by providing a brief overview of scholarly communication in libraries and introduce the digital humanities. We then consider the propelling role of “openness” in digital humanities, with attention to community standards, public scholarship, and new formats for DH scholarship. In considering the relationship between DH and scholarly communication, we necessarily limit our discussion to the United States, with its particular systems of higher education, federal research funding (or lack thereof ), and copyright laws. Finally, we highlight DH experiments in scholarly communication to provide a primer for those seeking to bridge the work of these two fields.
Both scholarly communication and digital humanities resist simple definitions. In setting the goals of its Scholarly Communications Initiative (SCI),2 launched in 2002 as a high strategic priority, the Association of College and Research Libraries (ACRL) offered a broad, if library-centric, definition:
Scholarly communication is the system through which research and other scholarly writings are created, evaluated for quality, disseminated to the scholarly community, and preserved for future use. This system includes both formal means of communication, such as publication in peer-reviewed journals, and informal channels, such as electronic listservs (ACRL Scholarly Communications Committee, 2003).The initiative, which sought to reform scholarly communication, criticized the system for “showing numerous signs of stress and crisis,” and identified unsustainable increases in scholarly journal pricing, the decreased market for university press monographs, issues with licensed content and preservation in the emergent electronic publishing environment, and copyright restrictions as areas of concern that resulted in reduced access to scholarship.
In recent years, scholarly communication efforts in libraries have expanded beyond their early emphasis on serials pricing, copyright, licensing, and alternatives to commercial publishing. Now, they incorporate programming and advocacy around open content (often in conjunction with other cultural heritage groups), open data, data management, digital publishing alternatives, e-Science, information literacy, and digital curation practices. Indeed, scholarly communication, however it might be administratively configured in individual libraries, takes a broad scope and encompasses diverse activities (Kirchner and Malenfant, 2013, pp. 305-6). As survey data related to a 2012 ARL SPEC Kit on Scholarly Communication services indicates: “75% of the libraries offer liaison, outreach, and author rights support; 75% host and preserve digital content; and 68% provide digital scholarship support” (Radom, Feltner-Reichert, & stringer-stanback, 2012, p. 13). In this article, we will use the term “library scholarly communication” to refer to this transformative movement around systems of scholarly communication and its attendant library-based activities.
Competing definitions for digital humanities, meanwhile, have proliferated since the term was adopted with the publication of the influential 2004 text, A Companion to Digital Humanities, and the 2005 establishment of the Alliance of Digital Humanities Organizations (see Kirschenbaum, 2012). The question of whether digital humanities, which emerged as “humanities computing” in the 1940s, is a field, a discipline, a community of practice, or a transitional stage in humanities scholarship overall remains a point of contention among scholars who identify as digital humanists; like library scholarly communication, DH is sometimes defined by its range rather than by its boundaries. The Office of Digital Humanities within the National Endowment for the Humanities casts a broad net, identifying DH as that which responds to changes in “the ways we read, write, learn, communicate, and play…due to the advent of networked digital technologies” (National Endowment for the Humanities [NEH], n.d.).
As digital humanities practice has evolved and the number of practitioners grown, scholars have acknowledged a splintering, a shift in emphasis that occurred sometime around the mid-2000s.3 Stephen Ramsay identifies two phases of digital humanities scholarship that he terms “Type I DH” and “DH Type II.” The first was forged around the multidisciplinary community of humanities computing, “united not by objects of study, per se, but by a set of practices that most regarded as intimately related: text encoding, archive creation, text analysis, historical GIS, 3D modeling of archeological sites, art historical cataloging, visualization...” (Ramsay, 2013). Type II of DH, diverging from an identification with the humanities computing community, serves as “a signifier both for a very broad constellation of scholarly endeavors, and for a certain revolutionary disposition that had overtaken the academy.” In this typology, while both types might claim relationships to scholarly communication, it is the second type in which the relationship becomes most visible and entwined, with a focus that moves into active engagement in reform.
Since Ramsay’s Type II DH emerged, with its broad inclusion of areas such as media studies and digital pedagogy, a common thread connecting the disparate activities has been a willingness to experiment with open and transparent modes of scholarly communication. While it should be evident that openness is valued by open access advocates and, by extension, library scholarly communication, its value in humanities scholarship remains largely unproven.4 Attention to the discourse among digital humanists as they negotiate the varying dimensions of openness—in its many economic, social, and cultural contexts—can inform a more reflective, critical approach to library scholarly communication advocacy in the humanities.
DH scholars have embraced openness, in the form of promoting and modeling transparency, interoperability, and free public access to scholarly output. Lisa Spiro (2012) identifies both “self-interest and ethical aspirations” as motivations, locating an initial set of DH values centered around openness, collaboration, collegiality and connectedness, diversity, and experimentation. We posit several drivers of openness (manifested in support for open publishing, open access, open source, and transparency) in DH:
New formats. Digital humanities scholarship is frequently non-discursive and marked by an increased attention to infrastructure, or building. As such, efforts to facilitate evaluation or in-depth critique frequently rely on openness. If digital humanists wish to have the creation of a database considered as theoretically grounded as a journal article without having to write a journal article explaining it, they are impelled to make the internal structure and decision-making process accessible—for evaluation, for extensibility, and for teaching. There is also a strong argument that digital preservation and long-term access is ensured through persistent use, and that openly accessible projects are likely to be used more frequently, as Melissa Terras (2012) has observed.
Community standards and a sharing culture. The need for alternatives to proprietary computational systems was recognized early on by computational humanists, not just as a reaction to prohibitive cost, but for these open alternatives’ embodiment of values that “comports well with the idea that scholarly communication itself best takes place within an ‘open’ environment, such that both language and speech are designed to be universally understandable in our electronically pluralistic world” (Cover, Duncan, & Barnard, 1991, p. 199). Even as far back as 20 years ago, openness and experiments in scholarly communication were built into tools and standards underlying the digital humanities. As DH shifted from Type I to II, these community standards around openness grew to incorporate more transparency in communication—over Twitter and through blogs—as well as experiments in open publishing.
Exemplary of this shift to open publishing is Digital Humanities Quarterly (DHQ), published by the Alliance of Digital Humanities Organizations (ADHO) and launched in 2007. Designed to “reach outwards beyond the immediate community” of digital humanists affiliated with professional societies such as ADHO, the Association for Computers and the Humanities, and the European Association for Digital Humanities, for whom Literary & Linguistic Computing remained “the journal of record,” DHQ is an online, OA journal that supports multimodal publication and detailed XML encoding (Flanders, Piez, & Terras, 2007). The philosophy behind these decisions is outlined in the journal’s first issue: “Being open-access, [DHQ] can offer a freely accessible view of the field to those who are curious about it, and can also provide a publication venue that is visible to readers (and potential authors) from these other domains” (Flanders, Piez, & Terras). That DHQ chose to publish OA represents a point of convergence between DH and library scholarly communication, and demonstrates the professional praxis that digital humanists bring to experiments in scholarly communication.5
Public value of scholarly work. If reaching beyond disciplinary boundaries provides one impetus for making DH scholarship openly accessibly, the potential to engage the public—through articles, posts, tweets, or digital editions—reinforces this trend. The question of what constitutes the “public” is relevant, given the reach of online digital scholarship and the potential for DH scholars to work outside of university systems.
The public nature of DH is further reinforced and specified by funding mandates. Recipients of start-up grants from the Office of Digital Humanities at NEH are “expected to communicate the results of their work to appropriate scholarly and public audiences,” and applicants are advised that “all other considerations being equal, NEH gives preference to those that provide free access to the public” (NEH, 2013, pp. 3-4). The NEH guidelines go on to specify that projects to develop new software are “encouraged to make the software free in every sense of the term, including the use, copying, distribution, and modification” (p. 9). Federal grant funding is essential to the development of many DH projects, in part because of the large collaborations between disciplinary experts, programmers, technologists, and information specialists that are necessary to complete work; accordingly, these mandates have implications throughout the field.
Critiques of openness. While we have concentrated here on reasons that the digital humanities by and large has embraced an ethos of openness, it is important to note that a thread of critique is emerging in DH that questions the assumptions around such concepts as openness, public, and private (Liu, 2013).
Further, in recent years, the economic rhetoric around OA has moved from a library cost-saving reaction to increasing journal costs towards the proactive— and political—argument that OA spurs economic development in the knowledge economy.6 Received in the context of controversial changes occurring in higher education, including the arrival of massive open online courses (MOOCs), the adjunctification of faculty labor, and the so-called “crisis” of the humanities, this rhetoric, rather than advancing an appreciation for openness, is sometimes regarded as suspect. These arguments may be interpreted as instrumentalist justifications that are complicit in the corporatization of the university, rather than an attempt to increase the public-ness of scholarship (Kansa, 2014).
As Gary Hall (2010) has argued, the development of open access in the humanities carries a certain reciprocity, such that humanities sensibilities will themselves affect open access (as cited in Thomas, 2013). Engaging with digital humanists who are interrogating how openness intersects with humanistic values thus presents an opportunity for scholarly communication librarians to further refine arguments for and systems around open access.7
There is a practical explanation for the thread of scholarly communication reform that runs through the digital humanities. The transformation of humanities scholarship from print to digital necessitates the creation of an alternative scholarly infrastructure—new methods of research, collaboration, evaluation, funding, and publication (Borgman, 2009). As noted above, digital humanists have long argued that digital projects, such as databases, visualization, and digital scholarly editions, are rigorous and theoretical forms of humanities scholarship that require different methods of evaluation and dissemination (see, for example, Bauer, 2011; Fitzpatrick, 2014; Jessop, 2008). These considerations are not mere sidebars to the DH enterprise, where “application is as important as theory” (Shreibman, Siemens, & Unsworth, 2004 ). Attending to infrastructure emerges as an applied form of scholarship, with the boundaries of DH expanded beyond discursive modes of interpretation and into the realm of critical making.8
Systems of promotion and tenure within the humanities, however, still rely heavily on the monograph, despite efforts from professional associations such as the Modern Language Association to advance guidelines for the formal evaluation of digital scholarship outputs. Further, some of the most prominent areas of library scholarly communication reform have been those that devised systems and solutions (such as OA mandates) to combat the effects of rising journal prices. But humanists are less affected by journal prices, except insofar as libraries’ ballooning serials budgets have shrunk allocations for monograph purchasing, further depressing the monograph publishing market. The development of a network of institutional repositories (primarily for article distribution) and the growth of author’s rights advocacy (primarily for negotiating article contracts) has disproportionately served publication practices prevalent in the sciences and social sciences. Moreover, such library initiatives have been matched and informed by efforts coming from outside the library (e.g. disciplinary repositories like arXiv and the Social Science Research Network).
Rather than positioning humanists as lagging behind scientists and social scientists in adapting new models of scholarly communication and publication, though, we might consider the “set of institutionally embedded norms and material practices that are not found in other epistemic cultures” (Cronin 2003, p. 8). Disciplines like literature and history are apt to consider the cumulative product of the monograph to be emblematic of the quality of the scholarship contained within it. That is, the “container” itself is weighted with the trappings of the existing system of peer review and signifies a level of accomplishment that has not yet been duplicated in other formats. It is essential that librarians working in scholarly communication are aware of both the significant contributions that the digital humanities have made in pushing the boundaries of established academic publishing practices and the challenges faced by scholars in obtaining reward and recognition for such work. Such awareness will put libraries in a stronger position to provide expertise and resources to advance efforts in related fields.
Having established that the development of new modes of scholarly publication and dissemination is considered part and parcel of the digital humanities, we turn now to look at the efforts undertaken thus far toward this goal. Changes in scholarly communication manifested under the rubric of digital humanities are twofold: those that draw on the affordances of digital media to enhance written texts, and those that “reach beyond print in its modes of inquiry, research, publication, and dissemination” (Hayles, 2012, p. 27). In the former, experiments in post-publication filtering, open peer review, and middle-state publishing are found alongside more generalized efforts at decentering authority within scholarly communication. The latter includes efforts to evaluate and disseminate multimodal scholarship and non-linear work such as databases and visualizations.
Concomitant with the shift from print to digital has been the oft-remarked shift from scarcity to abundance. As Dan Cohen (2012) put it, “Curation becomes more important than publication, once publication ceases to be limited” (p. 27). Drawing on the work of Michael Jensen, Kathleen Fitzpatrick (2012) explains that, in online environments, the authority of a work is conferred by a community’s endorsement through referrals and links, tweets, and reblogs—in contrast to print’s reliance on the imprimatur of a scholarly publisher (text 7).
DH practitioners look to post-publication filtering as a method of surfacing important work that is already openly available online, such as blog posts and white papers. Projects like Digital Humanities Now, the Journal of Digital Humanities, and DHThis all rely on a community-driven method based on nominations or submissions of existing material to source their content. These projects advance competing models of what constitutes community—itself a constructed idea— and whether “endorsement” should be filtered through editors or open forums. Indeed, DHThis was launched as a reaction to the perceived lack of transparency in the Journal of Digital Humanities editorial process, as an attempt to “[shift] control of new developments in DH to wider publics,” by prioritizing crowdsourcing over editorial processes (DHThis, 2013).
The projects also require the development of new tools and workflows. Digital Humanities Now and the Journal of Digital Humanities are both creations of PressForward, a project operating under the Roy Rosenzweig Center for History and New Media at George Mason University that also develops tools to streamline the workflow of these publications. In 2013, PressForward released a WordPress plugin that allows similar projects to review RSS feeds and create syndicated posts from within the popular blogging platform.9
While pre-print repositories remain a focal point of library scholarly communication, these post-publication filtering projects are concerned with locating, evaluating, and sharing material that hasn’t passed through the standard academic publication systems. Library scholarly communication efforts should encompass a broad conception of what counts as scholarship in the networked academy, perhaps offering consultation in sustainability and digital preservation for community projects.
Digital humanists have also been a part of efforts that posit scholarship as a conversation in flux. Where a book is fixed, a snapshot of a moment in a scholarly conversation, new models for scholarly communication in the humanities emphasize the back-and-forth, giveand- take process of scholarship over a polished product. In this vein, projects that encompass open peer review have illuminated the conversations that were hidden in traditional, closed forms of peer review. Publications like Kathleen Fitzpatrick’s Planned Obsolescence (2011) and Jack Dougherty and Kristen Nawrotzki’s Writing History in the Digital Age (2013) made the entirety of their texts available online and open to comments for a fixed period, prior to their publication in print form by university presses. Using CommentPress, a WordPress plugin developed by the Institute for the Future of the Book that allows line-by-line comments, the authors invited chosen experts and the general public to review the works. In both cases, the peer reviewers’ comments remained accessible online after the official, revised publication was released.
In 2012, Matthew K. Gold’s edited volume, Debates in the Digital Humanities, used a hybrid form of open peer review in which the contributors were able to privately comment on each other’s work, but the process was not made available to the public. Debates is notable for reprinting blog posts alongside original scholarly essays—a decision that may be seen as an effort to confer some of the authority of the monograph (the “gold standard”) onto work originally published on the open web. Notably, these experiments in peer review have toed the line of working with established university presses and conforming to standards for promotion and tenure—a gentle push at the boundaries of scholarly communication and publication. As library publishing becomes more commonplace, librarians with experience managing such projects are well situated to advise on system design, resource requirements, and workflow best practices.
MediaCommons, another project developed in part by the Institute for the Future of the Book and whose editorial and advisory boards include several digital humanities scholars, is a scholarly network and blogging community focused on media studies, first built in 2007 using the WordPress platform. According to the project site, MediaCommons was designed to “transform what it means to ‘publish,’ allowing the author, the publisher, and the reader all to make the process of such discourse just as visible as its product” (MediaCommons, “About MediaCommons,” n.d.). Since then it has comprised a number of distinct projects that play with the idea of publishing as process, or what is often termed “middlestate publishing” (“longer than a blog post, shorter than a journal article” (MediaCommons, “About the New Everyday,” n.d.)) such as In Media Res and The New Everyday. Middle-state publishing emphasizes process over product, reflecting the shift towards an iterative mode of humanities scholarship.
Just as libraries have begun to collect and preserve (and link, and share) the underlying datasets of research articles in the sciences and social sciences, library scholarly communication efforts in the humanities could work with scholars to develop citation practices and systems that bring together these multiple iterations as part of a single scholarly conversation.
In addition to pushing at the seams of peer review and publication practices, digital humanists have grappled with how to distribute multimodal works that incorporate media clips and images, databases, and online exhibits that embrace nonlinearity. Two projects have been developed recently that attempt to address this problem: Scalar and Anvil Academic.
Scalar (released in beta in Spring 2013) is an open source authoring and publishing platform for multimodal scholarship developed by the Alliance for Networking Visual Culture, a group that grew out of the Scholarly Communication Institute, that allows users to annotate text and multimedia content and present it in nonlinear fashion (Scalar, n.d.). Scalar also supports collaborative writing and “reader commentary,” placing it well within the bounds of digital humanities scholarly communication experiments that value public engagement, openness, and a decentered authority.
An ambitious scholarly publisher for DH projects, Anvil Academic (launched in February 2012) recognizes the significance of a publisher’s imprimatur in matters of tenure and promotion. Accordingly, the project has assembled an esteemed editorial board in an attempt to create a rigorous peer- and editor-reviewed environment for open access digital scholarship. Other services provided by the publisher are in keeping with Anvil’s view that “digital publishing is destined to be a set of editorial, peer review, and marketing services rather than outright production of a commodity” (Moody, 2013). These services include copyediting, assigning ISSN and DOIs, creating MARC records, promoting projects, advising on licensing, preserving projects, and reporting metrics and data related to usage (Anvil, n.d.).
Anvil’s Built Upon series stands out for facilitating scholarship based on pre-existing digital resources that, in their construction, are both “archives of cultural artifacts and cultural artifacts themselves” (Jackson, 2012). The series offered libraries with digital collections and resources a relatively low-cost way to connect with scholars seeking to produce knowledge and make creative use of these pieces of scholarly infrastructure. More importantly, by seeking to bring the imprimatur of the publisher and offering standard publication services to digital projects, Anvil is both actively re-imagining and perpetuating formal scholarly communication structures for DH.
The examples described thus far constitute part of an effort geared towards decentering authority in scholarly communication. The notion that a blog post might be taken as seriously as a peer-reviewed journal article by humanities scholars—that it might, indeed, be subject to peer review—is embedded in the projects outlined above. These efforts to achieve equivalency between online and offline publications, along with recent examples of crowdsourcing in DH projects, reflect a wider proclivity to engage with the public as members of the public in the digital sphere.
As early adopters of networked technologies, many digital humanists are accustomed to the more participatory and democratized media landscape in which public discussion occurs digitally. DH experiments in scholarly communication that bolster the legitimacy of academic blogging and other forms of online engagement (with regard to promotion and tenure) can perhaps be understood as an attempt to bring the academy to the public along with the individual academic. While there may be professional reward from this public engagement, humanities scholars in academic departments (or libraries) may not receive traditional academic credit for this activity. As Alan Liu (2012) notes, “While able like anyone else to reach out to the new media, humanities scholars by and large must do so as individuals unsupported by any of the institutional and professional structures that afford them their particular identity qua humanists or scholars” (text 20).
The shift towards digital humanities’ seeking transformation of the academy is an important development as we consider the alignment of scholarly communication and DH scholarship. While the prominence of DH has undoubtedly grown, and many of its practitioners are increasingly privileged in obtaining both grant funds and jobs, the system of scholarly publication on which decisions regarding promotion and tenure rely has fallen out of sync with the emerging modes of digital scholarship in the humanities. Digital humanists have developed experimental forms of scholarly communication out of necessity, precisely because the existing system is structurally inadequate for their needs.
Fitzpatrick documents a decade-long attempt within the Modern Language Association to encourage academic departments to reform standards and practices, particularly around the standard requiring scholarly monograph publication, when evaluating for promotion and tenure. Despite a lack of movement by departments around this issue, Fitzpatrick (2014) observes that public engagement has flourished: “Scholars today are communicating with one another and making their work public .... these projects are not just transforming their fields, but also creating a great deal of interest in scholarly work among the broader public” (2014). This ability to reach an audience and readers outside of academia is also cited as one of the primary benefits of open access, constituting another point of intersection between digital humanities and library scholarly communication.
We have seen here that a thread of DH is actively involved in reimagining scholarly communication for a digital environment, both for pragmatic reasons and as a mode of professional praxis that instantiates an ethos of openness. These efforts include transforming inadequate modes of evaluation, but extend further, towards experimenting with new forms of knowledge representation. While some of these experiments might not be considered DH projects, per se, such as publishing experiments like Digital Humanities Now and Anvil Academic, they are allied with the digital humanities. This drive to explore, to cobble together a new mode of communicating research both to each other and to multiple publics, is engrained in the DH endeavor. Much of this work reflects a move towards transparency in the process of publication in addition to unrestricted access to the end product, making the digital humanities an ally to library scholarly communication.
Scholarly communication librarians, who may possess expertise in models of evaluation, copyright assessment, e-Science, and digital publishing, have much to contribute to the work of digital humanists, and, with their placement outside of disciplinary departmental structures, may provide a neutral meeting ground for interdisciplinary DH practitioners. Scholarly communication already shows signs of realizing the potential for digital humanities to serve as a force in propelling experiments in digital publishing and openness. Librarianship and digital humanities scholarship share conceptual spaces, with significant overlap in the area of scholarly communication. This provides an opportunity for library scholarly communication not only to teach (in the form of advocacy and outreach), but to learn about the needs and concerns of scholars in the (digital and non-digital) humanities—from the very scholars who have been at the forefront of transforming the current scholarly communication system to meet the needs of digital scholarship.
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