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Published onJul 14, 2019

Ultimately, progress around expansive digital publishing relies on organizations developing infrastructures to support these processes and outcomes. This report is being written by people who work in university libraries, in collaboration with colleagues similarly situated in academic departments, support units, university presses, and other organizations within universities. Our primary goal is to understand how expansive digital publishing programs can exist, indeed flourish, in this context. We have accordingly presumed that situating these programs close to the home of scholars themselves provides the best way to ensure that they are guided by the values of scholars and their institutions.

Based on our investigations over the course of this project, we make the following recommendations and observations about how to develop an institutional framework for support of expansive publishing programs:

Phases of expansive digital publication development must be more clearly defined, documented, and connected to relevant funding and evaluation measures.

Because, by definition, expansive digital publishing is expected to grow and change over time, its development is better supported if it takes place over clearly defined and transparent phases. Subsequently, it is important for libraries and publishers to develop a shared vocabulary for understanding digital project publication over time. The different phases of activity would illustrate a continuum of traits, with processes, efforts, expertise, and funding reflecting the different needs and goals of those phases. Minimally, these development phases would include the following:

  • Investigation
    Early stage efforts that don’t imply a commitment to moving forward, but that do have the time and resources to explore new approaches. Criteria clearly defines fit between project and institutional mission. Similarly, clearly defined metrics help partners determine whether the project demonstrates progress toward or achievement of its goals.

  • Project
    Mid-stage efforts toward clear goals with the resources to achieve them during a specified timeline, but not necessarily a commitment to long-term support. Such efforts typically follow a successful investigatory phase and involve additional rounds of review and assessment to ensure the project will move towards greater embedding in its scholarly milieu and will follow or help reify sustainable development pathways.

  • Publication
    A work that carries all the traits typically associated with published scholarly works, e.g. selection for importance and quality, peer review, editorial oversight, citable units, expectation of longevity, wide availability, etc. At this point, the publication either moves into or is already embedded within a network of scholarship that helps to sustain its use and development over time.

This final category is especially important because it connects with existing reward structures, creating incentives for scholars to engage in expansive digital publishing. Scholars pay close attention to reputation and quality, and the cultivation of a reputation for sustaining scholarship over time builds confidence that digital scholarly works will not be short-lived.

Libraries must play an early and ongoing role in developing expansive digital publications.

As brokers and providers of research materials for scholars, trainers and consultants for new approaches to research, and innovators and partners in creating, curating, disseminating, and preserving scholarship, libraries are the nexus of scholarly communication. They not only provide valuable perspective on how new scholarship and scholarly communication fit within this ecosystem, but they also play a critical role in ensuring new scholarship is legible, discoverable, and sustainable. At different institutions the extent of the library’s role in expansive digital publication development will vary: for some institutions, the most appropriate role may be consulting with creators and facilitating their work with other groups (e.g., humanities institutes, publishers); for others, the library may take on the whole of the publishing enterprise, from initial acquisition and planning to final publication and dissemination. For many libraries, however, we believe the library should play a critical role in helping plan and create expansive digital publications, so that the entirety of that scholarship’s lifespan is considered from the outset (e.g., how the work will integrate in networks of scholarship, demonstrate scholarly value, be discoverable and interpretable by its audiences, etc.).

Successful expansive digital publishing occurs across institutions.

Libraries in particular must connect their local efforts into the broader university ecosystem, so that they can support and receive support from others and so that their efforts integrate and interplay with the work of other institutions. Stand-alone publications are vulnerable to single points of failure and are more likely to become ephemeral. Integration within a network can help with sustainability.

While pivotal, the library’s role in expansive digital publishing is also understood as complementary to the contributions of other nodes in the publishing network. It is unlikely that any one library, press, or center/institute will be able to handle all types of digital publications. A broad community of support for expansive digital publishing, created through partnerships between presses, libraries, and humanities centers/institutes, increases the ability for scholarship to follow pathways appropriate to its aims and needs and to receive necessary and sustainable support. Additionally, such partnerships enable better leveraging of resources and roles at different stages in a publication’s development (e.g., providing a pipeline to presses whose publication of the work serves a valuable credentialing role; or migrating a work to institutions or repositories providing a more robust preservation environment or scholarly context in which the work can be discovered and used over time).

Decisions to pursue expansive digital publishing must be driven by mission and values, not costs.

Understanding the workflows and true costs of emerging publishing models is key to running a sustainable, realistic program that compensates participants’ efforts fairly. To do so, we must have a clear understanding of what the costs are for these publications, in terms of resources, expertise, effort, time, and dollars. Such clarity also helps reveal the actual contributions (and value) of organizations like libraries, who provide critical and frequently unaccounted for labor and resources for this work.

However, we may never begin or ever realize the impact of expansive digital publications if we start with (and never move past) projected costs. Rather, we must begin by defining for ourselves the values that underlie our organization’s work and priorities, especially as those connect with the goals and values of our broader community. When projects connect clearly to these values, we must then make a case for these projects before outlining all the costs and processes. All projects have costs; tying funding to a clearly articulated mission helps ensure that at the end of the day, we have achieved broader impact and progress towards that mission, not merely efficiency.

These recommendations should be viewed as a package for achieving the goals outlined in the beginning of this report. It’s not clear yet that doing all of these things in a cohesive way will themselves move scholarly publishing forward. But these are, we believe, important components of a forward-looking solution.

The ecological metaphor remains useful: by changing aspects of the scholarly publishing process incrementally and testing them without exposing the whole enterprise to risk, scholars and their institutions can help the ecosystem evolve. There are many pressures and precedents slowing this evolution, and this report aims to highlight some areas of opportunity where the scholarly community can circumvent these pressures, creating space for positive change.

We hope readers of this report will seize these opportunities. We hope, too, that they will share their successes and failures with the broader community, to help all of us learn and advance the state of scholarly publishing.


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