Last week the Association of College and Research Libraries (ACRL) released a new research agenda for scholarly communication identifying needed areas of research to foster a more open, inclusive, and equitable scholarly communications system. The report, Open and Equitable Scholarly Communications: Creating a More Inclusive Future, was developed under the leadership of ACRL’s Research and Scholarly Environment Committee (ReSEC) and prepared by Nancy Maron and Rebecca Kennison with contributions from Paul Bracke, Nathan Hall, Isaac Gilman, Kara Malenfant, Charlotte Roh, and Yasmeen Shorish. Open and Equitable Scholarly Communications will be of interest to anyone seeking to understand current library perspectives on scholarly communications.

In releasing this report, ACRL “encourages the community to make the scholarly communications system more open, inclusive, and equitable by outlining trends, encouraging practical actions, and clearly identifying the most strategic research questions to pursue.” The report draws on input from more than 1000 ACRL members and other stakeholders and presents an evidence-based argument for priority areas of inquiry that are most promising for pursuing openness, inclusion, and equity in scholarly communications.

Structure of the Research Agenda

The research agenda is presented in three sections – People, Content, and Systems – and in each section there are examples of specific effective practices currently in implementation as well next directions for research in that topic area. The priority topics for next directions in research in each area are:

  • People:
    • Embracing Diversity and Inclusion
    • Improving the Working Lives of People Engaged in Scholarly Communications
    • Increasing Awareness Concerning Creators’ Rights
  • Content:
    • Rethinking What Scholarship “Counts”
    • Creating More Representative and Open Collections  
  • Systems:
    • Supporting Technological Infrastructure That is Sustainable
    • Creating Systems That Permit More Access to More People
    • Building Mission-Aligned Organizational and Financial Systems
    • Advancing Innovation

As a past president of ACRL, I’m pleased to see the association continuing its approach of developing robust reports that not only provide a comprehensive review of the state of the field but also set a direction and strategy for continuing to develop and shape the field. Academic librarians will find the areas of progress and practical actions a source of inspiration, while the next directions will guide useful inquiry and be particularly useful for librarians who are tenure-track and working on establishing research agendas to pursue during their careers.  

Applying the Research Agenda

Nathan Hall, incoming chair of ACRL ReSEC, has been using the document in his own work already, “referring to the broader themes in a few grant proposals, articles, and presentations, and sometimes tying the themes to ALA’s Core Values of Librarianship — particularly Democracy, Diversity, Service, and Social Responsibility.” Nathan has been working at Virginia Tech on “diversifying and decolonizing collections through non-custodial collection development and digital repatriation” and “on a model of participatory digital archive collection development between academic libraries and communities, and this ties to the research agenda’s theme of greater access to digital infrastructure.”

In addition to inspiring research, the report can also be used for organizational development and planning. Yasmeen Shorish, current chair of ACRL ReSEC, shared with me that her department at James Madison University “will be reading the agenda in preparation for our annual planning, to help frame the work we do within the larger context of the profession and the research environment.” As my own library is currently in the midst of a strategic planning process, I can easily see how this report could inspire our thinking as well.

Publishers, platforms, and other stakeholders in scholarly communications will also find this report useful for understanding the current milieu of perspectives on scholarly communications in academic libraries. Those working in scholarly communications but doing so outside of library settings may be frustrated by the library-specific framing that permeates the report. For example, in the People section, there is no discussion of the working lives of those who work in the scholarly publishing industry (such as staff in editorial, production, platform development, etc. for scholarly societies or university presses) or those who maintain common infrastructures (such as the staff of ORCID or CrossRef) and no mention of the Coalition for Diversity & Inclusion in Scholarly Communications. As Open and Equitable Scholarly Communications is an ACRL report, the library orientation is not particularly surprising and perhaps justified but it does limit the utility of the research agenda for those who wish to have a broader frame for inquiry into the scholarly communications system. Nonetheless, the structure of the report can inspire those who wish to pursue inquiry in other contexts to develop additional research questions.

Additional Information

ACRL has made Open and Equitable Scholarly Communications: Creating a More Inclusive Future freely available in PDF format and there is a session about the report at the ALA Annual Conference in Washington DC later this month. For those not attending the conference, there will be a free ACRL Presents Webcast in July (pre-registration required). ACRL is also offering grants to support research projects that align with the priority areas for research.

Lisa Janicke Hinchliffe

Lisa Janicke Hinchliffe

Lisa Janicke Hinchliffe is Professor/Coordinator for Research Professional Development in the University Library and affiliate faculty in the School of Information Sciences, European Union Center, and Center for Global Studies at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.