Editor’s Note: The Society for Scholarly Publishing (SSP) and the Charleston Library Conference (CLC) have partnered to present a scholarship exchange competition for the industry’s best and brightest. SSP and CLC are teaming up to award free annual conference registrations to an SSP Fellow and a CLC Up & Comer in publishing, library/information science, or related career path. In the first phase of the exchange, current SSP Fellows were tasked with answering, “How will the needs of emerging professionals/academics change scholarly communications in the future?” Fellow Lynnee Argabright’s essay addressing the influence of emerging professionals and academics expectations of immediate access to scholarly communication has been selected as the exchange’s first winner. Lynnee is an Open Access Research Assistant at University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill’s University Libraries, and pursuing an MS in Information Science in UNC’s School of Information and Library Science. Her essay is below:

logos of SSP and CLC

At its heart, scholarly communication is about the community that encircles research, and therefore, dissemination is a community effort. Each publication allows other scholars to read, reference, and then expand upon the research in the field with their work. Such sharing would promote a perfect embodiment of open access (OA); yet, as introduced in the Open Access Tipping Point panel hosted by the University of California this August, only 15% of published content is OA upon publication. When we think about ways in which we can improve OA use, or provide services to ease the research lifecycle, we do so (hopefully) by anticipating professionals and academics’ needs. Various studies (such as Al-Shabul & Abrizah, 2014; Gross & Ryan, 2015; Mandler, 2013; Pho & Tran, 2016; Spence, 2018; Xia & Xia, 2013) have sought to identify information needs — in the case of Humanities scholars particularly, three significant areas include access to research information, publication type requirements, and funding support — as well as identifying information barriers — for example, regarding OA publishing, there is a lack of OA awareness, lack of high-impact OA journals, lack of funding to pay article processing fees, and lack of training for OA processes. Librarians and publishers may already be offering services to meet these needs already, but there is more to be done.

These current information needs and barriers will naturally evolve as emerging professionals come to the academic field, but old bureaucratic systems still weight them. At the Society for Scholarly Publishing’s (SSP’s) 2019 Annual Meeting, a panel of faculty researchers presented their perspectives on academic publishing, stating that their graduate students wanted their research findings open. The immediate and endless discoverable sources of information on the internet in which these emerging professionals have grown up could naturally shape a researcher’s needs and expectations. I think this “immediate need” has excellent potential to drive development of scholarly communications, so long as we also remember that it comes with the baggage of academia’s bureaucratic structure.

Immediate access to information can be satisfied by having full-text, W3C accessibility-compliant, SEO utility of disseminated material in a vast and connected information resource. Burgeoning scholars are familiar with traversing Google and Google Scholar and collecting their findings in a simple, user-friendly tool. They don’t want to jump through hoops to access content, and they’d like to read text with the capacity for searching — which means that electronic books are more accessible than print books to use for research.

Supporting the need for immediate internet access leaves room for publishers to develop and improve their systems to communicate better with their academic library customers. Thus, researchers can get from Google to an article’s official webpage to access library-subscribed content quickly, but also have specific steps for accessing content legally. This step could be as simple as clicking an Interlibrary Loan link connected to their library straight from the article’s webpage. This solution would involve a collaboration between publishers and libraries, rather than individual efforts from both, to better meet the needs of the researchers.

Immediate access to information also involves the speed of publishing. No transition of publishing workflow happens overnight, but as the pace of research rapidly increases, it must become a near-term goal. Converting publishing processes for electronic-first production models will help enable research to be presented, updated, and supplemented in the format most suitable to the needs of the field. Libraries can work on revising metadata creation best practices to reflect user needs of digital resources, and to engage researchers about digital literacy and reproducible research practices.

Scholarly communications must also play an active role in supporting researchers in trying to meet academic requirements. As the number of tenured positions decreases, along with drops in institutional funding, researchers will increasingly become hard-pressed to find funding to support their research goals. Libraries are expected to supply more access to materials for their universities despite smaller budgets. The APC model may cause OA initiatives to continue to struggle as a viable publishing option. I believe the question of funding, and the administration of funding, will take an increasingly important role. Federal and private funders have already stepped into the research ecosystem of scholarly communication, yet the increasing competitiveness of grant-funding suggests this cannot be an entirely dependable source for research communication.

The needs of emerging professionals and academics are likely to influence more open scholarly communication, yet to do this successfully suggests the changing of systems, workflows, partnerships, and economic models. Editorials in the Journal of Librarianship and Scholarly Communication’s 2019 General Issue observe so eloquently a change of perspective: we must come together as a community. A community that interacts in ways “defined by those [communities of research professionals] so that it may become sustainable, culturally responsive, relevant, and accessible” (as cited in Gilliland, et al, 2019).

Lynnee Argabright

Lynnee Argabright is an Open Access Research Assistant at University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill’s University Libraries, and pursuing an MS in Information Science in UNC’s School of Information and Library Science.