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Are We Heading for a Librarian vs Publisher Data Sharing Space Race?

21st November 2014
By Phill Jones

The scholarly communication industry is currently undergoing enormous change. While there is a continuing trend towards open access, a somewhat quieter revolution is building momentum that threatens to have an even more fundamental effect on the scholarly communication industry.

In a previous blog post, I described how funder mandates and research assessment frameworks create new scholarly communication needs such as alternative impact assessment and data sharing. The interesting thing to me about data sharing in this context is that it exists at the intersection of two emerging roles for academic libraries.

The Library as Publisher

The Library Publishing Coalition (LPC) was launched in 2013 by a group of 60 libraries that had an interest in providing publishing services. In the 2015 Library Publishing Directory edited by Sarah Lippincott, 124 institutions with publishing programs were listed, with the vast majority in the United States and Canada. The field is growing fast. Some publishing programs focus on small print journals working in collaboration with both on-campus faculty and off campus groups, as discussed in this report for the ARL by October Ivins and Judy Luther. A good example is Columbia University Library, which publishes the successful journal Tremor and other Hyperkinetic Movements in collaboration with faculty, and also provides publishing services for 17 external journals including Publications of the Modern Language Association of America (pMLA) (which incidentally, is a subscription journal). Interestingly, several of the library publishers documented in the LPC directory, including McGill and George Mason University, state that they plan to expand into data publishing, while groups like Purdue University publishing maintain a relationship with their institutional data repository.

Institutional Repositories

The Directory of Open Access Repositories (OpenDOAR), documents over two and a half thousand institutional repositories and by their own admission, their list is not exhaustive. While some see repositories merely as ways to satisfy green OA mandates, they are used much more broadly. Uses include archives of grey literature, student research and of course, data. According to Charles Watkinson, Associate University Librarian for Publishing and Director of Michigan University Press, 35% of items contained within such repositories are original content and not published elsewhere. What’s more, many repositories are supported by software that was developed (and is being used by library publishers) as publishing platforms such as DSpace and bepress (Digital Commons) from Berkley.

Is the Stage Set for a Data Sharing Space Race?

First_man_on_the_moonLibrary publishing and Institutional repository efforts are converging to meet emerging scholarly communication needs. Library publishing was partially borne of frustration with rising subscription costs and a desire to disrupt commercial scholarly publishers, but it is evolving quickly. Librarians have easy access to expertise from university presses and end-users (in the form of their patrons). It’s no surprise that libraries are identifying and moving to satisfy needs such as data sharing.

Data publication is part of an inevitable funder driven movement towards open science that started with the open access movement. As such, it represents an emerging need and an opportunity for both libraries and publishers alike. It is still early days and the shape of the data publishing landscape is yet to be fully defined. On the one hand, publishers have traditionally provided scholarly communication services to academics and have a deep understanding of the challenges involved. If data sharing solutions were offered as an extension of existing publishing services, it’s easy to see how publishers might become the default service providers for data sharing. On the other hand, librarians have been quietly putting together the components of an expanded model of scholarly communication that goes beyond traditional article publication.

There is opportunity for publishers and librarians to work together here, to find solutions that cater to all stakeholder needs. Having said that, perhaps a little healthy competition will be a good way to drive innovation. If this does turn into a data publishing space race, it’s unclear to me whether publishers or librarians will gain control of this new and rapidly emerging sector of scholarly communication.

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