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Substantial and Enduring Roles for Libraries in Article Sharing: Part 2

7th April 2016
 | Guest Author

hinchliffe_lisa (1)Lisa Janicke Hinchliffe is Professor/Coordinator for Information Literacy Services and Instruction in the University Library at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. She is also an affiliate faculty member in the University’s Graduate School of Library and Information Science.  Lisa served as the 2010-2011 President of the Association of College and Research Libraries, which launched the Value of Academic Libraries Initiative during her presidency, and current candidate for President of the American Library Association. See for additional information.

In Tuesday’s post, Substantial and Enduring Roles for Libraries in Article Sharing, Part I, I discussed the shared commitment that libraries and publishers have to “simple and seamless” article sharing for researchers and some concerns about the Voluntary Principles for Article Sharing on Scholarly Collaboration Networks.  In this Part II, I want to turn my attention to the challenges that authors and institutions face in article sharing as well as the important roles that I see for libraries with respect to article sharing.

In my role as Coordinator for Information Literacy Services and Instruction at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, I know firsthand how difficult it is for authors to share their work, understand the complexities of scholarly collaboration networks, and manage their online scholarly presence.  In addition, frustrated by the stumbling blocks they encounter in accessing archipelagos of content, scholars turn to mechanisms for sharing that they perceive as easier to use and legitimated by their needs – even if those mechanisms may skirt the boundaries of legal access (e.g., Sci-Hub or #ICanHazPDF). Scholars deserve sharing infrastructures that support research collaboration without criminalizing themselves or impinging on time and effort that should be directed towards scholarship.

In a previous post on Perspectives, Nicko Goncharoff states that institutions “must recognise that publishers and authors have a right to understand how their content is being shared and utilised, while protecting the privacy of users.” He goes on to say that those same institutions “need to participate in sharing initiatives so we can make it easy for researchers to post and share articles in institutional repositories, and enable institutions and publishers to understand, and benefit from, sharing activity.”

Having participated in the advisory committee for the NISO Consensus Principles on Users’ Digital Privacy in Library, Publisher, and Software-Provider Systems, I recognize the challenges in maintaining privacy while also gathering useful analytics. This is difficult when considered at the level of a database (e.g., not just how many articles are downloaded from a database or how often is it accessed but who is doing so under what circumstances); I imagine it will only be more challenging at the level of the individual article, particularly when a given article may be available through more than one database or platform.  With the NISO Consensus Principles as a guide as well as NISO’s Alternative Metrics (Altmetrics) Initiative, progress can be made toward explicit expectations and processes for tracking sharing, and reporting that data to the library, which is likely to be the contractual entity with the publisher, rather than the individual scholar. Further work will be necessary, however, to create information flows of that data to authors themselves and even more work to assist scholars in making sense of the data when they receive it.

I find the second assertion about institutions needing to participate in initiatives to make sharing in repositories easier puzzling. I do not think it is institutions that have made it difficult for authors to share articles in institutional repositories. Indeed, the existence of institutional repositories is evidence that institutions are indeed enabling this sharing. I am certain that libraries could do more to improve the user experience of depositing materials into a repository and exposing metadata for discovery. Nonetheless, in my experience, while the process of depositing may have many steps, the determination of whether one can deposit, when, and which version are what lead to confusion. These complications are not the result of library or institutional policies. I welcome publisher efforts under the Principles to simplify deposit and—dare I hope?—automate it. Perhaps the Article Tagging Project may assist with this?

Other roles for libraries in article sharing do or could include:

  • Providing copies of articles to the authors themselves. Many authors—myself included—have publishing records that started in the print era. They likely no longer have electronic copies of the manuscripts (and perhaps they never did depending on the longevity of their scholarly careers). Their only access to digital copies of their own publications from the print era is through library-licensed content. Licensing terms should legitimate unlimited use of these library-licensed materials by the authors themselves and their research collaboration groups. For more current publications, publishers likely provided PDFs but not all authors are able to find those in their overflowing inboxes when they want to share them with colleagues. Unless the publisher is one that allows deposit of the published PDF in an institutional repository (and either the author deposited it or the library has an established workflow for automatically capturing such publications), the only possible access for that author is via the library’s licensed resources.
  • Delivering training programs about scholarly communication networks, implications of different kinds of publication contracts, options for open access and CC licensing, and author rights is standard in many research libraries as is provision of assistance with ORCID, data management plans, bibliometrics, etc. Our Savvy Researcher series at Illinois includes all of these topics and more. While many scholars have joined ResearchGate,, Mendeley, ReadCube, or other plaforms, few have time to devote to understanding the full capabilities of these platforms or to keeping up with evolving features. They need access to training and support, which libraries are well-situated to provide.
  • Developing tools for a research group to use for information discovery, sharing, and management, including works by the authors in the group but also other resources that facilitate information work in the group. The GRIPT: GRoup Information Productivity Tool developed by Grainger Engineering Library at Illinois is the kind of environment that one could imagine being extended as an inter-institutional platform for research collaboration groups, providing secure hosting for collections of articles that cannot be made available in more open repositories for the group. (Description and link to the Geology GRIPT as an example of basic group functionality that might be a basis for extension.)
  • Stewarding the scholarly legacy of institutionally-affiliated authors after they retire from active engagement in collaboration research groups. A scholar should not have to withdraw their publications from a research collaboration group upon retirement; however, for such a system to remain functional it requires that someone manage those legacy contributions to the group. Rather than passing through generations of individuals, scholarly sharing could rely on the expertise that exists in libraries and archives for managing materials and preserving access to institutional records over time.

Just as libraries are strong contributors to the future of open access, libraries can be strong contributors to the envisioned future for the kind of sharing described by the Voluntary Principles for Article Sharing on Scholarly Collaboration Networks; however, they must be seen as such by publishers and authors if they are to contribute to their full potential. Recognition of the substantial and enduring roles of libraries in scholarly communication and collaboration is critical to institutions and researchers being able to work in partnership with publishers.

This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License.