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Projects and Products and Artifacts, oh my!

April 9, 2018

What counts as a mode of scholarly discourse has changed and continues to change. Scholarship today is a plexus, and intellectual output takes on an ever-widening array of variegation. Yet the paradigm for evaluating academic contributions is still very hierarchical and somewhat arbitrary. To look at the sum of books, articles and papers produced at the end of an academic career is interesting, but not necessarily informative about the paths of inquiry and detours of significance along the journey, especially if they are highly collaborative. Also, past performance, as the old saw goes, certainly is not indicative of any future success. Why then do promotion and tenure in higher education still have the very conservative threshold of publish or perish? What does it even mean to publish anymore?

open research workflows

Image from presentation on research workflows
NPOS Workflow-perspective-Bosman-Kramer.pptx

Librarians can be in the forefront in answering questions such as these, because we can see the reticulation more objectively. While we occasionally have a vested interest in promotion and tenure policies, our vantage-point helps us to see more impartially the burgeoning ways scholarly research is openly communicated. We have, slowly at times and sometimes out of necessity, adopted format agnosticism. We also need to be aware of better markers for evaluation than just counting. Librarians are not usually expert enough to evaluate the quality of scholarship in terms of what it contributes to a field of study, but we do have a unique view on how, when and where scholarship is publicly delivered, discovered and employed. It may very well be too controversial at many institutions to include the librarian’s perspective in evaluating a faculty member’s contributions to an academic discipline, but we should give our teaching and research partners cause to call upon us for insight and librarians need to be ready.

One entree would be to continuously familiarize ourselves with how research workflows are currently being laid open. One rather ambitious social project that gives academic librarians a purview, which originated with librarians Bianca Kramer and Jeroen Bosman at Utrecht University: “400+ Tools and innovations in scholarly communication” ( Another good first step would be to take part in shaping how we even describe what it is scholars produce. Beware, though, some faculty may still very well bristle when librarians say they provide research assistance for new forms of scholarly communication, such as digital projects, products and artifacts.

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