Dissemination and valuation of non-traditional forms of scholarship

When the dissemination of scholarship has the subtext of building one's tenure dossier, scholars in most humanistic fields still generally turn to printed publication of traditional articles and monographs. Increasingly, though, more senior faculty and junior faculty willing to take a risk are producing non-traditional works of scholarship that they want to disseminate, but many institutions lack the infrastructure to make that possible. There is also a growing interest in disseminating scholarly ephemera (notes, data sets, etc.), though may come from elsewhere in the institution, including librarians who want to preserve valuable data that could be reused, or students who inherit a wealth of resources when a professor retires. These materials face some of the same challenges as born-digital non-traditional forms of scholarship: there are systems in place to preserve and disseminate printed works, but the resources needed to provide the same level of access to other materials are often limited or entirely unavailable.

Bamboo workshop participants assessed that the sciences deal with some of these issues more successfully than the humanities, pointing to archives of conference papers and electronic working papers as an example. Participants also proposed registries of research activities that bring to light a scholar's research questions, methodology and approach, and connect in pre-prints and other textual publications as they become available. Some scholars responded negatively to the idea of such a system, feeling like exposing their work in an unfinished state might jeopardize their standing in their community, and could put their ideas at risk of being appropriated by others without credit or citation. Other scholars stated that a registry of research activity would do a better job protecting their ideas, by allowing them to "stake a claim" (Ex 2, 1a-F) early on. This would allow them to assert, with evidence, that they were developing an idea early on, allowing them to claim ownership of an idea even if another scholar manages to formally publish it first. Participants also described other models for dissemination that diverge from the traditional approach of ceding control to publishers, such as dissemination through graduated levels of access, from "core" participants to the general public (Ex 3, 1d-B).

Workshop attendees who were working on digital projects were particularly concerned about dissemination of non-traditional forms of scholarship. One scholar mentioned a colleague who painstakingly built a database of 5,000 women writers in China, before the library decided it no longer wanted to support the project (Ex 3, 1d-F). Without an alternative means of dissemination, such work would be lost. Scholars who engaged with digital humanities methodologies seemed less likely to subscribe to the traditional view that "a thing that is little-studied is of more value than something that has been thoroughly chewed over" (Ex 4, 1b-C). In these scholars' experience, materials accrued value through reuse, but dissemination in some form is an undeniable prerequisite. These scholars were hopeful that the traditional paradigm of secrecy in one's research was about to change, and scholars would be rewarded for making all their materials available from early in their research process. If non-traditional materials came to be widely seen as valuable, presumably resources to support their dissemination would follow.

Still, some cautioned against attempts to ensure that all non-traditional materials receive an equal amount of attention and care for their preservation and dissemination. Some materials are more costly to preserve and disseminate than others (e.g. audiovisual materials where the best practices for encoding frequently change, and searching the material is still a technical challenge), and one must make difficult choices about what materials will be most beneficial to maintain, given the resources available.

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