Thursday, November 6, 2008

Achieving Community Goals in Our Decentralized Environment

Roger Schonfeld of Ithaka spoke about the American academic community, and what might be called impediments to achieve common goals. The American system of higher education is highly decentralized. There are private and state universities, there are various consortia, but there is no federal, top-down oversight, as there is in many other countries. Nonetheless, shared community goals of the academic community are:

- improve access to higher education
- maximize impact of research output
- preserve information necessary for scholarship

Improve access to higher education:

Traditionally, this meant expanding access to higher education through financial aid.

Digitally, this means distribution of educational materials more broadly via the Internet, reaching new communities via OpenCourseWare, Berkeley iTunes, and related initiatives.

In India, several sci/tech universities are collaborating to share a single curriculum online: the best economics 101, the best geology 101, etc. The goal is to make the best educational opportunities available online, and the effort is funded by the Indian government.

Maximize impact of research output:

Traditionally, this meant document sharing through ILL and other means.

Digitally, this means increasing accessibility by using low pricing or open publishing platforms.

Ithaka conducted a survey of faculty preferences for where they publish their research output (in order of preference):

- the journal must be widely read in their field
- no cost to authors to publish
- preservation of work is assured
- the journal is highly selective
- accessible in the developing world
- available for free

Making their research freely available is the least important factor.

Preserve information necessary for scholarship:

Traditionally, this meant research material was purchased, retained, and stored.

Digitally, this means licensing e-collections, participation in digital preservation, and hoping that print collections are retained somewhere (else).

Preservation of print: how many copies do we need? Ithaka's research indicates that:

- 22 light copies that serve as use copies (light, i.e., verified at the volume level)
- 6 dark copies ( verified at the page level. JStor is doing this)

If we have somewhere between 6 and 22 copies, we can reliably say we are preserving print.

Common Theme: in a decentralized environment, such as the US, the incentives to achieve community goals don't always line up with the realities of higher education.

To improve access to higher education:

- community wide course dissemination
- significant central funding (impossible in the US)

To maximize the impact of research output:

- enforceable mandates seem required to counter the pervasive, competing incentives faculty face in their publishing strategies

To preserve scholarship for future research:

LOCKSS and Portico participation is voluntary. They represent an effort to develop new social norms around preservation. Social norms have yet to trump the "free-ride" problem (signing on to LOCKSS or Portico can be viewed as being good library citizens). Will new taxes (on scholarship) or central funding be necessary to preserve digital output?

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