Survey of Scholarship Available on Scholarly Association and Community Websites

Survey of Scholarship Available on Scholarly Association and Community Websites

By Caitlin Wolters, George Mason University MA Student and PressForward intern

May 10, 2013

 

Do visitors to the websites of professional scholarly associations and communities find any scholarship? This report assesses the scholarly communication available on the websites of twelve professional associations and communities from the sciences and the humanities.

Both scientific associations and communities make peer-reviewed journal articles available to the public, whereas humanities journal articles are difficult to find on the open web. Moreover, scientific professional associations distributed gray literature in the form of podcasts, blogs, videos, and multimedia. In contrast, the scholarly communities in the humanities disseminate gray literature; professional humanities associations publish very little scholarly communication beyond editorial literature on the websites.

Overall the sciences provide a more diverse and complete range of scholarly material for the public. Without the gray literature disseminated by scholarly communities within the humanities, very little humanities scholarly communication would be accessible on the open web.

 

I.  Introduction

The issue of scholarly communication remains a point of discussion within scholarly communities, as the reach of the Internet continues to envelope more information and technology. Professional associations and scholarly communities both post academic information online, but the type of scholarly communication varies. How does the content compare, or complement, on these groups’ sites?

A February 27, 2013 post by Alice Meadows titled “Are Scholarly Societies Still Relevant to Young Researchers? Perhaps Surprisingly, Yes They Are” on The Society for Scholarly Publishing’s blog shows that young professionals in a variety of fields still see benefits to joining professional associations, partly because of access to research. The majority of the respondents in the survey, 78 percent, believe that associations are still as relevant to the upcoming generation of professionals as they were to the previous generation. However, in a May 6, 2012 article on The Huffington Post, Steve Rosenbaum acknowledges the digital overload that scholars can experience from communication outside of the association, and association leaders know that quicker, more readable communication provide an up-to-date, and more readable overview of the field in their publications.

For this project, it is essential to define what is considered scholarly material, gray literature, and what is editorial literature. In this report, scholarly material is any research that is formally published in a peer-reviewed journal. Gray material is less formal, and most importantly, can be conference papers, white papers, videos or podcasts of scholarly material (speeches of conference talks, for example), blog posts about academic theory or specific projects, and digital published material with a definitive scholarly theme, but without the scholarly nature. Editorial literature includes items that do not fall within the confines of scholarship as they present general information about the field, without discussing theory or projects, including associations’ magazines, general hiring and career information, and conference programs.

With the amount of information online, and the steady growth of resources to share this information, scholarly communication takes place in many forms. As a result, the role of professional associations and scholarly communities require assessment in order to know the full breadth of online scholarship. The sciences publish more scholarly journals online, on both the sites for professional associations and scholarly communities. Professional associations publish gray literature also, showing that scholarship can exist in the form of podcasts, blogs, videos, and multimedia, in addition to traditional journal articles. The scholarly community sites surveyed in this reports only featured digital journal articles, and did not have gray material.

The humanities, however, publish less material on their professional associations sites, mostly allowing non-member visitors only to see editorial literature. Scholarly communities rarely publish journal articles, but feature “gray literature” heavily on their sites. Although the content and format ranged, this communication provides a starting point for increasing the range of digital scholarly communication.

This report surveys what associations and scholarly communities are publishing to engage scholarly communication, and how these two groups differ in material usage. Overall, the findings show that the sciences provide a more diverse and complete range of scholarly material for their users. However, the humanities emphasize the value of gray material in promoting scholarly communication online. Without gray literature, very little humanities scholarly literature would be accessible on the web.

II.  An Assessment of Scholarship in the Sciences

Professional associations in the sciences generally make a wide variety of information available online, regardless of whether users are members of the association. More so than the focus on the membership for users, the scholarship is the foremost factor displayed on associations’ websites. When first viewing the home sties for the Ecological Society of America (ESA) and the American Association for the Advancement of Sciences (AAAS), it is clear that the research and work of their members is the focus of the site.

The availability of scholarship is immediately noticeable when visiting the ESA’s site. Users can see on the home page the types of material available to visitors, including journals, and an association publication titled The Bulletin of the Ecological Society of America. The journal link connects users to five journal publications by the ESA: Ecosphere, Ecology, Ecological Monographs, Ecological Applications, and Frontiers in Ecology and the Environment. These journals allow readers to browse past and present issues, and they denote open access content within the table of contents with the image of a padlock.

While not all articles in each issue of the peer-reviewed journals are accessible to readers, many of them are. Articles within the journals appear in the traditional format, both in full-text versions within the browser and as downloadable PDFs. Journal articles are permanently digitally archived by Portico.org, run by JSTOR, in order to assure their accessibility and preservation online. The ESA’s publications mission generally serves to make research available, address the needs of their readership, and make all their issues accessible in a digital format.

This is a recurring theme among the three science associations included in this survey, as they discuss a commitment to providing accessibility of scholarship. The International Association of Computer Science and Information Technology (IACSIT), like the ESA, discusses their dedication to maintaining content available to members and non-members, stating that the “IACSIT Press publishes high quality, peer-reviewed conference articles, journals and books, primarily in electronic format on the Internet but also in print and other media. Many of our publications are freely accessible, i.e. without charge, in our on-line repository.” Access to publications is not considered to be a privilege for sites’ users, but rather it is demonstrated to be a necessity.

Also like the ESA, IACSIT publishes these articles in a traditional journal format, with peer-reviewed literature that includes citations, arguments and data. IACSIT offers readers eight journals on different areas in the field, which demonstrates that even within the larger field the associations cater to particular areas of study. Rather than having one journal to encompass the vast range of scholarly interests in computer sciences and information technology, the associations publish several journals to cater to the interests of their visitors.

While ESA and IACSIT provide the most formal journal articles in the sites surveyed, AAAS gives readers a relatively large mix of scholarly and gray material. Science is published weekly and sometimes referred to as a journal, while other times called a magazine. There are research articles within each publication of Science, and they contain all the components of a traditional science journal article.

However, within each issue are other writings regarding news in various fields, editorials, meeting notes, book reviews, and experiment reports. In addition, issues contain digital components like podcasts, and some reports even contain podcasts as a supplemental material to the writing. Other publications within the association are based on similar models, including Science Translational Medicine and Science Signaling. Although only some of AAAS’s journal articles were accessible to the public, most of the gray material was available to visitors, and the open material in these publications contained scholarly content and incorporated current research articles.

The AAAS links users out to a separate website, ScienceMag.org, entirely devoted to scholarly communication. The publications are found here, but the AAAS publishes a wealth of gray materials on this site as well. Users can find three blogs on this site, Science Careers Blog, Science Insider, and My Sci Net on the site, in addition to podcasts and videos featured among the literature. My Sci Net, for example, generates networking opportunities and research information for science scholars with varied backgrounds. Science Insider focuses on policy within the field, and Science Careers Blog serves essentially as a news source for those searching for jobs.

Gray material, while not as expansive as the AAAS’s site, is still available online with the ESA. They also prominently feature blogs and podcasts to which users can subscribe. Podcast categories include policy matters, research, and interviews with authors of pieces in the journal Frontiers in Ecology and the Environment. While journal articles may not be as accessible as on the IACSIT site, ESA still features material that borders on scholarly within its gray material for users.

Although the science associations generally provide a fair amount of digital material for their readers, scholarly communities still provide accessibility for those looking to find online scholarship. Like the associations, these scholarly communities profess a commitment to generating a communication between scholars. PLoS Biodiversity writes that “the vision behind the creation of PLOS Hubs is to show how open-access literature can be reused and reorganized, filtered, and assessed to enable the exchange of research, opinion, and data between community members.” This mission statement is poignant in that it states the scholarship exists not only to be read, but also to be used and adapted.

PLoS is not the only scholarly community to demonstrate this commitment in the sciences — arXiv.org and science.I/O also provide scholarly content that is accessible to all site visitors. All three communities post scholarly material online, allowing users to read full journal articles on the sites. ArXiv and science.I/O are similarly formatted, providing lists of articles for readers. They both break down the material into searchable formats, including recently published articles, and thematic similarities. ArXiv features articles in physics, mathematics, computer science, quantitative biology, quantitative finance, and statistics.

Science.I/O is focused on the field of computer science, but also allows users to browse subjects within that field, including artificial intelligence, data management, graphics, human-computer interaction, networks and communication, operating systems, parallel and distributed computing, programming languages, security, software engineering, and theory and algorithms. Articles on science.I/O link out to publications hosted elsewhere, including GoogleScholar, but also to other open access scholarly communities. For example, some of the Science.I/O articles are also available on arXiv.org, further demonstrating a shared goal and commitment to communication among these communities.

These sites were founded and are maintained by distinctly different persons and groups, showing that scholarly communities can be as inclusive as the creator wishes. Science.I/O was founded and built by Ken Van Haren, who lists his email on the site for paper submissions. Although there is not much information about Van Haren on the site, he allows scholars to easily submit their work to the site.

ArXiv’s Scientific Advisory Board, however, runs ArXiv.org through Cornell University Library. The Board is composed of scholars and researchers in each field represented on the site. A submission form can be found on the site, for which registered users can submit papers for publication on arXiv.org. PLoS Biodiversity, which also provides journal articles for readers, is maintained by the Public Library of Science, which defines itself as a “nonprofit publisher, membership and advocacy organization.” PLoS publishes a wealth of scientific scholarship, and professes a commitment to accessibility for scholarly communications.

When considering the types of digital communication in the sciences, there is a wide array of different types of information. Users can find scholarly material on both the sites for associations, as well as scholarly community groups. While, the scholarly communities publish more journal articles, the associations publish a mix of gray and scholarly material to provide diversity in scholarly communications for their visitors. This survey shows how the sciences differ from the humanities in that regard, as the types of scholarly communication range widely in the humanities.

III.  An Assessment of Scholarship in the Humanities

While the sciences grasp the value of offering several forms of scholarly communication and generally present a similar scope of information on the sites of associations and scholarly organizations, the humanities exhibit a wide range of content. The American Historical Association (AHA) shows how some associations have not committed to providing scholarship, because the only publication available online to all visitors is an editorial magazine called Perspectives. Scholarly articles are available on the AHA’s site, but only for members, leaving scholarship out of the reach of the public.

However, not all fields within the humanities treat scholarly communication the same way as the AHA. The American Academy of Religion (AAR) showcases their publications toward the bottom of their homepage, rather than featuring these items. Most featured is Religious Studies News, which the AAR states “is not a scholarly journal. It is the newspaper record of the field,” much like Perspectives, the newspaper contains editorial literature and does not consist of any gray literature. Although sites like ESA featured some gray material including blogs and podcasts, the AAR site does not have any material that could be deemed gray literature.

One area in which the AAR site surpasses the AHA in available scholarly communication is in the ability to view some journal issues online. This is not to say the AAR provides an expansive view of journal articles to the public, but whereas the AHA provided no access, the AAR gives a small window. The Journal of the American Academy of Religion (JAAR) links to its publication at Oxford University Press, and while the entire journal is not accessible like those on IACSIT’s site, some content can be found.

For example, the March 2013 issue, volume 81 issue 1, provides five open access articles for readers. Four of the items are full journal articles, while the fifth piece of literature is a short analysis of some religious photography. All articles are scholarly in nature, and can be downloaded as a PDF or viewed within a browser. Although there were five articles available in the March 2013 issue, the previous issue, December 2012 only contained one accessible article, and the issue before, September 2012, did not have any open access material at all showing that access inexplicably varies.

Within these fields, there appears to be a visible tension regarding what types of communication should be accessible. While this is demonstrated with the AAR’s partial access to journals on their site, the American Sociological Association (ASA) exemplifies this tension through their limited access to journal articles, and through their Wikipedia Initiative. The ASA publishes eight journals, and each of these journals provides some articles in PDF form for visitors to the site. Some journals offer as few as two articles, while others offer as many as twenty-two articles, and can date back to early 2005. While the JAAR denoted articles as open access within each issues, the ASA lists its PDF articles on a single page without any organizational notation, and the number of available articles is comparatively small to the total number.

The largest push toward creating a scholarly conversation on the ASA’s website is arguably seen in the ASA Wikipedia Initiative. This movement asks ASA “members to support the Association’s mission to deploy the power of Wikipedia to represent the discipline of sociology as fully and as accurately as possible. In addition, we seek to promote the free teaching of sociology worldwide.” The Wikipedia Initiative seeks to achieve its mission through ensuring the completion and readability of sociology-related articles, effective and accurate citation usage, and to assess the information already available on the site. In his original call to action, ASA President Erik Olin Wright referred to Wikipedia as a Utopia, embodying equality and providing accessibility to the scholarly community and the public.

The choice to highlight the scholarly benefits of Wikipedia shows the site as a legitimate information source that scholars can employ to breach the gap between scholarship and public information. Although copyright may still be an issue for journal articles in the humanities, there are other ways in which scholars can share their work. Wikipedia can be used as an option for scholars looking to make their work public, despite copyright issues. Additionally, the initiative also allows for a collaborative effort between the public and scholars in developing these Wikipedia entries that may bridge the gap between scholarship and public interest.

The Modern Language Association (MLA) is arguably most demonstrative of a cross between the traditional association’s page, and the page of a scholarly community. At first glance, the MLA seems to exhibit the same format as the AHA and AAR with very little scholarly literature on the site. The only accessible publications are bulletins and newsletters, which do not contain any scholarly content. There is a strong emphasis on their book publications, where visitors can purchase copies of the MLA Handbook and various teaching guides.

Although it is obscured on the site, the MLA is affiliated with MLA Commons, which embraces several types of scholarly communication through invoking the use of scholarly and gray literature and offering its users several ways to share and find information. Users can create scholarly, peer-reviewed literature through the CommentsPress tool, which allows readers to comment on a paragraph-by-paragraph basis. Peer review, which is an essential part of the publishing process for scholarly articles, can be accomplished in this manner, allowing scholars to note comments adjacent to the actual text for the author to consider. The pieces developed in CommentsPress are longer, journal-type articles, which add to the diversity of MLA Commons.

Blogs are a heavily featured type of gray literature on MLA Commons as members can register their blogs with MLA Commons, and connect with fellow members through the Group feature. They are listed within the site, and users can search through the list to find blogs related to their own areas of interest. Through the Group feature, users can connect and share information about different topics related to their study. However, users must be members in order to join Groups, and while most of the MLA Commons is open to the public, the Group feature requires an MLA membership as well as the ability to add to the Wiki page.

The MLA Commons Wiki page is both similar and different from the Wikipedia Initiative used by ASA. Both groups want scholars to interact and make information more accessible, as well as to continue a scholarly debate in a public format. However, the MLA asks its user to engage with the MLA Commons to create Wikis, rather than edit and work with material that exists on Wikipedia. The Wiki is slightly more private than the Wikipedia Initiative because only members of the MLA can create or edit pages, while the ASA recognizes the public’s ability to change information on Wikipedia.

The MLA Commons differs from the other humanities scholarly communities detailed in this survey because it is affiliated with a professional association, and it publishes scholarly literature. Digital Humanities Now (DH Now) and Religion Dispatches publish more gray material, and function differently from the MLA Commons. DHNow aggregates content through editors-at-large, who comb through scholar’s personal websites, blogs, and institution’s sites to reproduce material relevant to digital humanities. Content is published twice per week, and includes editors’ choice pieces, as well as resources, job information, calls for papers, and other shorter news items. The editors’ choice pieces are usually longer blog publications that range in content from digital pedagogy to current research projects, and publications can address any field within the humanities

Religion Dispatches provides a mix of both scholarly and journalistic content, which is fitting considered former journalists and scholars maintain it. Their mission is to publish a mix of expert opinion and reported news, showing a format different from the other scholarly community groups discussed in this survey. As a result, not all literature on the site is scholarly, but is gray literature, and authors include both scholars and journalists. Although scholars may not always write Religion Dispatches’ gray literature, the pieces written by professionals show that the public can successfully engage in scholarly communication through the literature presented on the site.

DHNow, which is run by PressForward at the Center for History and New Media (CHNM), largely incorporates material by scholars. However, much of this material is generated through blog posts, and is considered gray literature. The material undergoes a type of informal and modified peer review, as volunteer editors choose and publish the literature. While much of the material published on DHNow is gray literature, journal articles can be published if they are nominated by an editor-at-large. Since DHNow does not create its own content, like MLA Commons and Religion Dispatches, if a journal article was published elsewhere first, DHNow is free to re-publish this type of article.

These three scholarly communities show how content can vary in aggregation, format, and authorship between sites. If anything, it shows that the humanities have several resources to provide scholarly communication that have not been tapped yet, and the ability to create these sites remains an opportunity for several fields. It also shoes the value of gray literature in creating a digital conversation for both scholars and the public.

IV.  Conclusion

The Internet poses many questions for the future of scholarship, and how scholars will react to the opportunity to publish their work online. Some scholars have begun to take advantage of the use of digital resources to engage the public and scholarly community in conversation through the support of professional associations and scholarly communities. There are some differences between the humanities and the sciences, particularly when evaluating the scholarship made available by professional associations.

While only IACSIT allows complete accessibility to journal articles, both ESA and AAAS show a commitment to publishing scholarly material. The ESA frees some of its content for users, and while the AAAS frees the least, they provide an abundance of gray literature that can be useful to visitors. Interestingly, both ESA and IACSIT discuss their commitment to open access scholarship online, which may signal a movement toward more open content over time. This is dramatically different from the professional humanities associations.

As briefly mentioned, the AHA provides no scholarship or gray material on its site. This is, of course, the minimum, and fortunately most of the sites surveyed provided more than this scarce amount. Some journal articles are made available by the professional associations, but this number is comparatively small to the number of accessible articles offered by science associations and scholarly communities. The MLA’s complicated relationship with open access is apparent with the lack of open materials on their site, but countered with the growing amount of resources and impressive design of the MLA Commons.

The limited amount of scholarly journal articles and gray literature on humanities professional associations’ sites demonstrates a need for this kind of material elsewhere. The sciences professional associations, for example, publish more journal articles than the humanities professional associations, yet scholarly communities still fill a void through journal publications on their own sites. This is not the case with the humanities.

Although the gray material available on sites like Religion Dispatches, DHNow and MLA Commons is useful, scholarly articles would add to the diversity of materials readers can find online. Besides a few digital-only journals online, there are no communities that fill this void. In order to promote the accessibility of journal articles online, the humanities community needs to engage in a discussion about the relevance of digital journals, and how they can add to the scholarly community and the public.

This is not to dismiss the value of gray literature. Because the humanities generally do not publish formal scholarly material, the existence of gray literature is extremely valuable. Associations leave a hole in their scholarly communications, and gray literature is a valid solution to compensate for a void in conversation. The sciences provide diversity in their scholarly communications, while the humanities mostly provide gray literature on the collective whole of their sites.

In the meantime, the use of Wikipedia and Wikis is an interesting trend within the humanities community. Although these avenues were not explored much in the sciences either by professional associations or by scholarly communities, both groups in the humanities demonstrated interest in what these sites can do to advance the field. Wikipedia and Wikis are so widely available, allowing for an interaction of ideas between the scholars and the public.

This is an interesting way to engage in translating material from a scholarly format to a public format, as scholars inevitably will have to make concessions in some entries to suit the needs of Wikipedians. The MLA Commons use of Wikis seems an appropriate starting point for scholars who may be interested in engaging with gray material, as it only allows members to edit entries. According to the MLA Commons, this feature has not been used much yet, but it might be a way for scholars to start experimenting with digital scholarship.

There is much that needs to be done in the humanities to promote the benefits of digital scholarship communications. While associations like the MLA and ASA acknowledge the shortcomings of literature and account for this through avenues like the MLA Commons and the Wikipedia Initiative, there is a still a glaring gap of absent open scholarly materials, particularly with journal articles. Despite the great strides scholarly communities have made in making scholarly communication accessible online, resources on the Internet present so many opportunities for scholarship that have not yet been taken. In order to assess the future of scholarly communications, it is necessary to evaluate the material that is available, and find innovative ways in which the scholarly community can fill inconsistencies.

 

Appendix A: Sciences Sites Reviewed

1. International Association of Computer Sciences and Information Technology

IACSIT is an international organization that unites scholars and professional in the field of computer sciences. Their main mission is to facilitate research within the field, as well as establish communication among its members and to enhance collaboration. There is a strong emphasis on conferences on their site, showing that this is essential to membership.

2. Ecological Society of America

Founded in 1915, the ESA seeks to promote communication among ecologists in order to advance the field. The association has over 10,000 members in the various areas of the field, including scholars, researchers, and professionals. The ESA provides support to its members, in addition to reaching out to community and media, and working with environmental policy.

3. American Association for the Advancement of Science

The AAAS serves 261 societies and affiliations of science, encompassing approximately 10 million total members. It is headquartered in Washington, D.C. and Cambridge, U.K. Founded in 1848, the AAAS seeks to advance the field of science and its role in society.

4. ArXiv.org

Run by Cornell University Library, ArXiv.org has been publishing scholarly journal articles in digital format for its readers since 1991. This archive is also maintained by the arXiv Scientific Advisory Board and the arXiv Sustainability Advisory Group.

5. PLoS Biodiversity Hubs

Developed by the Public Library of Science, the Biodiversity Hub publishes research about the issues affecting the field. It seeks to promote communication between scholars, and emphasizes the use of social media to do so. The site aggregates digital material from existing journals to publish.

6.   Science.I/O

Science.I/O publishes research articles in the field of computer science. Users can create personalized research feeds that feature information from journals. Visitors can choose from research in eleven areas in the field.

 

Appendix B: Humanities Sites Reviewed

1.   American Academy of Religion

The AAR boasts over 11,000 members and emphasizes the need for critical thought about religion and religious ideology. Comprised of scholars and teachers, the association seeks to broaden the public understanding religion.

2.   American Sociological Association

The ASA seeks to demonstrate the value of sociology as a public field to benefit the public. The association has over 14,000 members, with approximately 20 percent who work in government, business and non-profit organizations. They have programs worldwide to show the importance of studying sociology.

3.   Modern Language Association

Founded in 1883, the MLA unites scholars who teach language and literature. With 30,000 members, the association serves English and foreign language teachers and scholars. Over 100 countries are represented in MLA’s members.

4. MLA Commons

Launched in early 2013, the MLA Commons allows members to communicate through various networks on the site. Feature like Groups and Blogs allow members and the public to hold discussions about current research and trends in the field.

5. Digital Humanities Now

Run by the Center for History and New Media, DH Now aggregates and publishes material from scholars related to digital humanities. The site also publishes news items, including jobs, resources, and calls for papers. The community finds publishable items through specialized search feeds.

6. Religion Dispatches

Religion Dispatches is an online magazine that addresses the role of religion in politics and culture. It offers readers pieces from journalists and scholars, as well as blogs.