Moving Beyond Libraries as big photo albums

In Moving beyond the photo album, Kevin Smith describes the journal article as “a “snapshot” of research… increasingly far-removed from the actual research process and have less and less relevance to it.”

Smith summarizes a talk by G. Sayeed Choudhury, Associate Dean for Library Digital Programs at Johns Hopkins University, in which:

Choudhury called on libraries to move past a vision of themselves as merely a collection of these snapshots and become more active participants in the research process. He recounted a conversation he had with one researcher who, in focusing on the real need he felt in his own work, told Sayeed that he did not care if the library ever licensed another e-journal again, but he did need their expertise to help preserve and curate his research data. The challenge for libraries is to radically rethink how we spend our money and allocate the expertise of our staffs in ways that actually address felt needs on our campuses and do not leave us merely pasting more snapshots into a giant photo album that fewer people every day will look at.

Of course, as Smith notes, promotion and tenure systems still rely on the “outmoded system of scholarly communications that is represented by the scientific journal”, even as actual scholarly communication is happening outside of, and in spite of, published journal articles.

What are libraries to do? Dwindling budgets are forcing many of us to cancel journal subscriptions anyway; but as long as tenure and promotion rely on traditional citation and publication counts, we can’t very well stop collecting the snapshots that are traditional scholarship. But, we can play a role in promoting new modes of scholarly communication, and we ought to be participating in conversations about establishing better, more efficient, more relevant ways of evaluating scholarship.

Edited 8/27/09: Thanks to @ericrumsey for the better, more accurate title suggestion.

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