i dream of being possible

scholarly communication, academia.edu, and institutional repositories

I mentioned on twitter that my bf burst into the bedroom yesterday to rant about scholarly communication at me (and then I joined up). He was mainly focused on the role that a particular legal blog played in the recent supreme court kurfluffle with the prime minister. Basically, that attempting to publish the material in any ‘formal’ scholarly channel would have created a delay that would have made what happened impossible. Essentially highlighting the fact that scholarly blogging, in a few ways, is kind of like academic journalism1.

He agreed, of course, but then he made a point also about academia.edu, a site that he uses (and that apparently a lot of legal scholars and students have begun to use as a means of distributing their work – published or not). If memory serves, this might be the only social network type of thing that my bf has ever beat me too. And I know that he’s added some of his own papers. And I wonder: has he added any of the same papers to UBC’s institutional repository (where is currently a grad student)? Not even one.

Moreover, I’ve begun to notice that papers on academia.edu have begun showing up more and more in google searches, far more frequently than I see any hits from any institutional repository.

It makes me wonder…

In a time where some institutions are mandating that all scholarly work produced on their campus be made available in the institutional repository, thereby forcing the issue on faculty, why is academia.edu succeeding but IRs, on the whole, very much not succeeding? What are the implications for scholarly communication in general?

I remember one of the first things my bf was excited about after getting his account was stats. He enjoys looking at where in the world people are viewing/downloading his papers (and other metrics). Because he isn’t yet faculty, his interest in this statistics has nothing to do with tenure (and I’m pretty sure that a tenure committee wouldn’t consider the metrics from academia.edu meaningful). The interest in the stats is all about the excitement and joy you feel when you are sharing something you enjoy and are passionate about. Likewise, I used to enjoy periodically checking the stats on my MA thesis hosted in UBC’s IR… until the feature disappeared on3 day a few years ago and I haven’t been back to check since.

But this is just a feature. As noted, features can be taken away or implemented far more easily than cultural changes.

I also don’t think that it is necessarily the ‘social’ aspect of academia.edu that is appealing to scholars. I mean, it certainly plays a role in making the system somewhat more attractive, but I also think this is simply a feature, but not the motivating one.

My suspicion is that it has more to do with the profile more than anything else. In some ways, academia.edu is functioning more as a linkedin for academics. I think the ability to create a profile/web presence with a fairly minimum of effort where people can read/download your papers right away, is why scholars are using this vs an institutional repository.

The problem with IRs is apparent in their name “institutional repository”. It makes it pretty clear that the individual scholar is subordinate to the institution and that their role is to bring glory and fame to their respective institution. And this might have been an okay stance… many years ago before it the adjuntification of higher ed and when tenure positions were more plentiful. When it was likely that a scholar would stay in the same institution for a long time (and thus be invested in the institution itself).

But this isn’t the reality today. The fact that nomadic scholars are well and truly a thing (perhaps even the ‘normal’ thing) means that these scholars have zero incentive to bolster the reputation of an institution that will likely never tenure them and that they may only be at for a fairly short period of time. Time during which they’ll continue to look for a tenure track position. I’m also pretty sure that even tenured faculty are far more mobile than they used to be.

What this all means is that the rewards for tying your scholarly work to your name, not the institution’s, are far greater. It means that your body of work is centralized in one place and builds your brand as a scholar.

Combine this with the fact that academia.edu is far easier to use than any of the common IR softwares… and we begin to see why a for-profit company appears to be succeeding where IRs are not.

(Er… okay. Because I’m clearly the most professional evah! I’m going to have to come clean. I started reading about the history of arXiv and now I can’t remember what point I was trying to make with this post. Sorry.)

  1. This is a point I made since, in a lot of ways, it really does work like this.