As I have for the past few years, I’m currently serving a member of the Annual Meeting Program Committee for the Society for Scholarly Publishing, an organization dedicated to supporting scholarly communication in all its forms. (Publishers, libraries, vendors, and researchers are all a part of SSP.) The committee plans the 2016 Annual Meeting, which will be held June 1st to 3rd in Vancouver. We discussed a number of potential themes and eventually settled on one that played off the meeting’s location outside the United States. The final theme, “Crossing Boundaries: New Horizons in Scholarly Communication,” is meant to stimulate discussion of how scholarly communication can embrace diversity and build connections to adjacent industries and stakeholders. But while the words evoke a geographic boundary, is that the only boundary in scholarly communication? What other boundaries can we cross together?
- Geography and language. The first boundary to leap to mind — an international border — is still a very important focus of the meeting. Research is booming around the world, including in many developing nations. As a result, physical distance and language barriers have complicated the already too-large mountain of new research, resulting in problems of visibility for research outside of traditional powerhouses like the US and Europe. Bringing together interested parties from around the world to discuss how we ensure that research is communicated to the broadest audience will only become more important over the years. and any chance we have to start these discussions is beneficial.
- New formats of research. Another boundary (one that has held somewhat firm) is the format of published research. Notwithstanding some interesting experiments, the pdf is still the king of scholarly publishing. But the pdf necessarily limits readers to text crafted by the authors in the specific context of being reviewed and accepted for publication, along with static figures often crammed with data. There is ample room for new ways to communicate those same research results — animated figures [ironically, this is a pdf], audio/podcasts, or even videos, whether as primary research or as a new means of summarizing primary research. Regardless of the specifics, the world doesn’t consume content in pdfs, and there is no reason for potentially life-altering research to be boxed into the existing format forever.
- New audiences for research. Currently, scholarly publishing is geared toward helping researchers explain their work to colleagues in the same (or closely related fields). The use of jargon, maligned by some, actually facilitates this transfer of knowledge among experts. But should this be the only audience? As noted above, experts halfway around the world might still not come across all the research that is relevant for them. And what of an audience that may be educated, but not specifically trained in that area? Translating that work to others can help build unforeseen collaborations, educate the public, and demonstrate the importance of the research done every day (especially basic research).
These are just a few of my ideas, and I look forward to reading the proposals for sessions at next year’s meeting. If you have any interest in driving scholarly communication forward, please consider submitting a proposal of your own here. No doubt, we’ll find several undiscovered boundaries to explore. If you have one in mind, please drop a note in the comments. I hope to see you in Vancouver next summer to figure out how to cross these boundaries!