Digital Author Services

The producers of information at our academic institutions are brilliant at what they do, but they need help from experts in sharing their work online. Libraries are uniquely suited for the task.

There are three important areas where we can help our authors:

  1. Copyright and Author Rights Issues
  2. Developing Readership and Recognition
  3. Helping authors overcome technical hurdles to publishing online

Copywhat?

Several libraries are now promoting copyright and author rights information services. These services provide resources (often LibGuides) to scholars who may be sold on the benefits of publishing online, but are unclear what their publishers allow. In fact, in my experience, this is one of the most common problems. Like I said, academics are busy people and focused on their area of specialization, which rarely includes reading the legalese of their publisher agreements, let alone keeping a paper trail handy. This is particularly true for authors that began their careers before the digital revolution.

At any rate, providing online information followed up with face-to-face Q&A is an invaluable service for scholars.

Lucretia McCulley of the University of Richmond and Jonathan Bull of the University of Valpraiso have put together a very concise presentation on the matter, detailing how they’ve solved these issues at their institutions.

Another service, which I’m actually developing at my institution presently, is providing copyright clearance as a service for scholars. In our case, I hope to begin archiving all faculty works in our institutional repository. The problem has been that faculty are busy and relying on individual authors to find the time to do the due diligence of checking their agreements just ain’t gonna happen. In fact, this uncertainty about their rights as authors often stops them cold.

In the service model I’m developing, we would request faculty activity reports or query some other resource on faculty output and then run the checks ourselves (using student labor) on services like SherpaRomeo. When items check out, we publish. When they don’t we post the metadata and link to the appropriate online resource (likely in an online journal).

Developing Readership & Recognition

Another area where library’s can provide critical support is assisting authors in growing their reputations and readership. Skills commonly found in libraries from search engine optimization (SEO) to cataloging play a role in this service offering.

At my institution, we use Digital Commons for our repository, which we selected partly because it has powerful SEO built into it. I’ve seen this at work: where a faculty posts something to the repository and within weeks (and even days), that content is rising to the top of Google search results, beating out even Facebook and LinkedIn for searches on an author’s name.

And of course, while we don’t normally mark up the content with metadata for the authors, we do provide training on using the repository and understanding the implications for adding good keywords and disciplines (subject headings) which also help with SEO.

The final bit, is the reporting. With Digital Commons, reports come out every month via email to the authors, letting them know what their top downloads were and how many they had. This is great and I find the reports help spur word-of-mouth marketing of the repository and enthusiasm for it by authors. This is built into Digital Commons, but no matter what platform you use, I think this is just a basic requirement that helps win author’s hearts, drives growth and is a vital assessment tool.

Walking The Last Mile

MacKenzie Smith of MIT has described the Last Mile Problem (Bringing Research Data into the Library, 2009), which is essentially where technical difficulties, uncertainty about how to get started and basic time constraints keep authors from ever publishing online.

As I touched on above, I’m currently developing a program to help faculty walk the last mile, starting with gathering their CVs and then doing the copyright checks for them. The next step would be uploading the content, adding useful metadata and publishing it for them. A key step before all of this, of course, is setting up policies for how the collection will be structured. This is particularly true for non-textual objects like images, spreadsheets, data files, etc.

So, when we talk about walking the last mile with authors, there’s some significant preparatory work involved. Creating a place for authors to understand your digital publishing services is a good place to start. Some good examples of this include:

Once your policies are in place, you can provide a platform for accepting content. In our case (with Digital Commons), we get stellar customer service from Bepress which includes training users how to use their tools. At institutions where such services is not available, two things will be critical:

  1. Provide a drop-dead easy way to deposit content, which includes simple but logical web forms that guide authors in giving you the metadata and properly-formatted files you require.
  2. Provide personal assistance. If you’re not providing services for adding content, you must have staffing for handling questions. Sorry, an FAQ page is not enough.

Bottom Line

Digital publishing is just such a huge area of potential growth. In fact, as more and more academic content is born digital, preserving it for the future in sustainable and systematic ways is more important than ever.

The Library can be the go-to place on your campus for making this happen. Our buildings are brimming with experts on archives, metadata, subject specialists and web technologies, making us uniquely qualified to help authors of research overcome the challenges they face in getting their stuff out there.

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