Scholars Embrace New Publication Modes in Theory More Than in Practice, Study Finds

September 03, 2007

Faculty members remain as keenly interested in publishing and disseminating their work as ever, but there’s a disconnect between their attitudes and their behavior in the fast-changing arena of scholarly communication. That’s the thrust of a report released on Friday by the University of California’s Office of Scholarly Communication. But the report also finds the strongest movement for change in some unexpected places, including the arts and humanities disciplines and among senior faculty members.

The report, “Faculty Attitudes and Behaviors Regarding Scholarly Communication,” compiles responses from 1,118 “ladder-rank” faculty members across the University of California system. Participants completed a 32-item online survey designed to assess faculty trends in scholarly publishing.

The report concludes that “the UC faculty largely conform to conventional behavior regarding scholarly communication, such as publishing in traditional venues, but widely express a need for change in the current systems of scholarly communication.”

Many of the survey’s respondents pointed to the current system of tenure and promotion as the main impediment to change — the subject of a much-discussed Modern Language Association report released last year — but they worry that doing things less traditionally “might undermine the quality of scholarship.” The California study also found that professors “appear to consider the act of publishing itself to be sufficient for accomplishing their goals” and to trust that dissemination will take care of itself.

Faculty members also tend to see difficulties in this arena as something that afflicts others, not themselves, the report says. And university attempts to inform them about important developments and opportunities in scholarly communication have too often failed to get the message across.

Among the report’s biggest surprises are its conclusions about where the biggest pushes for innovation are coming from. It identifies “more appetite for change among faculty in arts and humanities than within the social sciences, life and medical sciences, or the physical sciences.” And it concludes that senior professors are often “more open to innovation than younger faculty.”

The California study joins a number of other significant reports on scholarly communication that have come out within the past year, all of them attempts, one way or another, to get a handle on how scholars are behaving in the brave new world of research dissemination. Those include, besides the MLA report on tenure and promotion, the nonprofit group Ithaka’s report on “University Publishing in a Digital Age,” released in July, and a report by the American Council of Learned Societies Commission on Cyberinfrastructure for the Humanities and Social Sciences, released in 2006. —Jennifer Howard