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Marta Mestrovic Deyrup: Digital Scholarship, Access for a Connected World
By Marta Mestrovic Deyrup, Ph.D. | Published  03/12/2007 | History , Education , Culture And Arts , Community | Unrated
What is digital scholarship and how does it differ from other forms of intellectual discourse?

Digital Scholarship, Access for a Connected World

Keynote Address: Croatian Academy of America Annual Meeting, February 24, 2007
Marta Mestrovic Deyrup

When I was asked to speak to you about the topic of digital scholarship, I thought at once about the activities of the Croatian Academy of America in particular in regards to its publication, the Journal of Croatian Studies. The journal, which began publication in 1960, is indexed by Historical Abstracts, the Modern Language Association International Bibliography, the International Medieval Bibliography, Public Affairs Information Service and other electronic indices. However it is not yet available online as full text either on its own Website or in scholarly journal archives such as JSTOR. It is available rather through personal and library print subscription-and the medium of print has served it well for the past forty-five years. The Academy also maintains a portal that provides information about the organization and about the publishing activities of the journal's editorial board.

I thought as well of the promise of projects such as Nenad Bach's Croatian World Network, which acts as a forum for social networking and communication among the Croatian Diaspora and whether its success has applications for the Academy's Website. And I wondered how far the Academy in fact should go in embracing new Web-based technologies. Certainly members of the Academy rely on email-a technology which itself was once regarded as cutting edge. It is hard to remember that most people did not use this form of communication until the mid-1990s, scarcely ten years ago. Mail Lists such as H-Net for the Social Sciences and Humanities or SEELANGS for Slavists serve as focal points for our scholarly communities.  But are technologies that the established academic community still views with skepticism-such as wikis, blogs, and newer communication tools such as instant messaging and chat rooms-appropriate for the Academy's younger members? If they aren't, what new technologies would be appropriate and which ones might encourage recruitment to the organization? 

One of the first questions to ask in thinking about this, is what is digital scholarship and how does it differ from other forms of intellectual discourse?

Digital scholarship has been defined differently by various communities. To some, it means an online publication, to others it is seen as "the creation of digital technology, tools and services to solve problems in scholarship" (Foot, K. Digital Scholarship. Retrieved March 8, 2007 from http://www.lib.washington.edu/digitalscholar/).
Yet others see it as the bedrock of open-access to information-this last definition is really the vision of the early creators of the Internet, like Tim Berners-Lee, who conceived of the Web as an "open system" and a "universal space" that would be free and accessible to all.
There are some things we do agree upon in defining digital scholarship. Mostly, they have to do with protocols and behaviors that have now been set in place.  First, the scholarly community has embraced electronic journals. This was not the case just a few years ago. And the trend is that younger scholars, accustomed to electronic journals, actually prefer using them. Although some of these e-journals are available for free at association Websites, many if not most are provided as a subscription to large journal aggregators such as Proquest or Ebsco or individually through publishers' Websites. Because the metadata-or the information architecture that lies behind the full text of the journals themselves-now follows a universal standardized format-it is possible to retrieve not only the full-text of articles but also in some cases the full text of citations that are embedded in these articles or to search the entire run of a digitized journal or a type of journal, such as political science or history journals.  For some disciplines, particularly in the hard sciences, the Web and Web-based publications have superseded print almost entirely.

The usage of electronic journals is astonishing and is fueling their acceptance by the academic community. For example JSTOR provides aggregate usage statistics for its online scholarly archives. From 2006 to 2007 monthly usage statistics ranged from 15 million searches in July to almost 60 million in November. These are for all the journals it maintains; individual journal statistics can also be accessed independently.

If one looks at other kinds of electronic scholarly communication media, one can see the same kind of astonishing figures.  From 2003 to 2004 Harvard University Libraries reported 4,268,114 searches of its portal resources- forty percent greater than in the previous year. In 2006 there were over 1,700,000 searches of the American Association of Teachers of Slavic and East European Languages (AATSEEL) Website.  As the Webmaster of this site, I have access to the entire site statistics and was amazed to see that last year almost 5,000 people accessed the site each day, that close to 6,000 people accessed our Croatian poetry page during the course of the year, which is maintained deep within the site, and that the most heavy users of the site were naturally from United States, but also from countries in which we do not have a membership base: the United Kingdom, Canada, Germany, Russian Federation, Croatia, Poland, the Netherlands, France and China. Any proprietary report we made available for free-for example old newsletters-were repeatedly downloaded-some over a thousand times.

The second point concerning digital scholarship is that there is a real disconnect between the dependency of scholars upon electronic information and the way in which electronic information is valued in the academic promotion process. Most rank and tenure committees do not look favorably on digitally born publications, even if they are peer-reviewed and prefer that candidates publish in journals that appear in a traditional print format. Digitally born publications are those publications that have never appeared in print. Although organizations such as the Modern Language Association, the American Historical Association, and the American Council of Learned Societies have individually tried to address this problem by providing monetary awards for digitally born dissertations, and by advocating that the scholarly community, particularly in the humanities, broadens its definition of what constitutes scholarship they have not been successful.

Third, it is clear that digital scholarship holds immense possibilities for every profession.
For example, in physics electronic preprints-or articles that have not yet been published-are self-archived in repositories such as Arxiv.org and made available to the public. The idea of course is that scientific information quickly becomes out of date and the Web is the fast way to disseminate it. In the field of Slavic Studies digital projects such as the Croatian National Corpus, the Library of Congress Meeting of Frontiers digital library, and the Repertorium of Old Bulgarian Literature and Letters, to name just three of the many initiatives now underway, have the potential of transforming how scholarship is done. Certainly the kind of laborious work that went into data collection analysis can now be done by a computer and scholars can collaborate on research without restrictions of time or space. For example, the last two projects, Library of Congress's Meeting of Frontiers, and the Repertorium of Old Bulgarian Literature and Letters are collaborations involving respectively, scholars in the United States and Russia and scholars in the United States and Bulgaria and which break apart the notion of scholarly information silos.

Fourth-and this is a cautionary note-neither librarians nor information technologists yet have devised a satisfactory way to preserve digital information. One of the stories most commonly told about what can happen to digital information involves the 1960 U.S. census. This census, which originally was stored on magnetic tape, can no longer be accessed because there are no existing machines that are capable of reading this data. Indeed, there are many cautionary warnings in regards to digital information. How will a society preserve its cultural memory, when the medium used to record the human intellectual endeavor is itself ephemeral?

Earlier I asked, what is digital scholarship and how does it differ from other forms of intellectual discourse? Certainly digital scholarship is more ephemeral than traditional scholarship, it is more accessible, it has the potential to be more collaborative and democratic-it also potential to be more fragmented -in short, it has all the characteristics of the Web itself.  However, in many respects it is no different from other media that form the heart of scholarly intellectual discourse-the printed book and the printed journal. Google's book project that aims to digitize and make available on the Web hundreds of thousands of out-of-copyright books held by libraries is still at the end of the day only a value-added product. It takes the book itself and makes it searchable and available at no cost to those who have access to a computer and the Internet. The same holds true for a digitized newspaper such as the New York Times. The online New York Times includes services and features not available in its two-dimensional print version. Quite arguably, digital scholarship provides more opportunities for research and knowledge creation than does traditional scholarship.

The Academy as it moves forward with its plans to digitize the journal and perhaps considers providing other electronic services for its members has many different models to choose from. That is one of the advantages of beginning to think about this now, when the information architecture for many of these kinds of projects is largely in place. Some of the Academy's decisions will be driven by cost, some by the commitment of its membership to this project, and I think to a large degree by the extent to which individual members access and make use of online journals in their scholarship. There is the potential of increasing the exposure of the Academy and the journal to the general public-certainly the examples cited earlier of the American Association of Teachers of Slavic and Eastern European Languages Website and JSTOR's usage statistics show that. The trick of course is which aspects of the twentieth century does the Academy wish to preserve and which of the twenty-first century does it wish to adopt?

THE CROATIAN ACADEMY OF AMERICA

Inspired by the persistent desire of the Croatian Nation for its proper dignity before all men, realizing that no People can make a responsible contribution towards a peaceful and democratic world without being freely self-determined i.e. endowed with the right to choose its own sovereign state, recollecting that Croatian liberty has been frustrated for centuries because of tyranny from without and within, conscious that the denial of freedom at home often requires the conservation of the national genius abroad, mindful that the friendly guardianship of the just aspirations of men has always been the keynote of American hospitality, we herewith establish and constitute The Croatian Academy of America.

(Preamble to the Constitution of The Croatian Academy of America adopted April 19, 1953 in New York City).



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