Preprints Report From Knowledge Exchange: Accelerating Scholarly Communication

As NISO prepares for its upcoming November on-site event on the topic of preprints, we were alerted to the work being done elsewhere, on-going research into the place of preprints in the researcher workflow and broader scholarly environment. 

In September of this year, Knowledge Exchange published another segment of their on-going work in the area of preprints. The report, Accelerating Scholarly Content: The Transformative Role of Preprints, is freely accessible for download here. What follows is a brief summation of their findings; the published report deserves a more considered review by those in the information community.  

As the executive summary notes, their investigation covered three core areas:

  • Core benefits and usage in the case of researchers, including incentives and disincentives

  • Attitudes of research performing organizations (RPOs) and research funders

  • Values, strategies, and aims of service providers

Because stakeholders view the function of preprints differently, the definition of how best to define a preprint becomes challenging. Should it be seen simply as a pre-publication version of a researcher’s work intended for informal sharing within the community? Is it intended to fuel early review by one’s peers in order to better the chances of acceptance by a reputable publication? Or is it a subtle form of marketing by the researcher in attracting attention by funders? Some disciplinary communities have embraced the use of preprints (biology, high-energy physics, psychology, etc.) whereas others, such as those in the humanities, have shown less interest. For some, the initial driver behind adoption has been the promise of easier and more rapid dissemination. Twitter is useful as a support for sharing and discovery.  

Technological concerns are not the issue. The authors of this report identified more than sixty available platforms suitable as hosts for preprints. The Knowledge Exchange report notes that “Current technologies seem largely suitable to support the uptake of preprints. For instance, digital object identifiers or permalinks can be assigned to preprints, withdrawals are possible on preprint servers and open licensing options are offered. However versioning features are not used by many authors and the automatic tracking of a manuscript through the publication process is difficult. In most cases, preprint posting is disconnected from traditional publication workflows.” (Executive Summary, page 5)

Despite the grassroots interest in preprints, due to the uncertainty across disciplinary bounds, the report notes that no particular stakeholder group has emerged with a winning model for sustainability. The recommendation by the authors is that those stakeholders most deeply affected by the use of preprints — researchers, RPOs, funding bodies, content providers,etc. — should be collaborating in order to come up with best practices and guidelines with regard to outstanding issues, such as licensing, journal practices, and sustainability. 

The report concludes with three possible scenarios for the next three to five years and identifies five areas that require further investigation. Those five areas include:

  • Responsibilities and business models

  • Involvement of commercial players versus community ownership

  • Evidence on the advantages and disadvantages of preprint posting

  • Pathways to raising of awareness

  • Approaches to training and support 

As noted, NISO is holding a 1-½ day event on the topic of preprints in Washington DC on November 14-15, 2019 in order to explore some of these areas. The information community is encouraged to attend this cross-sector event. Details about the event may be found here.