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Our Ecosystem for Content Is Significantly More Complex

Our Ecosystem for Content Is Significantly More Complex

May 2021

Letter from the Executive Director, May 2021

The ecosystem of publication for scholarly content has become significantly more complex in the past two decades. Instead of a limited set of scholarly outputs—journal articles, monographs, and a few other types of formal publications—and a modest selection of publication venues for most research, there are now many more options for how to communicate scientific results. Content can be shared in a format most appropriate to the material—say, as a visualization, a data set, or software code. Researchers are also able to share materials more quickly and at earlier stages in the idea development phase, with the growing acceptance of preprints. Rather than be at the mercy of a publication’s peer review or distribution schedule, researchers can share their results more broadly and more rapidly.

This new ecosystem does present some issues, though. Traditionally, papers were put through a well-established publication pipeline, and the stages of that process were reasonably well defined. In 2005, NISO began work, subsequently published in 2008, that defined the stages of formal publication: the NISO Journal Article Versions (NISO JAV) Recommended Practice. This standard vocabulary didn’t include options for pre-publication sharing, such as preprints, as these were not widely adopted practices outside of a few select domains at the time. Today, preprints are common, as are newer approaches to publication such as post-publication peer review. To address these changes, a revision to the NISO JAV was launched earlier this year. That working group is just now beginning its efforts.  

Another challenge, highlighted during our 2021 NISO Plus Conference, is the withdrawal and retraction of content. In part because of this more robust environment, in which content may exist in a variety of forms and virtual locations, a robust mechanism is needed for identifying and signaling the status of a withdrawn object. There is currently a great deal of inconsistency in how content objects are noted and then handled, once they are determined to be suspect for some reason. Nor is there a consistent way in which metadata about a withdrawn object is communicated. If a paper or data set is retracted by the author or publisher, the entire ecosystem of related versions— say, in preprint servers or institutional repositories—should be identified and their hosts enabled to take appropriate action on that related content. Discovery services, scholarly sharing networks, and other indexing services should similarly be alerted that an object was flagged for retraction or withdrawal. Consistency of practice and metadata sharing can help maintain trust in the scholarly record and the system’s ability to monitor and police its quality. This topic was raised during the NISO Virtual Conference last month, which is covered in this month’s Information Organized, as well as during the symposium on preprints held at the end of 2019.  As one of the outputs of the NISO Plus conference, a team is organizing a prospective NISO work proposal on the topic that will be considered by the NISO standards leadership committees and the membership.

These are just two examples of the ways in which the increasingly complex network of scholarly content distribution systems needs to communicate well. Several other areas are prime for new standards related to interoperability and metadata. A separate idea that also came out of the NISO Plus conference and that we are also seeking to advance is related to repository and publisher systems interoperation. Another team is exploring the scope of another potential project related to how these systems interact.  

Along those lines, an update to another one of NISO’s Recommended Practices, the NISO Access and License Indicators (NISO ALI), is nearing completion. This Recommended Practice, along with the NISO JAV vocabulary, is a core element of a new Article Sharing Framework developed by the International STM Association and released last month. This project seeks to describe and facilitate scholarly sharing in accordance with the soon to be enforceable 2019 EU Digital Single Market Directive (DSM), specifically Article 17. 

This Directive states that sites that republish content may do so with the consent of the original publisher, and that publishers must make available to them “the necessary and relevant information.”The Article Sharing Framework uses the DOI system, the NISO JAV, and ALI metadata to embed sharing information in the content itself, e.g., as metadata in a PDF, which can be consumed by a scholarly sharing service to verify the right to post such content.

As I said, the work of NISO Plus only began during the meeting in February. So, it’s heartening to see two ideas that came out of the conference are already beginning to germinate. It will be exciting to see these ideas, as well as others discussed at the conference, continue to grow. Much like the bulbs that were frozen underground in February and that are now coming into full bloom, the ideas from the conference are taking root and sprouting.