Three Questions for Carol Tenopir
Here’s why this leading researcher says that associations must spend as much time on getting the content to potential readers as they do in developing and publishing it.
By Oona Schmid
What do you know about your readers?
You may know a lot, you may know a little — but I doubt you know as much as Carol Tenopir. She has authored more than 200 journal articles and five books a breathtaking array of research that examines hundreds of thousands of researchers through interviews, longitudinal surveys, and deep dives into specific disciplines in the United States and United Kingdom.
In a recent interview with Sidebar, here’s what she had to say about where associations can improve their scholarly journal publishing efforts.
Sidebar: Your research indicates that more than half the readers of journal articles already know the information within. Journal publishers pride themselves on publishing original contributions, so how can this be?
Tenopir: Researchers are learning about information at conferences, from blogs, from conversations, from tweets. Once they learn about new research, they wait to see relevance. They may need to replicate the experiment, cite the paper, teach about it, or understand the details, and when they need to learn more, they seek out that article or that researcher. Then they want to learn in depth. In terms of awareness, journals actually play a small role.
Sidebar: This separation between awareness and learning suggests scholarly societies need to spend equal investment on publishing as well as outreach to potential readers.
Tenopir: Associations that focus on scholarly journals would be well served to invest in an equally important role: letting researchers learn about the findings. Societies need to spend as much time on awareness as publishing.
The name of the journal, the name of the society, the name of the publisher is important for the citation — but to get read, information needs importance. The abstract used to be very important for this role. It is not enough to be abstracted or indexed now. Societies need to be in the game. They need to Tweet. They need to be on sharing sites like Academia and social media sites like Linked In, and participating with trusted blogs.
Journals have enduring value, but there are more and more ways to become alert to new findings. Researchers have more discovery tools than the journal, and these are evolving in millions of ways.
Researchers know that journal articles are important, and they want to cite to those things with enduring value. They want their own work to have that endurance. Studies show over and over that scientists know what to trust. So journals are critically important — but so are the discovery paths to those journals.
Sidebar: If publishers could do one thing to make their readers' lives easier, what would this be?
Tenopir: It is more controversial and it’s a complex problem, but the access piece needs to be easy. There is evidence that open-access articles are easier to read. Access to articles is less of an issue for scholars at large comprehensive universities with wide subscription access, but for many researchers, if access is not easy and fast, they will leave that article for another. Open access would be another way for societies to get in the game.
Also researchers want to share. It’s natural and it’s part of their culture. Group work is more important and becoming more important. Personal recommendations are part of how scholars know about relevant articles. They don’t want roadblocks to sharing. Why have policies that antagonize customers? Scientists see themselves as readers and authors, and they want to let people know about relevant articles.
Oona Schmid is director, publishing, at the American Anthropological Association and a member of Association Media & Publishing’s Content Creation Committee.