Scientific communication Services for Science 2.0

Exploration of new ways of working
Exploration of new ways of working | © The Lighthouse - Fotolia.com

Digitalisation is drastically changing communication in research and publishing processes. How scientific libraries are supporting this development is explained here by Lambert Heller. He runs the Open Science Lab at the Hanover-based German National Library of Science and Technology (TIB).

Herr Heller, what in your opinion are the most important developments in the realm of modern scientific communication?

With the advent of the Web researchers started sharing their research findings online. This not only speeded up and simplified communication among the researchers themselves, but also changed the way they communicated with the rest of the world. Information about what researchers are actually doing has now broken through the walls of the cocoon they were living in.

At the same time it has also been observed that over the last five to ten years the lines between what researchers do and what interested lay people do have become blurred. The Association for Psychological Science, for example, has explicitly asked its members to post their findings on Wikipedia. Another good example are the science bloggers, who, although they come from an academic background, are not actually involved in real research work.

The formation of a new infrastructure

What does the role of the research libraries look like in this new environment?

Lambert Heller Lambert Heller | © Lambert Heller We, as a specialist subject library for science and technology, feel it is our role to help build up and shape the new infrastructure in the field of research. That is also the reason why we co-founded the Leibniz Research Alliance Science 2.0 in cooperation with the two other central research libraries in Germany – the German National Library of Medicine (ZB MED) in Cologne and the German National Library of Economics (ZBW) in Kiel. The Alliance enables us to get together to explore the new ways of working, in order to improve the tailoring of our services to meet the needs of the researchers.

Your Research Alliance carried out a large-scale survey to ascertain how these new opportunities might be used ....

Yes, the survey showed, for example, that 95 per cent of all researchers read Wikipedia, either in a professional or specialist context. And two-thirds of them make use of Cloud storage services like Dropbox or Google Drive. What we are actually going through at the moment is the initial stage of the “onlineification” of science. In a pragmatic way the researchers are using the tools that are already available, but tools that were not actually developed to be specifically used by researchers. Together with the researchers we are striving to find out how we can improve these tools.

Free access to research data and findings

In concrete terms how do you actually go about doing that?

One major area is the Open-Access Infrastructures service, which is provided by the central research libraries – incidentally in close cooperation with each other. Making research findings both quickly and freely available on the Internet is a lot more these days than simply posting your paper online. In the field of science they endeavour greatly to research everything as carefully as possible and to differentiate between all the various sources and their respective quality. It is not a job that takes care of itself all on its own and there is no guarantee when it is done by commercial players alone. This is where the research libraries come into play with their sustainability and professionalism.

A  further example would be the RADAR project – a project in which a research data repository has been set up in which raw data from various research projects can be published as citable – in some cases the amounts of data involved are huge.

The ZB MED, with its eyeMoviePedia, has developed an open access portal for operations in the field of ophthalmology. And just a short while ago the TIB launched an AV portal which is a kind of Youtube for researchers.

Yes, videos can be uploaded on it which can then be found by others via scientific research portals. Our portal, however, can do a good deal more than Youtube. For example, the language spoken in the films is recognised and can then be searched. Furthermore the videos can be cited to the precise second by means of a digital object identifier (DOI).

Tools for joint writing

Do the new research and publication processes differ greatly from one scientific discipline to another?

Yes, absolutely. In mathematics and physics, for example, there is a marked tendency towards the so-called Pre-print Culture. Drafts of articles are electronically published via the arXiv.org open-access platform – quite irrespective of them later appearing again in a journal. In the humanities field this is still quite unheard of.

One of the focuses of the work being done by the Research Alliance 2.0 is on tools that promote and support researchers working together ...

Quite right, for example, we invited experts from various fields to come to the TIB in order to write a book together. The aim of the project was to find out what the advantages of this method might be and how we might improve the necessary tools and infrastructures. For our “Book Sprint” we modified the MediaWiki software that Wikipedia uses. Within two weeks we were able to produce a handbook entitled CoScience which focuses on joint research work and publishing on the Internet. Before the end of the year the project is to be accompanied by a series of related video lectures showing collaborative techniques.

Our “Book Sprint” was also a hit in other fields and subjects. On our platform at the moment, for example, there is a network of 60 researchers of Romance languages and literature writing a handbook on the Renaissance and Middle Ages in Romania - not exactly in two weeks, but over a period of one year, which is an amazingly short period of time for the realm of the humanities.