He gave a wonderful potted history of interoperability between digital systems i.e. how different services interact with each other, and then proceeded to describe how scholarly outputs change over time, resulting in difficulties of access to different time specific snapshots. This idea is increasingly important as scholars begin to use the Internet not as a place to mount a frozen account of research at a specific point in time – a fixed PDF that tells a brief story of that research on a particular day – but as a dynamic tool that enables research to transform and develop collaboratively in time as the topic is discussed and built upon. The research article in its traditional sense is not always a suitable vehicle as a rich description of the complexities of research over time as it develops, incorporating all the detail that other researchers need in order to reproduce, and therefore ratify that research.
I’ve heard comments on this matter before – the research article as an endorsed and quality controlled summary of the research, that could become a vehicle purely for assessment, as a snapshot in time. In this scenario, a research article in the traditional sense is a long way from the actual research process. I should add two huge caveats here – firstly, the context of this presentation was that of scientific research, and secondly that I am not a researcher and so my commentary comes from a digital librarian’s perspective (views and comments from researchers are welcome).
Van de Sompel went on to describe some of his current work which is developing a tool called ‘Memento’ which enables people to see the state and context of a given work at any point in its development. This is useful when tracking down citations in an article. Over a period of time, sometimes quite a short period, links to cited references die and it becomes increasingly difficult to track them down and understand the environment in which the research took place. Memento enables a reader to reconstruct the environment of the research at the moment of publication, by easily tracking down sources wherever they might have been relocated. It can do this by using web archives and because the items in question, because they were open, were archived. As time passes and further changes and links are made, future researchers can access links to related works at any point along the research timeline.
The reason for wanting to do this is because increasingly since original publication, researchers are commenting on and annotating articles, using other dynamic online formats, and adopting new models of peer review, resulting in research developing visibly in the public arena. In this respect, the emerging output, commonly called the research article, is no longer guaranteed to be THE version of record, but is transforming into A version of the scholarly record.
From my experience, this is a new concept to many, but certainly not all researchers. Some are already working in this dynamic and digitally collaborative environment. It will not suit all disciplines, nor all researchers. I will be watching for moves towards dynamic versions (definitely plural) of scholarly record.