Developing, maintaining, and sustaining fit-for-purpose community infrastructure is a challenge in the higher education and research sectors, particularly when the technology and policy environments are in flux. Ithaka S+R has conducted a variety of projects and studies touching on these issues over several years. Today, I’m pleased to share that we are launching a new study focusing on shared infrastructure in support of scholarly communication, with support from STM Solutions.

The Project

For some time, shared infrastructure has been a key enabler for delivering the services that authors and readers need from scholarly communication. Services like reference linking, repositories, identifiers, single sign-on, and digital preservation have supported the digital transformation of scholarly publishing, enabling new and improved services and achieving real efficiencies for all stakeholder communities. Looking ahead, it is necessary to sustain and in some cases improve existing shared infrastructure, even as next generation shared infrastructure must be developed to support the research community.

While critical examinations of shared infrastructure can be valuable at almost any time, this kind of project is needed now because scholarly communication is in flux. A number of key factors are poised to drive significant change for stakeholders, including:

  • the likely explosive growth of objects requiring DOIs as new forms of content (such as datasets, code, methods, etc) join traditional publications as first-class elements of the scholarly record;
  • the increasing importance of computational forms of content consumption (through various forms of analytics) and computational forms of content production (witness the recent focus on “generative AI”);
  • the divergent demands from users for such features as providing seamless discovery and access, broadening participation through movements like “citizen science,” producing translational outputs that meet the needs of the general public, and protecting the integrity of the scientific record;
  • the widespread shift to Open methods of scholarly communication, not least the result of changing policy environments, already in the UK and EU among other geographies and now growing in the US as well; and
  • questions about the extent to which global science and scholarly communication will hold up in the face of an increasingly fractious international environment.

In this project, my colleagues and I at Ithaka S+R will examine the strategic context that has driven and will continue to drive the development of shared infrastructure. We will conduct a needs analysis on what parts of the shared scholarly communication infrastructure are working well and where they can be improved, as well as a gap analysis indicating what else is needed. And, we will produce recommendations for where additional or revised collective action and community investment is indicated.

As part of this project, we will be conducting interviews this spring with individuals from major stakeholder groups, including infrastructure providers, researchers, open science community members, publishers, and librarians, among others. This spring, we will publish a landscape overview of shared infrastructure for scholarly communication. Over the summer, we will issue a draft report of our findings to allow for broad input. We expect to publish the final report in the fall.

S+R Context

One of the distinctive characteristics of Ithaka S+R has long been our ability to work across the academic library and scholarly publishing sectors, including on issues of shared infrastructure.

Infrastructure is a broad category, and we’ve dug into several important areas in previous work. With respect to the digital preservation and repository sector, we’ve written about the disbanding of the Digital Preservation Network, the landscape for digital preservation and curation systems, and the business landscape for institutional repository providers. We’ve assessed shared approaches to print preservation. We’ve examined efforts to establish new kinds of discovery and access platforms, as well as the business and technical factors needed to enable syndication and improve access. We’ve worked with academic libraries to establish a vision for the future of library systems. We’ve looked at the providers competing to control researcher identity. And we’ve studied in depth how library collaboration can be made more fit-for-purpose in a changing environment and how universities should think about the dilemma of whether, and if so when, to outsource core research infrastructure.

We’ve also looked at several other important developments in scholarly communication. We’ve examined the landscape for preprints both in 2020 and again with co-authors in 2022, as well as publisher investments in preprint services. We have an extensive program of work on research data, including a recent project on leveraging research data communities to advance open science, current projects on academic research data services, and several pieces touching on strategy and the business landscape for data platforms. And we’ve studied efforts to break up the Big Deal.

Ithaka S+R has a long history of conducting independent research projects with support from the publisher and vendor community. We are completing a project with the Association of University Presses to examine how the provision of open access to scholarly monographs affects sales. And, with respect to shared infrastructure, we have just launched a project with the National Information Standards Organization (NISO) and other partners to design and prototype a shared community infrastructure that will support collections and collecting, with our work focused on governance and sustainability issues for this collaboration.

In this current project on shared infrastructure for scholarly communication, we will work independently, with full editorial independence including for interviewee selection and the final report. We are grateful to STM Solutions and its members for support of this latest work.