By Daniel O'Donnell

The Force11 Scholarly Commons Working Group (SCWG) aims to

[a]rticulate a set of high level principles... for the Scholarly Commons[,]... focus on assessing the... convergence of thinking around these issues..., [map] current efforts against this thinking, and [develop] the materials necessary to promote future activity in this space.

The underlying assumption is that differences in the form of scholarly communication among disciplines represents a divergence from a discoverable (and hence reversible or bridgeable) set of common goals and purposes.

I am struck by the extent to which synchronic similarities in research communication map onto diachronically distinct goals and histories, however.

Thus JSTOR and PubMed look similar: both are digital libraries for discovering research. But they have completely separate histories. PubMed comes out of the 1970s MedLine database; JSTOR was developed in the 1990s to improve the storage of Humanities journals. One began as a database, the other as a virtual bookshelf.

So cross-disciplinary differences between these or other systems may be more fundamental than they look: JSTOR and PubMed were not developed as divergent approaches to a common problem; they are solutions to different problems that happen to look a little like each other. That JSTOR is better at presentation and PubMed better at discovery may not be an accident.

This doesn't invalidate the goals of the SCWG. It suggests that surface similarities may mask fundamental differences of intent or purpose.


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Daniel O'Donnell



Published: 29 May, 2016

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