The following guest post is from Janneke Adema, researcher in the department of media and communications at the University of Coventry, member of the Open Knowledge Foundation’s Working Group on Open Data in Archaeology and coordinator of the OKF Working Group on Open Resources in the Humanities.

Archaeological data are currently exposed as an appendix in traditional archaeological publishing. Digital publishing of monographs and journals enables experiments in integrating text and images with other content formats, thus bridging the gap between presentation of results and dissemination of research data. This post is about research performed in the Netherlands for the Journal of Archaeology in the Low Countries (JALC). In the Netherlands, archiving of research data is done in a centralized way, and part of the system is already Open Access. The findings and results of the JALC project on Enriched publications in Dutch Archaeology are relevant beyond Dutch borders, and should be taken into consideration for the development of a sustainable strategy for Open Data in archaeology.

The enrichment of publications in archaeology, focusing on an integrated presentation of publications and research data, is rather a new development. However, it is a development that offers huge potential for archaeological communication. Many aspects still need to be resolved and explored pertaining to specific technological, archaeological and user issues. Over the last year, as part of the SURFshare project “Enriched publications in Dutch Archaeology”, we have been conducting research into user needs and expectations concerning enriched publications. The Enriched publications project was based on setting up an infrastructure between the Open Access e-journal Journal of Archaeology in the Low Countries (JALC) and the ‘e-depot Nederlandse archeologie’ (EDNA), in cooperation with Data Archiving and Networked Services (DANS) and the Digitaal Productiecentrum (DPC). Within this project the importance of the input and involvement of future users of the yet-to-be-created system was clearly felt.

The main questions we wanted to see answered in the user study were firstly, whether there was support in the Dutch and Belgian archaeological community for enhanced publications; secondly, what archaeologists see as the main possibilities and drawbacks of enhanced publications; and thirdly, what kind of services or enhancements they would most like to see. The first phase of research was based on interviews with 14 archaeologists and a literature study. The second phase involved an external evaluation, using an online survey, after the publication of the first two issues of JALC.

More information about the project, including details on the user needs studies as well as the results of the other work packages can be found at the project website

Benefits and drawbacks

The potential benefits of an enhanced publication according to the interviewees concerned the addition of material that would otherwise not fit in a printed publication; the increased efficiency of scholarly communication, leading to increased data transparency; and the wider dissemination of their work to, and the sharing of data with, their peers. The drawbacks of the new format were also clearly seen and felt, especially concerning the extra work and time that will go into enhancing (particularly given the lack of true incentive), the potential for enhancement to cause information overload and distraction, the financing and upkeep (data interoperability, solid infrastructure) of the enhancements, and the ownership, quality establishment, and peer review of the additional material.

We also asked which added services or enhancements the interviewees would most like to see. Apart from the possibility of GIS maps (which most of the interviewees were quite aware might be hard to implement, but which they would love to have), many of the enhancements deemed most important are the most basic ones: the possibility of adding color, enhanced search options, and the possibility of adding a database or dataset of images.

This preference for basic services and enhancements was one of the indications which supported the notion that, at least within our interviewee group, the static print-based article or print paradigm still seemed to be very much the norm. The added services were mostly seen as enhancements of things that are simply harder to achieve in a print publication. Reading from print is still preferred and a rather ‘traditional’ view pertains when it comes to formal publishing concerning quality standards, peer review, copyright issues, and the updating of papers. There seemed to be no support within our archaeological test-community to go from mere enhancements to more liquid and fluid forms of publications where the article becomes more wiki-like for instance.

Evaluation

After the first two issues of JALC were published—which included a number of enhanced publications—we went back to our test-community to see whether their views relating to the enhancements had changed. This evaluation showed an increased support and enthusiasm for the enhancements. In general the respondents were quite positive about the enhancements that were eventually established in JALC, especially with respect to the more elaborate ones, for instance the GIS applications. A large majority of the participants believed the enhancements improved the quality of the publications. Some of them even felt they made you focus more on the text. A majority of the participants were also more willing to provide an enhanced publication themselves after having seen the enhancements in JALC.

Comments focused mainly on technical details, on formats and design, as well as on the general outlook of the enhancements. It was clearly felt the enhancements ‘should really add something’, in other words, that the benefits from the extra digital products should be clear and have a meaningful relation. One of the main concerns had to do with the financial sustainability of the enhancements. It is not clear whether the fact that JALC is an Open Access journal might have had something to do with the insecurity towards the financial sustainability. However, it was felt some more information and support from the publisher’s side (or a link to more information) could perhaps be beneficial, as could some more information on who pays for what and how the costs for set up and maintenance are being met. Furthermore, our research showed that information, guidance, and advice from the publisher on creating and delivering an enhanced publication is essential, at least for the time being.

Conclusion: missionary work still needed

From the user needs research and the evaluation afterwards, we concluded that there is a large base of potential support for enhanced publications but a lot of missionary work still needs to be done. This is necessary not so much to show the community what the benefits of enhanced publications are, but rather to relieve fears and uncertainties regarding the new format. Secondly, we concluded that more experiments need to be done to establish a clear infrastructure and clearer policies when it comes to enhanced publications, to give an example to archaeologists of what an enhanced publication might look like in the context of the Open Access e-journal JALC. Practical experiments should still take the print paradigm and more traditional scholarly communication methods as their starting point, to ensure the best uptake of the new format in the archaeological community and to appease fears and uncertainties.

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