A piece published in the Chronicle of Higher Education last week criticized Academia.edu and sparked discussion surrounding the role of for-profit companies in facilitating sharing and allowing access to scholarship. Or perhaps it is better to say “reignited,” as many of the issues brought up in the piece are topics of discussion in scholarly communications and other areas for some time now.¹ The main concern of academics is that sites like Academia.edu and ResearchGate are profiting off the work of academics and universities, and adding little to support and provide access to research.
This and other concerns were published in a post written by the University of California’s Office of Scholarly Communications just a day before the Chronicle piece. UC’s post outlines the differences between scholarly social networking platforms (like Academia.edu) and institutional repositories—university-specific platforms that make scholarship openly available. They stress that academic social networking sites do not actually fulfill open access requirements that more research funding agencies are imposing on authors. At Florida State, University Libraries hosts and manages a Research Repository, engaging the campus community in questions of access, impact, and shared scholarly goals. Repositories like DigiNole create the opportunity for easier access to scholarly work, meaning that more people can download and cite it, unlike Academia.edu and ResearchGate, which both require log-ins to view material in full.
Institutional repositories have the potential to allow for greater flexibility in sharing scholars’ work. Since sites like Academia.edu do not allow for data harvesting, information/publications on the site are kept locked away. Repositories, on the other hand, do not restrict how the data about hosted research products is used, which allows for integration with other services like figshare, Impactstory, and ORCID. Relaying on a more open scholarship network, researchers can more easily share their scholarship, record its impact, and find new and related work. In addition to the work that university-affiliated repositories are doing, organizations like the Modern Language Association are also working in the “connected scholarship” world, with initiatives like Commons Open Repository Exchange (CORE). CORE, as Kathleen Fitzpatrick notes, is a disciplinary rather than an institutional effort to collect and disseminate scholarship. Both institutional and disciplinary alternatives to social networking sites like Academia.edu are important to improving access to and analytics of scholarship.
The scholarly community needs to have a sustained discussion of how to make research accessible beyond the ivory tower. The increased participation of for-profit companies like Academia.edu in the lifecycle of academic dissemination should inspire us to rethink the structures that support how we share our works. The FSU Libraries’ Office of Digital Research and Scholarship welcomes questions and ideas related to these topics, including academic social media presence and scholarly open access.
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¹ Discussions started as early as October of this year with Gary Hall’s concerns about Academia.edu’s impact on the Open Access movement. Additionally, people like Martin Eve have been calling for Academia.edu to make their data more portable and work with the open access movement since last year.