Gathering Steam: Preprints, Librarian Outreach, and Actions for Change
Note: This post was written by Robin Champieux, Research Engagement and Open Science Librarian at OHSU. Robin is the co-founder of the Metrics Toolkit and Awesome Foundation Libraries Chapter. Her work and research is focused on enabling the creation, reproducibility, accessibility, and impact of digital scientific materials.
Librarians, are you talking about preprints? A preprint is a complete scientific article posted on a public server before peer review. Preprints speed dissemination and encourage early feedback. But, this post isn’t about defining preprints and their value. It’s October, I’m a scholarly communication librarian, so I’ve been panicking–I mean thinking–about what do for Open Access Week. This year, I’m focusing my outreach efforts on preprints and I want to tell you why.
I am passionate about open science and realizing its benefits, but I am just as passionate about supporting student, faculty, and institutional success. These goals, which are increasingly aligned, require a deep understanding of the scholarly communication and research landscape and right now preprints are a center of conversation in this space1. Funders like the NIH and Helmsley Charitable Trust are encouraging researchers to share and cite preprints, and the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative is even requiring it:
“To encourage rapid dissemination of results, any publications related to this funded work must be submitted to a preprint server, such as bioRxiv, before the first submission to a journal.”2
Journals are accepting manuscripts previously posted as preprints, inviting submissions from preprint servers, and linking to preprint versions of papers under consideration3. The number of published preprints is rising4 and stakeholders are responding with support and concern5.
Researchers have to navigate this context and make decisions about how to share their work: librarians can contribute to their success and affect change by responding to this need. In my experience, most researchers encounter and experiment with innovations in scholarly communication via specific points of choice or pressure. Librarian led outreach related to preprints can lead to conversations that catalyze a deeper interest in scholarly communication issues and changes. Collectively and over time these small and personal experiments and the discussions that surround them (including critical ones) help shift the needle towards openness.
I also believe in a definition of and critical approach to open science (and librarianship) that acknowledges how history, inequality, and privilege influence our scholarly communication practices and priorities. Author and NYU Scholarly Communication Librarian April Hathcock advocates for flipping the script on how we view open:
“Rather than looking at it as a means of getting mainstream scholarship out to the margins, instead I want us to see it as a way of getting scholarship from marginalized communities into our mainstream discourse.”6
Preprints sit within a larger and evolving discussion about how scholarship is communicated and endorsed. I am excited about initiatives, like PREreview, that communities are developing around preprints to address issues of inclusion and representation in peer review. From this perspective, preprints are a tool for democratizing “access to [and participation in] science on a global scale”7. As librarians, we can support these projects and invent new ones that leverage preprints to take up April’s challenge.
So, what can you do to raise the volume on the “power of the preprint” and address the reasons why some researchers are reluctant to share them?:
- Do a deep dive on the preprints landscape. ASAPbio’s preprint info center is a great starting place.
- Connect with your institution’s preprint champions and ask them about their motivations.
- Use your preprint and institutional knowledge to launch an engagement and demystification campaign. Low bandwidth? Keep it simple by promoting existing events and reusing the work of others.
- Start a discussion with organizations on your campus working to address inequities and increase diversity in science about this year’s Open Access Week theme and the role preprints might play.
- Model the shift to open! Share your own scholarship on LISSA, e-LIS and other preprint servers.