Gerry McKiernan – “The Future of Research and Scholarship – Open, Social, Semantic, Mobile”

I attended an invited talk at NUI Galway last year by Gerry McKiernan (blog, homepage) from Iowa State University. Gerry is an Associate Professor at the University and has been working in the area of science / technology libraries since 1987. His slides are available here.

To paraphrase Bob Dylan, Gerry said “the paradigms they are a-changin'”. He said that he would focus on four trends that are emerging: open, social, semantic and mobile. These trends do overlap to some extent: they are distinct but they do connect.

What is research? It’s a search, an inquiry, an examination, an interpretation of facts. Scholarship is the dissemination of research: the question is how can it and will it happen?


Open can refer to different things. There’s open access, open data, open peer review, open research, etc.

Open access is free online access to articles traditionally published in journals (with licensing restrictions). There are various pathways towards providing open access: publishing in open-access journals, allowing access to an article after a certain delay (embargo), or self-archiving.

IREL-Open is a mechanism for open access publication in Ireland (e.g. HEA-funded researchers are asked to deposit papers no later than six months after publication). Readership of open-access material is much greater than publications where the full text restricted to subscribers only [and as recently pointed out by Ben Goldacre, citations for open-access material are higher too]. ARAN is NUI Galway’s open-access repository.

Students need to recognise the potential of open access, in terms of practices of disregarding copyright law: “if it’s on the Web, I should be able to access any information free of charge”. There’s a need for people to understand the legal aspects and context of how something is made available in order to sustain long-term open access and to influence support for open access.

Gerry referenced the directory of OA repositories, and also ROAR (a registry of open-access repositories).


Gerry said he’d cover semantics in relation to audio, interactivity, supplemental content and video.

Semantic publishing provides added value to the publishing of a journal article (e.g. see this article). For example, we can incorporate or embed multimedia within a journal article. There are also other benefits in terms of data reuse and linking.

10 years Gerry did a review called “ECLECTIC: E is for Everything – the Extraordinary, Evolutionary, E-Journal” which described moves to augment e-journals with rich content. [url][/url] is one attempt to develop and promote such eclectic semantic functionalities. One test article provided an audio summary with the slides for articles. You could also imagine a recording of the full text of the article in clinical practice, then getting this on iTunes and downloading it to an iPod.

Another test article that demonstrates interactivity was “The Impact of Environment and Social Gradient on Leptospira Infection in Urban Slums“, which created a variety of data images that could be manipulated / overlayed on maps. For example, it creates a mashup with Google Maps showing the occurrence of disease, putting the experimental data into context. There is also a machine-readable version of the paper (here) that contains FOAF and other data [David Shotton also presented on this topic at the workshop on Semantic Web Applications for Scientific Discourse].

One central benefit with Web 2.0 technologies is the ability to reuse. NEJM has created functionality so that you can select images from journal articles and create your own PPT from that content. This promotes reuse and repurposing of images.


Of course, social can also refer to many things, but Gerry’s focus was on science blogging, social bookmarking, social networking and social software.

There has been an explosive growth of online social networks (OSNs), but there are also many [hundreds and thousands!] niche networks beyond the dozens of general networks. Social networking is not just for dating: they provide a multi-faceted information system. You can have a merger of a variety of information technologies within a particular framework. While students may like to use it for social purposes, others see it as a information transmission and communications venue.

There are social networks that have chat messaging, e-mail type functionality, video file sharing, blogging, discussion groups, voice chat etc. You can view social networks as a Swiss-army information tool, i.e. a tool with many facets, but the separate components are all complementary.

Gerry referenced the map showing the relative dominance of social networks in different countries: “A chaque continent ses préférences”. There are also various social networks that appeal to science and technology folk including Lalisio, (for collaborating researchers), and the Social Science Research Network.

The group behind recognised that this Swiss army tool can be of benefit to scientists, and their service lets a community of researchers make use of these tools to facilitate researchers. Collaboration doesn’t have to take place in one place at one time: it is transnational, interdisciplinary, and time-shifted / asynchronous. Also, the software doesn’t have to be a proprietary system. For example, Elgg is an open-source social networking system that has a community of developers (similar to the paradigm-shifting Linux community). resources often have an integrated Twitter feed. The integration of such technologies can augment or extend a core activity, e.g. the School Seismology page on is integrated with [url][/url]. We need to consider the use of Twitter to engage a community to promote scientific content, activities, events, and publications. Libraries can be at the forefront of these kinds of initiatives.

He referenced the National Initiative for Social Participation by Ben Shneiderman from the University of Maryland, College Park. Social networking services can provide the opportunity to facilitate better collaboration between scientists: they have a Facebook group and use a wiki for collaboration at [url][/url]. This effort led to the NSF-funded social computational systems effort (NSF 09-559).


Finally, Gerry talked about mobile in terms of access, content, data and research.

Gerry himself doesn’t have a cellphone, but he can’t ignore how pervasive mobile devices have become. In research on mobile use in Ireland, he came across a figure that 987/1000 make use of a mobile device in Ireland. This is much greater than the number of landline phones and also mainstream internet use. What does this demographic offer in terms of education, social services and outreach? Gerry says that there are incredible opportunities for a variety of sectors to become engaged.

Mobile access is access to digital resources via any mobile device. There are loads of new apps for facilitating access to information resources. arXiview is an arXiv viewer for the iPhone, providing access to 534,588 e-prints in science from The iPhone application has some very sophisticated search / browse functionality. BioMed Central, an open access journal, has an application available for PDAs, Pocket PCs and Windows CE devices. A beta version of WorldCat Mobile, connecting to the online OCLC catalogue of library holdings, is also available. These and other applications are reviewed here.

Kindle also has access to 240,000 books, and there are methods to access public domain titles. There is also huge potential in having science, technology and medical books or arts and humanities titles on the Kindle or iPhone.

Gerry finished with some quotes. The first was from novelist William Gibson: “The future is already here… It’s just not evenly distributed.” The second was from Alan Kay (PARC, 1971): “The best way to predict the future is to invent it.”

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