The difficulty of counting scholarly activity

I had a really interesting conversation yesterday with my colleagues in our library’s Scholarly Communication Group.  It started with a simple question – should we keep track of faculty art?

One of the things this group does is try to keep track of faculty publications (via CiteULike and LibraryThing) and host a celebration in November celebrating our faculty authors.  We have alerts set up for author affiliations in relevant databases, and we also send out a call to faculty asking them what they published this year.

The biggest challenge is trying to figure out what should be on these lists and what shouldn’t.  In the case of books and journal articles, it’s a pretty easy call.  But what about other stuff? We would like to create a record of faculty scholarship without judging the quality of that scholarship.  That’s not our job. But in creating a list, we end up doing a bit of judging.

What's in and what's out?  Courtesy of the Boston Public Library on Flickr
What's in and what's out? Courtesy of the Boston Public Library on Flickr

For example:

  • Conference Proceedings:  some are peer reviewed, some aren’t.  Do we include all?  None?
  • Book reviews: while we wouldn’t normally include these on a list of faculty publications, some faculty have sent them along when we ask for them.  Do we say no?
  • Artistic works: How could we include this type of scholarship?  What would we include?  My colleague, the liaison to the School of Art was absent at this meeting, so we are no closer to a resolution.
  • Magazine articles:  If one of our economists had an article in The Economist, we would want to celebrate that.  But a letter to the editor of the local newspaper?  Not so much.

Our conversation rapidly delved into the disciplinary differences seen across campus.  Importantly, we recognize that scholarship in each field is different.  And we would like our lists and our party to be inclusive – once again, we aren’t trying to judge.

Last year, we had a faculty member complain that we were including the authors of journal articles as well as book authors in our celebration.  They felt that the work required for an article was slight compared with that of a book.  But this would largely leave out whole departments (like the sciences) where the highest level of scholarship is the primary research article.  Certainly the last thing we want to do is fan the flames of existing disagreements among faculty about what qualifies as “scholarship.”

So what’s the answer?  Well, there isn’t one really.  If you wrote a book or an article, let us know.  As for everything else, well, let us know about that, too.  We’ll try to figure it out without pissing people off.  And everyone will be invited to eat cake at the party.