Access to research – getting behind the paywall of academic journals via the local library

Various people have contacted me since I started my gradual listing of useful journals for heritage-related research about the problems of accessing articles behind paywalls. There is an ongoing debate about this issue more widely in academia, but great progress has been made on making research more accessible via open-access decisions made in the publication process by authors; expectations now made by research funders for results to be open access; and publication materials being made available via institutional repositories.

Allied to this, it is worth flagging the UK’s excellent Access To Research scheme, which it not as well known about as it should be (and not well publicised by local library services either).  Usually journals have their article abstracts fully available anyway, but a quick check via the search function on the Access to Research site shows if full availability is possible via a visit to a local UK library branch in person, and using a computer there.  As a big advocate of the public library system (with weekly visits to our village branch), I think this is a great scheme – and helps to offer a fair way in to the gated community of academic publications for the general public and independent researchers.

Meanwhile, according to my spreadsheet, I have reached number 52 in my academic journals category on this blog.  This is half way through my current ‘curated’ list – so hopefully another few months of ad hoc collating information and posting and I will get to the end of what started as a learning and teaching mission to signpost my students to the variety of places for accessing inter/cross-disciplinary heritage research (and ones which I considered useful). My intention is to upload the full spreadsheet as a resource page on the blog, and continue to add to it as I come across useful places where heritage research is appearing.

Heritage research questions and evidence

In pulling together ideas for a couple of upcoming talks, the Framework for Policy Research which the now defunct UK Historic Environment Research Group (UKHRG) created in 2005 re-emerged from my filing system. I was running part of the Heritage Futures programme at Glasgow Caledonian University at that point, producing regular e-updates covering research, data and knowledge which was of relevance for the sector.  The Framework still has questions that are relevant, and which are now being addressed in a variety of ways through the Heritage Counts / Heritage Auditing programmes in England, Scotland and Wales, as well as via research supported through research councils such as the AHRC.

It is pleasing to see that an ecosystem of heritage research of relevance to policy is now well established, though there are still challenges in capturing all the potentially useful bits of knowledge that are ‘out there’.  An oft-quoted mantra within the sector is that we don’t have enough evidence to make conclusive arguments (usually in the public policy arena). I remain firmly of the opinion that we are actually drowning in evidence – it can be found across academic research, grey literature, institutional data etc. Our problem remains in effectively signposting, synthesising and translating/using the evidence effectively.  It is a knowledge management challenge, not a lack of data and information problem, so discussions underway in England about the potential development of a Heritage Observatory (which I have been making noise about for years!) is exciting.

Access the archived UKHRG Research Framework here: UK_HERITAGE_RESEARCH_POLICY

Cross-selling of heritage – 80 years on. #heritageguides

Various features of the 1937 edition of the Official Guide to the Palace of Holyroodhouse, Abbey & Environs have been covered already in recent posts. The guide also uses a number of pages at the back of the book to cross-sell not only other sites in the care of the Government, but also the range of guidebooks which HMSO had begun to prepare for them.


In contrast to similar lists in other site guidebooks of the period, this section provides a distinct tone of voice in the promotion of sites in state care – suggesting that, “ is not perhaps sufficiently realised that a large number of our most precious national monuments are not in the charge of the State and are being preserved and made accessible to the public, who for a small charge (usually not more than 6d.) are able to visit them.”

The section goes on to use a somewhat convoluted system of italics and capitals to highlight guides available, those in preparation and the prices of them.  The series of Regional Guides to Ancient Monuments (mentioned elsewhere) is noted as being in course of publication.

It is worth noting that the summer opening hours for sites are longer than current site opening schedules – closing at 7 or 8 p.m!

Terry Levinthal guest blog: On inventories

927_inv_cover_fullConservation professional Terry Levinthal (Director of Conservation at the National Trust for Scotland & Board Member of BEFS) has been reflecting on Inventories for us:

“Three interesting publications crossed my path today. The first, given to me by Diana Murray, former Head of the Royal Commission for Ancient and Historic Monuments of Scotland (RCAHMS – now subsumed into the new NDPB Historic Environment Scotland) is called “An Inventory for the Nation” which records the 107 year journey of the Commission to produce a permanent and enduring record of the archaeology and antiquities of Scotland.

The second, which arrived by post later in the day was volume 144 of the Proceeding of the Society of Antiquaries of Scotland (SocAnt). A good proper academic read if there ever was one, I was drawn to an article by James Scott Pedre titled, “Mingary in Ardnamurchan: a review of who could have built the castle.” It was interesting to see liberal references to some of the RCAHMS’s publications, including the seminal Inventories of Argyllshire.

The third publication (actually the first, if I can call it a “publication”) that drew my attention came from the BBC’s Breakfast newscast, which I enjoy most mornings over the first coffee of the day. James Donal Wales was interviewed on the 15th anniversary of the founding of the Wikipedia, the free, open content, collaborative encyclopedia that would accept contributions from ordinary people. Loved and pilloried by all, I was struck by his mission of democratizing knowledge.

In flicking through An Inventory for a Nation, I was also struck by a quote from Roger Mercer, the Commission’s Secretary between 1990 and 2004, where he said, “Published Inventories have not ever really be a practicable, or, perhaps a desirable proposition.… By their nature, they seek to define, and as a result they tend to fossilise what must inevitably be a subject of constant reassessment”. As essentially a national collection for the antiquities of Scotland, this is an undeniable fact. Collections change; our understanding matures; different perspectives re-define.

However, in returning the Volume 144 of the SocAnts Proceedings, I was immediately struck on the timelessness of the Argyll Inventories and how they remain relevant and essential for modern scholastic purposes. The Inventories were referenced in numerous occasions, as were other works such as MacGibbons and Ross work on castles in Scotland (1889).

In essence, these Inventories provide a definable baseline; a point from which later works can be measured. James Wales spoke about his memory of an encyclopaedia, where as a child he would receive updates from the publisher on sticky labels and with his mother would painstakingly stick these over the corrected pages. These corrected passages never actually disappeared; they simply were hidden from view. Can we same the same about the edits to Wiki pages?

With no such fixed baseline, such as Argyll. An Inventory of the Ancient Monuments, Volume 1, Kintyre and the subsequent suite of other volumes, it would prove more challenging to conduct such a review as James Scott Pedre has done.

As such, it is comforting to have been given An Inventory for the Nation, which at least draws a measurable line from which future historians, scholars and management committees may wish to review in times to come. As our national heritage agencies merge and change in response to new challenges, being able to go back to review progress is more important than ever.

The heritage news hub – on editing Update @heritage_NGOs

Heritage update screenshotOver the past couple of months I have stepped in as ‘Guest Editor’ to help The Heritage Alliance produce its fortnightly email newsletter, Heritage Update. This is circulated directly to over 3,600 subscribers, and is then forwarded on or circulated to a few thousand more folk within organisations and networks within the sector and beyond – both in the UK and overseas.  Judging from sheer amount of information collated and edited from pro-active monitoring of a wide range of information and data sources, along with items submitted directly for inclusion from professionals and organisations across the sector, it is probably the single most important point of news and information for anybody wanting to keep up with what is going on. [Along with the BEFS Bulletin, for organisations north of the border in Scotland, serviced by the sister organisation, the Built Environment Forum Scotland!]

We exist in a multi-channel environment for receiving information, and it has been both fascinating, hugely enjoyable and utterly daunting at times to be at the heart of the flow of policy updates, news, consultations, job vacancies, events, debates, courses, critique, analysis, data, research projects, emails, calls, images and tweets. The sector is incredibly dynamic with so much going on. Update tries to provide a central point of curated information to particularly support the independent sector which usually doesn’t have the capacity to monitor what’s going on beyond the horizon in the way that the larger heritage organisations do.  It also tries to make sense of wider policy issues in planning and the environment, which are of relevance for the sector, and flags opportunities to engage in consultations which Government departments and other bodies conduct to feed in reaction, concerns of ideas where they might impact on the heritage sector.  The whole sector seems to find it useful and essential reading.

What is abundantly clear is that whilst Update contains a lot of information every fortnight (frequently running to over 20 pages if you happen to press print!), it is only able to cover the essentials: much more could be included, and the information feeds and platforms expand week by week (new projects, websites, RSS feeds, tweets, LinkedIn groups and discussions, publications).  There is a combination of information overload, connection deficit, a curatorial requirement, and a challenge in making sense of the heritage sector’s activities – which all washes up into the production of Update: as I swap back from the editor’s hat to my management academic hat I am starting to scribble ideas on how this can be conceptualised and signposted in terms of a knowledge management case study.

To sign up for Update – follow the link here:

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