In this week’s guest post, Dr Susan L. Greenberg (Senior Lecturer in the University of Roehampton’s Department of English and Creative Writing) highlights particular issues facing research visibility in the discipline of Creative Writing, and the implications this has in a ‘be discovered or die’ academic culture. She also highlights plans to address these issues, and invites readers to get involved.
Universities in the UK are preparing to store a growing quantity of research on their repositories, to meet new rules on Open Access for the REF 2020.
It is part of a wider shift in the culture of higher education – from “publish or perish” to “be discovered or die”. In this environment, invisibility can have a negative impact on the status not only of individuals, but also of entire fields of research.
The discipline of Creative Writing, a relative newcomer to higher education, faces particular challenges when it comes to research visibility. These have come under fresh scrutiny as the number of PhD theses in the discipline grows. And so the National Association of Writers in Education (NAWE) is taking action to understand the key elements of those challenges, and respond to them. In the process, its enquiry may provide a useful case study for research and policy in Information Studies and Publishing, as well as assisting the development of Creative Writing in the academy.
To some extent, there is a “discoverability” problem for all doctoral theses. In the UK, theses are searchable on EThOS, which harvests metadata from individual HEI repositories. Overseas researchers also find and read articles within repositories via Internet searches. The quality of information thus mined depends on how the repositories are run – but practices vary enormously, and many thesis submissions are missing metadata such as keywords and abstracts that would help discovery. At present, there is little or no subject classification: this normally only applies to formally published works, listed in the library catalogue.
In addition to all the above, creative writing theses face particular challenges:
- In some subjects, the thesis title provides a reliable guide to contents. In Creative Writing, the title is often suggestive or metaphorical rather than explicit.
- The typical creative writing thesis comes in two related but distinct parts: the creative portfolio and the critical analysis. The latter could help with subject identification, but it is not usually given a separate entry in the repository. The creative portfolio itself often becomes lost in a wide range of identifiers related to genre or subject, rather than “creative writing” as a discipline.
- Creative Writing students face specific issues relating to intellectual property, as trade publishers generally will not publish anything that has already appeared on a repository. The 2015 Crossick Report on ‘Monographs and Open Access’ acknowledges this problem and recommends that creative works be exempt from the open access rule. If implemented, this would answer concerns about copyright, but would also limit the completeness and discoverability of the repositories.
NAWE is therefore planning a brainstorming meeting for next May 2016, working with The British Library under the umbrella of the “The Future of the Academic Book”. The aim is to identify practices, problems and trends across the UK, as a step towards recommendations for change in the handling of Creative Writing doctoral theses. The discussion would involve multiple stakeholders, namely:
- Authors and teachers
- Information specialists
- Research leaders in higher education
We are also drawing up best-practice recommendations on discoverability for its members, to be included in its research benchmark statement. This is likely to include greater emphasis on the need for abstracts; separate cataloguing of critical and creative elements; and further training for both research students and faculty in the use of metadata. NAWE is in dialogue with the Association of Publishing Education (APE) about the potential to work together on a suitable training framework.
In the longer term, NAWE would like to identify relevant research funding ideas, and to begin a conversation with trade publishers about the changing role of university repositories, and the ways in which this may change the publishing landscape. Among other things, the conversation can explore the question, are there ways of anticipating this in a creative way that enhances rather than detracts from trade publishing concerns?
Meanwhile, NAWE members will be exploring the subject at a special panel discussion on Friday 13th November 2015 as part of Academic Book Week, at the organisation’s annual conference this year, held in Durham.
Anyone with an interest in any part of this discussion is welcome to contact me.
Dr. Susan L. Greenberg is a member of the HE sub-committee of the National Association of Writers in Education (NAWE).