Introducing PressForward

For some time, the people at the  Roy Rosenzweig Center for History and New Media at George Mason University have been thinking about the state of scholarly publishing and its increasing disconnect with how scholars and others have come to communicate online. Among their concerns:

• A variety of scholarly work is flourishing online, ranging from long-form writing on blogs, to “gray literature” such as conference papers, to well-curated corpora or data sets, to entirely novel formats enabled by the web.

• This scholarship is decentralized, thriving on personal and institutional sites, as well as the open web, but could use some way to receive attention from scholarly communities so works can receive credit and influence others.

• The existing scholarly publishing infrastructure has been slow-moving in accounting for this growing and multifaceted realm of online scholarship.

• Too much academic publishing remains inert—publication-as-broadcast rather than taking advantage of the web’s peer-to-peer interactivity.

• Too much scholarship remains gated when it could be open.

Legacy formats like the journal have considerable merit, of course, and they are rightly valued: they act as critical, if sometimes imperfect, arbiters of the good and important. At the same time, the web has found ways to filter the abundance of online work, ranging from the tech world (Techmeme) to long-form posts (The Browser), which act as screening agents for those interested in an area of thought or practice.

What if  the best of the scholarly review process could be combined with the best of open-web filters? What if there were a scholarly communication system that was digital first?

On June 24, the Rosenzweig Center announced a new initiative to do just that: PressForward, generously supported by a $862,000 grant from the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation‘s Digital Information Technology program.

PressForward says it will bring together the best scholarship from across the web, producing vital, open publications scholarly communities can gather around. PressForward will:

  • Develop effective methods for collecting, screening, and drawing attention to the best online scholarship, including scholarly blogs, digital projects, and other web genres that don’t fit into traditional articles or books, as well as conference papers, white papers, and reports.
  • Encourage the proliferation of open access scholarship through active new forms of publication, concentrating the attention of scholarly communities around high-quality, digital-first scholarship.
  • Create a new platform that will make it simple for any organization or community of scholars to launch similar publications and give guidance to institutions, scholarly societies, and academic publishers who wish to supplement their current journals with online outlets.

The Center hopes scholars will join them in making this new form of scholarly communication a reality. It particularly hopes to serve researchers in fields that are underserved by traditional outlets, those with digital projects that can only be “published” if described  in an article, editors of journals who would like to supplement standard articles with digital content from across the web, scholarly societies that want to find and feature online work, and the broader audience of researchers who are currently locked out of gated scholarship.  Visit the Center’s website for information on the scholars who are leading this new effort and on how to contact them by email, Twitter, or RSS feed.

(Adapted from the Center’s press release, dated June 24, 2011)