24:3 (2009:09) 24th Conference: Vision Session: Geoffrey Bilder

September 3, 2009 at 1:27 pm | Posted in Conference Reports, Vision Sessions | Leave a comment


What Color Is Your Paratext?
Geoffrey Bilder, CrossRef
Reported by Andrée Rathemacher

Geoffrey Bilder is the director of Strategic Initiatives at CrossRef, a non-profit membership association of publishers. Their mission is to improve access to published scholarship through cooperative technologies such as DOIs, Digital Object Identifiers.  Bilder discussed problems in identifying trustworthy scholarly content delivered via the Internet, and proposed CrossRef’s CrossMark service as one solution.

Geoffrey Bilder

Geoffrey Bilder

Bilder began by highlighting a problem that both publishers and librarians face: helping researchers identify trustworthy information in the online environment at a time of growing distrust of intermediaries. Publishers find their value proposition being questioned as their brands are hidden due to intermediation by Google; their content is cloistered behind pay walls; and the editorial services they provide are not readily visible.  Likewise, the value added by libraries through the selection and organization of quality information has been brought into question by the prevalence of free search engines, and the shift from ownership to access, which often obscures the libraries’ role as providers of scholarly information.

Bilder next compared the nature of trust on the Internet with scholarly trust using a framework developed by Kieron O’Hara in Trust: from Socrates to Spin.  There is a problem with trust on the Internet as users confront spam, viruses, phishing, urban legends, and questionable content.  Trust on the Internet can be characterized as horizontal, in that all users are equal and there is no way to enforce norms of behavior, and local, i.e. based on personal knowledge of what sites are trustworthy.  Scholarly trust, on the other hand, is highly vertical, in that there are consequences for violating that trust, such as being denied tenure or being expelled from a professional society.  Scholarly trust is also global, which means that it is distributed via proxy, such as what institution a researcher graduated from, where he/she teaches, and in what journals he/she is published. Given that Internet trust and scholarly trust are such polar opposites, how do they meet in the middle?

Within the context of the deprecation of publisher and librarian intermediaries and the problem of trust on the Internet, researchers as readers face a problem of their own.  Researchers are spending more time reading, yet they are reading less of each text.  This problem is accelerating as readers encounter blogs, wikis, and Twitter feeds in addition to traditional scholarly content.  After posing the question of how readers and researchers can differentiate scholarly, credible content from the growing volume of information produced, Bilder introduced the concept of “paratext.”

Paratext is anything outside of a text that sets expectations about that text; for example, illustrations, cover design, or a publisher brand.  When we interact with printed information, we use deeply ingrained heuristics such as where we found the text – bargain book store or library, glossy magazine or scholarly journal – or if a book or article has footnotes.  Many of these heuristics are not applicable in the online environment, yet in the context of too much information, heuristics are essential in filtering content and determining what is worth reading and what is not.

Publishers have known about the importance of paratext for a long time.  In the early days of printing, anyone could pay a printer to print their text.  There was a great deal being printed with minimal quality control or editing of content.  Early publishers emerged in order to guarantee quality in the publishing process.  Paratext in the form of publisher logos and journal brands became a proxy for trustworthy content.

To signify quality scholarly content on the Internet, Bilder proposed using paratext in the form of a “meta-brand.”  Meta-brands are industry-sponsored marks which differentiate credible players in an industry from others, for example “USDA Organic,” “Fair Trade Certified,” and “Dolphin-Safe.”  Meta-brands serve to certify the processes by which goods and services are produced.

As an example of a meta-brand certifying scholarly content, Bilder introduced CrossRef’s “CrossMark” logo.  As envisioned, a CrossMark logo on an online scholarly text would indicate that it was the version of record.  By clicking on the CrossMark logo, the reader could access additional information about the text, such as the fact that it was peer-reviewed, edited, and checked for plagiarism.  CrossMark information could also include funding sources, any errata, or even if an article or an article cited had been retracted.  If publishers and librarians can create meta-brands such as CrossMark, we can reassert our roles in guaranteeing the trustworthiness of scholarly information, whether or not researchers access the material through a library gateway or publisher website.  In addition, readers will be able to quickly and easily identify trustworthy scholarly content within the overwhelming volume of information available to them.


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