Zenodo: A new grey literature and data publication solution from CERN

I’ve been with the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics as the Head Librarian for 3+ years, but a patron request that the John G. Wolbach Library received during my first few weeks still clings to the back of mind. It involved a graduate student simply wishing to submit her dissertation to the Library in electronic format. At the time, we had no solution to manage and disseminate her dissertation as part of an online collection, so we ultimately took the PDF and placed it on our shared network drive. It drove me crazy that we didn’t have a solution for both preservation and dissemination of the dissertation. I’ve continuously revisited the problem, always scanning for potential solutions, only to find that they fell short in some way. That all changed though when I recently started working with the talented development team at CERN behind Zenodo.org, led by Tim Smith and Lars Holm Nielsen.

 

Zenodo from CERN

Zenodo from CERN

 

To me, the scenario above represented a much bigger problem, that besides dissertations, the library was not receiving many other types of content outside the traditional publication channels. I’m referring to something librarians call grey literature, but others might call it non refereed literature, which can include reports, posters, papers, newsletters, bulletins, notes, memos, proceedings, theses, and yes, dissertations. Often, researchers post this material to their own personal websites or institutional websites, which can ultimately lead to neglect or even removal. Ask Alberto Accomazzi, the Program Manager for the NASA Astrophysics Data System (ADS), to provide a list of records that point to content which is no longer available or has been moved, and it doesn’t take him long to find some examples. It is a growing problem that both astronomy libraries and the ADS recognize.

For example, take conference proceedings. Astronomers are growing weary of continuing with the traditional model of publishing proceedings stating that they are non refereed, too costly to produce and take too long to publish, to name a few complaints. Astronomers are fed up and have started turning to the web to post their material. I don’t blame astronomers, I would do the same, but they can do better if provided with the right solution, one that is easy to use and social, which ultimately preserves their work for future use. A solution such as a repository that provided Digital Object Identifiers (DOI) is a nice start. Zenodo can do this.

I see Zenodo as a publication solution for many things. The beauty is in the simplicity of the system. In a recent meeting, Tim Smith and I were asked by a notable Open Access leader, can I see the manual for Zenodo? We both smiled and said there is no manual, we smiled because none is needed. It is that simple. Creating an account and submitting material takes minutes, with the added benefit of linking to your Dropbox account, which many people use for data sharing these days. Another Zenodo feature, called “Communities“, addresses the problem explained above involving conference proceedings, workshops, etc. An astronomer can create a community called “Cosmology Workshop”, invite participants to submit their material presented in the workshop, or vice versa, participants can click a button on the workshop page and request to submit material. The community is monitored by a curator, or an editor in this case. Once all the material is submitted, an astronomer can simply send the link to the ADS so that they can ingest everything about the workshop in their system. This time, the content is preserved in a repository managed by CERN and the links will not break.

Zenodo is built on the digital library platform Invenio, also developed at CERN and used by the ADS.  The use of common technology and standards make it relatively easy for Zenodo to interoperate with the ADS system. Besides that, Zenodo serves as the interface to a robust data infrastructure managed by CERN, the same group managing the vast amounts of data from the Large Hadron Collider (LHC). Coming soon, CERN will introduce a cost recovery model which essentially targets storage costs, over the initial 100GB that you receive. And of course, CERN is deeply committed to providing open access to research.

There are additional features available through the Zenodo platform and more coming through the pipeline with the next release, October 2013. I’m excited to explore these possibilities and have already posted content which was no longer available in print via Zenodo (see Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics Science Education Division collection). Zenodo is a nice option for data publication as well, making it easy to submit your data while other solutions make you go through numerous steps. The philosophy of the Zenodo group, which I fully subscribe to, is just make it easy for scientists to publish their data. For an example, see the eLife journal collection.

In the end, I feel better about the future of grey literature in astronomy thanks to Zenodo. I encourage astronomers to start using it today!