The VIVO community is creating profiles for people engaged in the creation, transmission, and preservation of knowledge and creative works. These works take many, many forms. In some cases, the works may be stored in an institutional repository. In other cases, the works may be ephemeral, as in the case of performances of music or theater. Some works are openly accessible. Many are not. The works may be well identified by a DOI or other persistent global identifier. Many are not. And regardless of the nature of the work, its archiving, and its identification, the relationship of people engaged in the work varies considerably. Some people are “authors.” The cultural norms for authorship vary significantly across disciplines, domains and activities. Other people may have contributed in a wide variety of other ways.
And this leads to a fundamental question for the VIVO community and for all those across the world creating and supporting profiles for people — who should have a profile?
For social networking sites, the answer is simple — whoever wants one. And there is significant pressure from the purveyors of the sites to increase the number of people using their services. The services are supported largely by two mechanisms — selling the data of the people using the service, and advertising to the people using the service. In both cases, the more people using the service, the more valuable such sales will be.
The situation is different for systems such as VIVO. VIVO is not supported by advertising or by selling data. VIVO data is generally available (we will elaborate on this in a future column), and advertising is not part of the business plan for VIVO. VIVO is member and institutionally supported. Through the generous support of members, the VIVO project is able to organize community efforts to advance the software, and support and grow the community. Through institutional efforts, VIVO infrastructure and data are created in support of the members of the institution. To date, about 150 institutions have VIVO infrastructure, and about 25 are supporting the VIVO project through membership.
For VIVO, institutions answer the question “who should have a profile?” They answer this question in a variety of ways.
Most institutions include only faculty. This provides a simple, bounded definition of who is in the profiling system and who is not. Of course, there are some edges here — are temporary faculty included? Clinical faculty? Are librarians faculty? Do you include non-tenured faculty? Instructors? These institutions typically include all faculty that meet the local definition. Many do not support “opt out” — removal or hiding of a profile, and very few support “opt in” — faculty get a profile only if they approve the creation of the profile. The most common case is that the institution defines who is a faculty member for the purpose of creating profiles, and then creates a profile for everyone meeting the local definition. But take a look at the first sentence of this essay. VIVO is about “people engaged in the creation, transmission, and preservation of knowledge and creative works.” Are the faculty the only people such engaged?
Some institutions have more inclusive answers to the question. Some include post doctoral associates, visiting and other temporary faculty, and graduate students. These people are often engaged in appropriate activities. And many times, their participation in these activities goes unrecorded and unrecognized. There are numerous current difficulties in including these people in profile systems. Their contributions may not be “authorship” and our ability to track non-authorship contributions is generally poor. We need better vocabularies, shared understanding, improved reporting and other policy and practice changes to recognize the work of all the participants in the work. Some sites have objected to the notion of inclusion on the grounds of “density” — some of these people may have contributed little. Multiplying the number of people in the profile system by five or ten times to include these people may not be seen as cost effective for the institution. And there may be privacy concerns for including students who may not be employees of the institution.
Some institutions go even further and include professional staff such as lab technicians, software developers, data managers, writers, crafts people, project managers, administrators, and many others. Think of the last time you saw a list of movie credits. What kinds of people are included? Each of the people in the credits had a role in creating the movie you watched. Is the situation somehow different in the creation, transmission, and preservation of knowledge and creative works? Should we have the means to recognize everyone’s contribution?
I hope the VIVO community can serve as a forum for the discussion of the question raised here — who should have a profile? Let’s discuss!