The publication economy

“In today’s knowledge society, researchers who create new knowledge are becoming important production factors just as did the workers of the Industrial Age. Extending this analogy, universities can be seen as the industries of the knowledge society,” says Ulf Kronman, coordinator at the National Library of Sweden.Ulf Kronman at the National Library of Sweden thinks that publication records have become so important to universities and researchers that we can now speak of a publication economy. Photo: Annika Hjerpe

In the ten years Ulf Kronman has worked with bibliometrics and publication issues, he has seen how they have become increasingly important for universities. He thinks that universities are creating “Current Research Information Systems (CRIS),” a database for the storage and management of data about research conducted at particular institutions, according mto the same model by which company managements used to create business intelligence systems.

Research generates knowledge

Lund University in southern Sweden is procuring a CRIS and Chalmers University of Technology in Gothenburg is planning to do so, as are Stockholm University and, probably, the Royal Institute of Technology in Stockholm. The government has commissioned the Swedish Research Council (Vetenskapsrådet) to create a national CRIS, to be called SweCRIS.

“I have been thinking about what it is that generates these trends. For us in Western countries that used to be leading economies, it is very important to be able to compete with knowledge because we can no longer compete with cheap labour. Therefore, all countries, but especially Western countries, are investing in research, since it generates knowledge.”

In the knowledge society, research has become the new industry. We are now competing on basic research and governments are investing heavily in it. But what does all this research generate and how can we measure it? A company like Ericsson or Volvo can count switchboards or cars and calculate its ROI. This has led companies to construct business intelligence systems to retrieve the statistics on their ROI.

“New Public Management is a current trend. Government authorities and the public sector are picking up tools from industry to run our type of operations using metrics commonly used in industry.”

Articles and citations

The knowledge society invests large sums of taxpayers’ money in research funding, and politicians and university managements want to know what they are getting in return. Ulf Kronman observes that the New Public Management trend has also reached the research sector.

“Some research is measurable – for example – in applied patents or companies based on products produced through research, such as pharmaceuticals. The problem is how to measure basic research. If basic research produced refrigerators, we would be able to measure it. But how do you measure the use of the discovery of the Higgs particle? It is very difficult. When it comes to basic research, the researchers’ articles documenting their findings and citations from those articles are the most measurable products,” he says.

Publications important assets

As one of the two measurable results of basic research, publications are becoming an important asset for both organizations and individual researchers. Ulf Kronman thinks that publication records have become so important to universities and researchers that we can now speak of a ‘publication economy’.

For example, the Swedish government distributes funds to higher-education institutions based on numbers of citations in the Thomson Reuters Web of Science, which covers about 12,000 scientific journals. Governments in many other countries use similar parameters.

“In this emerging economy of publications, we are seeing the activities of university libraries gradually shift from the traditional task of bringing in scientific information to their mother organization to a new duty of managing their assets in terms of publication output. We are seeing university libraries building and managing institutional repositories for publications, working with issues regarding open access to publications and producing publication statistics in the form of bibliometrics.”

As an example he mentions the bibliometric system of the Swedish medical university Karolinska Institutet: https://

Open access important

Ulf Kronman thinks that this shift of focus in university libraries, from information input to publication output, is further accentuated by open access publishing, which is increasingly freeing scientific information on the Internet.

“A completely new activity is developing in libraries. Based on how to handle output, this is an activity that isn’t based on information provision. Many library managements feel lost in this: they feel their role is to provide information and they question whether this new activity is really something they should be involved in. Research funding providers have reached the conclusion that we get more out of research if its results are free and accessible to everyone, which is why Open Access is becoming increasingly important.”

For example, the EU Commission has ecided that all research within the huge research program Horizon 2020, worth EUR 80 billion, has to be freely accessible. In Sweden most research funding providers require that the research be published in Open Access.

He thinks that in the future we may see university libraries become knowledge clearinghouses that deal primarily with the management of their mother organizations’ research output – such as publications and research data. He also thinks that physical library buildings may very well morph into creative knowledge centers and coffeehouses, where students can mix and study rather than use collections of books and journals.

“I think this is really good, and that everyone will have to adapt to this development, but the people who visit the library buildings now are students coming to have a coffee and study. Researchers never, because the libraries’ collections are all on the Internet,” Ulf Kronman says.

Editor-in-chief National Library of Sweden