[Editor’s note: This post is by guest blogger Scott Spicer. I’m excited to see this blog used to discuss new scholarly pieces related to library publishing, so big thanks to Scott for writing about his recent paper in the Journal of Librarianship and Scholarly Communication. There are definitely implications for library publishers in the increasing prevalence of video abstracts – both in the increased demands for sophisticated technical infrastructure, and the potential for creative outreach and increased impact – and I look forward to seeing this discussed further in the community.] 

As a media librarian responsible for providing campus expertise and support in multiple media-related contexts (including both production and collections), I view the world of information through a unique lens.  Quite simply, I am always seeking exciting intersections where digital media extends the possible of user practice, whether in teaching/learning or research/scholarship.  So imagine my surprise when I stumbled across Journal of Number Theory videos in Science Direct. The videos feature mathematicians informally working through their theorems on a blackboard (or in front of an ocean!), describing the research of their article. This genre, commonly termed video abstract, opened up a new world of multimodal scholarship of which I was previously unaware.  Video abstracts have existed since at least 2007, notably with the launch of the Journal of Visualized Experiments.  As articulated in my research paper in the recent issue of the Journal of Librarianship and Scholarly Communication, this practice is still young but has seen consistent annual growth over the past few years in terms of video abstracts published and journal rate of adoption.

Video abstracts come in many flavors, often determined by the journal discipline and guidelines in areas such as video length, technical formats, composition, copyright permissions and editorial review.* Similar to a standard article abstract, video abstracts typically cover key information on the background of the article’s study, methods used, results and discussion of impact.  However, video abstracts extend the possible by providing the author a platform to communicate their research through a low-barrier, personalized, media-rich medium, in ways that would have been impossible in the print environment.  For example, physicists have used the visual affordances of the medium to describe their research with animated models, chemists and biologists can be seen walking through lab experiments, and bio-medical researchers demonstrating medical procedures.  These visuals are often interspersed with shots of the researcher talking to the camera or providing a voice-over.  Of course, the video abstract is applicable to any discipline (and in contexts other than scholarly articles, such as conference presentations or special collections), with some adoption in humanities and social sciences, but as science journalist Jacob Berkowitz suggests, the genre has been most widely adopted in science scholarship.

From a publisher’s perspective, the video abstract provides a relatively low-barrier means to extend the research of their authors and the publication itself. The videos are hosted on a local server and/or posted to YouTube, and can then be shared via social networks and embedded in websites and the article itself.  A case study from the New Journal of Physics correlating view counts across locally-hosted video abstracts and the mirrored version posted on YouTube suggests that the majority of users will likely view the video on the journal website. However, to some extent there is a relatively moderate correlation between the view counts on both platforms, in addition to a moderate correlation of the YouTube view count with article readership counts of the corresponding article.  In other words, there is some evidence to suggest that this usage is relatively proportional. (i.e. Videos with higher view counts on the NJP platform are moderately more likely to have higher viewer counts on YouTube.  Similar, more highly viewed videos on YouTube also tend to have moderately higher readership counts, compared to other articles with video abstracts.)

Another interesting finding from the study was that the top 25 and 100 read articles in the study data set had a significantly higher presence of corresponding video abstracts, though the reason why is uncertain. Perhaps authors whose studies have broader appeal are more likely to produce a video abstract.  It should be noted that the study was designed as an initial snapshot of this practice, and that given the correlational methodology used in this study and use of a single case study, inferences on generalizability across disciplines and journals is limited.

Given the low barrier, yet great potential of the video abstract, publishers should consider:

  1. Providing their authors the opportunity to submit a video abstract
  2. Developing video abstract guidelines appropriate for the discipline and journal
  3. Consider investing in software platforms that allow multimedia to be embedded within or alongside the full text article. These software platforms include Digital Commons, Hydra and the @Mire module (used with DSpace)
  4. Hosting the media locally if possible (provides long-term control over the media assets)
  5. Reposting the video abstracts to a YouTube channel (or Vimeo), or using YouTube video abstracts as the primary video and embedding them in the full text article
  6. Using the best practice of adding the article citation in the YouTube description with a direct link back to the full text article (it is shocking how many publishers fail to add this very simple step!)
  7. Promoting the video abstracts and encouraging authors to consider various channels where their video abstract would likely reach new audiences, such as social networks, associations, conferences, and course contexts

Case in point, though the video abstract that accompanies my paper is hardly Steven Spielberg quality, the editors were very supportive about the possibility of me adding one. (One went so far as to work with BePress to ensure the Digital Commons platform had the right coding to allow for video embed, and the other editor sending out a generous tweet, “A video abstract on research of video abstracts! How very meta!”).

Creating the video abstract helped me better understand both the potential of the genre (being able to show several different types of video abstract examples to put my paper into context, and being able to share my video abstract through personal and scholarly social networks on Facebook and Twitter), and some of the challenges of producing a video (my script was much too long and could have benefited from further edits).  The editors have agreed to let me post a second, more succinct future video abstract update as this practice develops.

To be sure, there are a number of potential areas for future exploration including: user access preferences, the role of composition across disciplines/publications, the development of (library) publisher support services, and the role of video abstracts on traditional impact factors and newer conceptions of altmetrics. Though video abstract publication trends are still very early in publication terms, this trend is likely to become increasingly mainstream.  I am excited to watch this development as researchers push the boundaries of the possible with video abstracts (and other forms of media) to communicate their research through more engaging modes, as suggested by “Scientist Videographer”, Karen McKee.

My desire is for this study is to further discussion in the library, publisher and researcher communities on the potential of video abstracts and multimodal scholarship in general.  What are your experiences with video abstracts? What potential use do you see video abstracts (or multimedia scholarship in general) for enhancing your publication (publisher) or article (author) within your discipline? What are some of the potential barriers inhibiting greater adoption from either the publisher’s or author’s perspective?  What kinds of support systems at your institutions or in the broader publishing world would help foster a more multimodal environment? Please feel free to leave comments.

Scott Spicer is Media Outreach and Learning Spaces Librarian for the University of Minnesota Libraries – Twin Cities. For further information on this study or the topics of video abstracts/multimodal scholarship feel free to contact him directly via email: spic0016@umn.edu or Twitter: @spicer007.


*See study data set for a comparison grid of journal video abstract guidelines, Spicer, S. (2014). Exploring Video Abstracts in Science Journals [data file]. Minneapolis, MN: University of Minnesota Digital Conservancy. http://hdl.handle.net/11299/162683

Berkowitz, J. (2013, February 6).  Video abstracts, the latest trend in scientific publishing: Will “publish or perish” soon include “video or vanish”?.  University Affairs.  Retrieved from http://www.universityaffairs.ca/video-abstracts-the-latest-trend-in-scientfici-publishing.aspx

Spicer, S. (2014). Exploring Video Abstracts in Science Journals: An Overview and Case Study. Journal of Librarianship and Scholarly Communication 2(2):eP1110. http://dx.doi.org/10.7710/2162-3309.1110