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More about Scholarly Communications

There's a huge literature about scholarly publishing and scholarly communications more generally.  The literature comes from a variety of academic disciplines ranging from Library Science, to Journalism and Communications, to Physics and English.

A key characteristic of this field is that scholarly communications is changing rapidly, driven by technological change and economics.  Many in the academy describe it as a crisis. Explosion in the amount of information easily available on line has forever eliminated the pre-industrial idea that printed words are a scarce and hence uniquely precious resource.  New venues –  academic preprint archives such as arXiv, Wikipedia, blogs and social networking, and more – have become important sources of scholarly information.  Meanwhile, traditional publishers have hung on, often increasing prices for peer reviewed journals much more rapidly than inflation to the point where libraries are faced by increasingly difficult decisions about what to stop buying for their collections.

Another key characteristic is that communication patterns vary greatly from discipline to discipline.  Math and Physics, with their long-term commitment to online preprint distribution and servers like arXiv, are very different from English, where much scholarly communication happens through academic monographs published in hardcopy by traditional presses.

Another is that scholarly communication is worldwide, but patterns and issues vary greatly by location.  Funding mandates and legislation in the EU tend towards much more of a mandate for open access there than in the U.S.  Scholars in third world countries are beginning to benefit from the networking and telecommunications revolutions of the past 20 years, but are often particularly sensitive to the costs of journal access.

Finally, an important observation:  "scholarly communications" is not the same thing as "scholarly publishing."  It never has been -- hallway conversations and lectures in the medieval academies were presumably just as important a thousand years ago as they are today.  But modern technology has created a plethora of new communications options that are an integral part of the whole ecology.

For further reading

One recent book focusing on the scholarly publishing industry is:

Greco, Albert N. (ed.) (2009).  The State of Scholarly Publishing:  Challenges and Opportunities.  Transaction Publishers.

Another new book, available online in part:

Morrison, Heather (2009).  Scholarly Communications for Librarians.  Oxford: Chandos.  Final Chapter, "Summary and Conclusions," available online.  http://eprints.rclis.org/16283/.  Accessed 7/6/2009.

The most complete bibliography of scholarly communications is probably:

Bailey, Charles W. (2010).  Scholarly Electronic Publishing Bibliography.  Houston: Digital Scholarship.  Version 78: 6/30/2010.  http://www.digital-scholarship.org/sepb/sepb.html.  Accessed 8/12/2010.

Many more specific bibliographies also exist, e.g.:

Bailey, Charles W. (2009). Electronic Theses and Dissertations Bibliography. Houston: Digital Scholarship. http://www.digital-scholarship.org/etdb/etdb.htm

An additional important resource is SPARC, the Scholarly Publishing & Academic Resources Coalition.  http://www.arl.org/sparc/. Accessed 8/12/2010.

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