The Developments in Scholarly Communication

***This analysis was written by CityLIS student Nicolas Dunn in April 2019. It is reproduced here with the author’s permission as part of our CityLIS Writes initiative.***

In this essay, an assessment will be made on the implications of changing scholarly developments in the context of libraries, publishing and general information services. This will involve a discussion of how developments in scholarly communication have and will have impact the spread of information and research in areas such as libraries and publishing. Each key point will relate to the accessibility of research and information and the adaptation of information services to new technology. A conclusion will then be brought to summarise the main points and further stress the key arguments.

The ways in which information and research is accessed has been revolutionised in the modern era with the introduction of more digital based services in various information based fields. Scholarly research, traditionally bound to more physical practices of book or journal publishing, has found new channels of reaching users and researchers through the rise of digital technology and the internet. A significant consequence of this on sectors such as libraries and publishing is the arrival of Open Access. This term is used for systems that provide academic information, such as journals, free of charge or formal control. As David Bawden and Lyn Robinson (2012, 220) note, support for Open Access “stemmed from the belief that the traditional system for dissemination of research, with research articles published in commercial journals purchased by, mainly, academic libraries was inherently unfair.” Previously, academic research under a traditional system would have placed under ownership or under a form of control that would have dictated its availability to the public. Open Access has opened up a way for research to be accessed more easily. This can be vital in helping new authors and researchers find an audience for their work. As Peter Suber (2012, 29) suggests, “OA is not a sacrifice for authors who write for impact rather than money. It increases a work’s visibility, retrievability, audience, usage, and citations, which all convert to career building. For publishing scholars, it would be a bargain even if it were costly, difficult, and time-consuming.” However, there is still a degree of control required for open access in order to fulfil certain functions, like self-archiving or journal publishing. For information services themselves, open access has expanded to cover different ways of governing the flow of free information. The most notable examples are ‘Gold’ and ‘Green’ access. As Calhoun (2014, 187) explains, “Gold open access is associated with publishing open access journals. Green Open Access is associated with self-archiving, which involves authors’ depositing copies of their content on their own or group websites or in open access repositories, often after an embargo period.” In this context, Open Access has had a major influence on scholarly communication. It has the ability to make information more accessible to the public in a legal manner, while making self-publishing more possible in the modern era.

There are a number of other benefits that Open Access can provide as part of the wider development of scholarly communication. One such area that can benefit is peer review. This is referred to as the process of one or more person evaluating work for quality assurance and self-regulation. Although this is associated with more traditional methods of publishing, it is compatible with more modern, digital journals and services. As Suber (2012, 103) explains that “Some OA journals deliberately adopt traditional models of peer review, in order to tweak just the access variable of scholarly journals. Some deliberately use very new models, in order to push the evolution of peer review. OA is a kind of access, not a kind of editorial policy.” This means that peer review is not limited to either traditional or modern methods of publishing. What modern methods of peer review have had an effect on is funding of journals and research. For publishers, the Open Access movement has led to changes in business and strategy, with some publishers being slower to embrace its benefits than others. But as Bennett (2013, 107) notes, “In effect, though, the OA process is essentially the same as the traditional publishing process, with the submission of a paper, peer review and dissemination of the final, approved article. The main difference is that the costs of publishing are borne by the author rather than the publisher, and the final article is freely accessible to all.”

While this does shift the economic burden, it does allow for more purely open access journals. Alternatively, education can see benefit from more material made available from Open Access. Universities in particular can further provide for their students by benefitting from Open Access journals and materials. An example would be the introduction of Massive Open Online Courses, or MOOCs. Jingfeng Xia (2017, 102), in discussing the impact of MOOCs in China, notes that the earliest adopters in China were “open-licensed, online educational resources for promoting sharing, use, and reuse of knowledge and for attracting more users to their business. One of the early efforts was made by in 2010 when it recruited hundreds of volunteers to translate selected MOOCs provided by Western universities into Chinese and made them available on its site for the public to view” Open Access as a result of developing scholarly communication has a number of other implications for scholars and organisations. While the costs of publishing may shift, the benefit is greater access for scholars and opportunities for educational institutions to develop their services.

More generally, researchers in many disciplines can see implications for their work from scholarly communication. The increase in technologies and digital services has led to greater opportunities for more independent research. This has allowed services like libraries to further support their services with more quality material for specific areas while allowing easier access through systems like open access. Fiona Courage and Jane Harvell (2013, 35) state that “researchers are working with new technologies to use resources collaboratively in increasingly diverse ways. Information professionals can support research by providing environments conducive to interaction between scholars, encouraging them to develop synergies relating to specific resources.” This embracement of more open information supporting systems and technologies has had some mixed reactions from publishers. Some more traditional publishers regard such easy sharing more as a threat than a source of potential, putting their own interests first. However, this stance has not been universally adopted by all publishers. As Suber (2012, 35) states, “conventional publishers are adapting to the digital age in some respects. They’re migrating most print journals to digital formats and even dropping their print editions. They’re incorporating hyperlinks, search engines, and alert services. A growing number are digitizing their backfiles and integrating texts with data.” In this sense, publishers can actively help scholars with their research through more modern technology. Publishers can provide researchers and libraries to further their independent efforts in providing relevant journals for specific fields while allowing for greater sharing between institutions. Some tools provide could allow for greater analysis on scientific research. Bennett (2013, 112) states that “once the published information has been digitized, organized and distributed, many users want to dig deeper into the information, using textmining/data-mining tools. Text mining (or text data mining) treats full-text resources as large data sets and looks to either discover patterns or extract fragments of data that can be used to analyse the full-text information in a different manner.” In a general sense, away from Open Access, technological developments in scholarly communication can provide scholars better channels of exploring their researching capabilities. For publishers, it can give them a platform to provide the tools necessary for further dissemination and analysis of certain research topics.

Other than making information more accessible to wider audiences, there are other benefits to the development of scholarly communication and the implementation of ideas like Open Access. By making research journals and other scholarly information more accessible, there is a wider audience that can be captured which can enhance several aspects. For one, the rise of the internet has provided the biggest opportunity for developments. As John Regazzi (2015, 159) suggests, “Scholars can quickly communicate informally with each other, using social networks established on the web or through intranets. Discoverability possibilities are increasingly moving to web-based services, where access is provided independent of source content creators or the structure of source content.” This means that scholarly communication is becoming easier to conduct between scholars thanks to the advent of platforms such as social media. Better communication on the internet can lead to scholarly works gaining better traction in their fields of research and a bigger audience. One tool that scholars can now use is social media. As Ellen Collins (2013, 92) suggests, social media could “be a natural home for the kinds of informal communications that occur during the research process itself – the conversations between researchers and others as they establish and scope a research project and collect and share initial findings. Some researchers have begun to adopt social media for these purposes, sometimes using tools specifically designed for academics, but more commonly adopting and adapting generic services designed for a wider audience.” These tools are already used for a variety of discussions in scientific and information based fields. In particular, libraries and publishing are already using social media platforms as a way of communicating with their target demographic. Doing so also has improved communication between information services and scholar’s themselves. Collins (2013, 96) notes that “many researchers use blogs, Twitter and other services to keep up to date on wider developments in academia – political campaigns, gossip or job and funding opportunities. Publishers and librarians are beginning to recognize this, and to use social media themselves in order to engage more effectively with the research communities that they wish to serve.” A significant development relating to scholarly communication, therefore, is the rise of the internet and social media as a platform for dialogue in information and scholarly research. This has changed how scholars and institutions like libraries can communicate with each other, while giving scholars the chance to gain a bigger audience for their research.

By developing scholarly communication, libraries and other information based institutions themselves have also seen some benefits to their services. More unrestricted scholarly journals or other similar works can enhance the collections of a library without it being too much of a financial burden. Finance, in fact, has become a talking point for discussing in favour of Open Access, as many libraries lack the budget to keep up with newly published research. Isaac Gilman (2013, 6) states that “The pricing model for scholarly journals led to libraries cutting their book budgets – weakening the already limited market for scholarly monographs – in an effort to continue to provide access to as much of the expensive journal literature as possible.” The implementation of open access and other similar processes can therefore help libraries provide scholarly information more cheaply. On the other hand, developments in scholarly communication have raised the question of the future role of the library along with more easily accessible digital services. It’s possible that libraries may act more as ways of accessing scholarly works than simply creating backlogs of existing works. Regazzi (2015, 158) notes that “increasingly, library professionals are serving as liaisons to faculty in assisting in the transfer to digital repositories and the opportunities open to them in this transition. Currently, librarians also play primary roles in negotiating access licenses, assisting clients with creating and accessing electronic materials, and archiving local resources.” To keep up with developments in scholarly communication, libraries will have to develop and adapt to new, more modern programs of providing scholarly information. One such program could be a publishing program. This can be seen as a way for libraries to provide alternatives to conventional publishing while taking the initiative in offering services, like open access journals, and not just responding to demand. As Kevin Hawkins (2019, 2) notes, “hosting an open-access journal is a common place to start: the editors of the journal are likely to feel that they can handle the entire production process and need support only for publishing the journal—a minimal commitment of resources from the library, which also has the opportunity to support open-access publishing.” The role of the library is therefore likely to change further with the increasing development of scholarly communication. As Hawkins noted, it’s likely that the library will continue to change to provide more services in digital spaces and not just fulfil supply and demand.

Alternatively, scholarly communication has had an impact on how data is communicated and distributed across various platforms. An example would be Big Data, which can be roughly defined as databases that can vary in size, often ranging from smaller sources to near unimaginable amounts of stored data. This development has coincided with the development of library and information services in digital spaces, providing more opportunities for scholarly research to be disseminated. David Haynes (2018, 203) notes that the push towards big data has been “driven by increasing storage and processing capacity, the establishment of standards for exchange of data and the requirement of funders to make research data more widely available. This last factor is based on the idea that publicly funded researchers should make their data available for further exploitation.” Big Data, similarly to Open Access, can encourage greater access to free information and research. For scholarly researchers, this can provide another alternative to publishing their work without using traditional methods. On the other hand, they can help information organisations improve their services and provide better collections. Haynes (2018, 205) also notes that generated documents “may be aggregated into a data set and analysed using sentiment analysis, or to spot up-coming issues, or to mine for new ideas to improve profitability. Perhaps just by making big data available it is possible to generate new applications and potential solutions.” In practice, Big Data can have an impact on information organisations and other industries. On one hand, Big Data can help the drive towards better data integration and digital logistics which can improve the quality of a service to its customers. Big Data can also provide opportunities to improve and pursue e-commerce, which can further the impact of scholarly research in selected industries. Regazzi (2015, 211) uses an example of a research report, stating that “Big Data could help the US health care industry achieve an increase in additional value of $300 billion per year, contributing to a reduction in health care spending by 8 percent. The same report identified numerous ways that Big Data would influence industries by creating transparent and usable information sources for forecasting, experimentation, developing innovative products and services, and so on.” Big Data can therefore impact scholarly communication in a number of ways. By implementing big data, scholarly research can be made more accessible, especially by allowing opportunities for organisations such as publishers to improve their services, providing better platforms for scholars to share their work.

To conclude, the developments in scholarly communication have several key implications for scholarly research and for the organisations involved in scholarly publishing. One of the most important developments being the embracing of Open Access which, in short, provides greater free access to research and published material. This in itself has had a number of implications such as expanding the roles of libraries and changing how publishers can operate in the modern era. Overall, the digital revolution has made it easier for services that are involved with information or publishing to make it easier for their users to access scholarly material while providing improved and adapted tools for further analysis and evaluation of scholarly material. For scholars, such developments can make debates more accessible while assisting with their researching endeavours and giving their work larger audiences.


Bawden, D. and Robinson, L., (2012) Introduction to Information Science. London: Facet Publishing.
Bennett. R., (2013) The changing role of the publisher in the scholarly communication process: The Future of Scholarly Communication [online]. 8(1), 103-114.
Calhoun, K., (2014) Exploring Digital Libraries: Foundations, practice, prospects. London: Facet Publishing.
Collins. E., (2013) Social media and scholarly communications: the more they change, the more they stay the same? The Future of Scholarly Communication. [online] 7(1), 89-10.
Courage. F, and Harvell, J., Supporting qualitative research in the humanities and social sciences: using the Mass Observation Archive: The Future of Scholarly Communication. [online] 2(1), 25-28.
Gilman, I., (2013) Library Scholarly Communication Process: Legal and Ethical Considerations. [online] Oxford: Chandos Publishing.
Hawkins, K., Creating a Library Publishing Program for Scholarly Books: Your Options Are Limited. Journal of Librarianship and Scholarly Communication [online], 7(1), 1-7. Available from: (Accessed on 25th April 2019).
Haynes, D. (2018). Metadata for Information management retrieval: Understanding metadata and its use. Second Edition. London: Facet Publishing.
Regazzi, J., (2015) Scholarly Communications: A History from Content as King to Content as Kingmaker. [online] London: Rowman & Littlefield.
Suber, P., (2012) Open Access. [online] Cambridge: The MIT Press Essential Knowledge Series.
Xia. J., (2017) Scholarly Communication at the Crossroads in China. [online] Oxford: Chandos Publishing.

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Changes to STEM Scholarly Communication

***This essay was written by CityLIS student Camilla Paffey in April 2019. It is reproduced here with the author’s permission as part of our CityLIS Writes initiative.***

The means by which academics have traditionally disseminated their findings has a rich and varied history. Whilst the Humanities and Social Science (HSS) have tended to regard monographs as the classic route for research dissemination; STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) fields have traditionally taken on many unique forms; ranging from public lectures, to unofficial pamphlets, to private correspondence circles, and more. Although STEM does occasionally feature some core key textbooks, journal articles rather than monographs have conventionally been the primary method of disseminating new research and scholarly communications. This paper will consequently seek to explore the more recent developments of scholarly communication within the field of STEM; primarily focusing upon the development of the world wide web and the changes it has caused in scholarly communication and research dissemination. This will include a focus on open access; the various ways it can be realised and the implications it now has for publishers and library and information services.

Generally speaking, it is safe to say that the most influential development in scholarly communications of recent times has been the advent of the world wide web, or internet. Besides digital journals, entirely new means and methods for dissemination of research now exist. Academics can use social media websites such as Twitter to share their articles, engage in discourse with other academics and to communicate with the general public. Alternatively, personal blogs facilitate the dissemination of more informal (but equally important) academic outputs such as opinion pieces, discourse and reviews. The internet has consequently absorbed and streamlined existing methods of written dissemination due to its ability to reproduce and transmit the written word quickly and accurately. Furthermore, its decentralised nature has tremendously facilitated improvements within collaborative academic work. It allows for scientists worldwide to collaborate in real-time, regardless of geographical location, to create huge global research projects, and to develop and share vast open data sets. Digital dissemination has also allowed for an increased diversity in content formats, such as video essays and interactive learning mediums, e.g. VR. Of equal importance is the fact that the introduction of the internet has also boosted existing open access efforts; allowing for the development of new digital pre-print repositories (e.g. arXiv), institutional repositories and online open access journals. This has allowed it to make possible ‘new business models such as the Big Deal by aggregating content into collections and aggregating libraries into consortia requiring new skills of both publishers and librarians.’

These developments have taken place alongside a re-evaluation of the place of the academic journal as the primary means of research dissemination. The dominance of this method of scholarly transmission beforehand cannot be understated. Between 1950 and 1980, the worldwide number of journals grew from an estimated ‘10,000 to 62,000’ . Fyfe et al.’s, ‘Untangling Academic Publishing’ reveals that this growth had been occurring for some time, but most significantly during the mid-twentieth century. This increase in journals initially coincided with the expansion of the university sector, but reductions in funding during the 1980’s meant that academic libraries began to struggle to keep up with this growth in academic publishing. This was further exacerbated by the fact that the price of journals rose faster than inflation. This predicament became known as the “Serials Crisis” and was a significant concern for the academic community.
As an attempt to solve the problem, the first “Big Deal” was introduced by the Academic Press in 1996. It offered all-you-can-eat deals for bundles of journals (often a publisher’s entire range) at a discount. Heralded by Derk Haank, the (now retiring) CEO of Springer, as the ‘best thing since sliced bread,’ it was an important development for both academic publishers and libraries. Initially it seemed to have solved the serials crisis, as many libraries could now afford more resources for their academics. Scholarly Kitchen’s Michael Clarke points out that it ‘has provided more access to more content for more researchers than any other publishing model to date.’ In these terms, it was a success that had a positive impact on the academic community, libraries and publishers to boot. Unfortunately, the shine of these benefits soon wore off for librarians as the deals began to take up ever increasing proportions of library budgets. Libraries were locked into the deals, granting publishers a distinct market domination. This monopoly meant a marked increase in publisher’s profit margins. To use Elsevier as a pertinent example:

‘In 2010, Elsevier’s scientific publishing arm reported profits of £724m on just over £2bn in revenue. It was a 36% margin – higher than Apple, Google, or Amazon posted that year… successful magazines typically make profits of around 12-15%.’

This figure does not represent an isolated lucky year. ‘The Oligopoly of Academic Publishers in the Digital Era,’ by Larivière et. al, presents data showing similar profit margins consistently for the major publishers (Reed-Elsevier, Taylor & Francis, Wiley-Blackwell, Springer and Sage) in the STEM field. Whilst a financial jackpot for publishers, the implementation of the big deal set in motion future problems for academic libraries and information services which are felt heavily today. Non-disclosure agreements mean that libraries cannot compare notes on the prices they have been charged. Furthermore, the deals generally prevent a purchaser from cancelling underused journals to reduce expenditure. In ‘The Big Deal: Not Price But Cost’ Richard Poynder illustrates the issues with these types of agreements, pointing out that ‘if a library needs to cut expenses, it can only do so by walking away from that publisher’s journals entirely, or reverting to title-by-title purchasing at a much higher cost—essentially reversing all of the previous gains.’ This has hidden implications for the publishing industry at large: to meet the cost of these deals, libraries began to cancel subscriptions to smaller journals. As smaller publishers struggle to compete, many are taken over by the larger publishers. Notably, this is a bigger issue in STEM, where the five major publishers put out roughly half of the research , in HSS that figure is closer to approximately 20% as of 2013. The resulting monopoly of a few major players consequently discourages healthy competition within publishing and means establishing new journals can be very difficult.

In the mid 1990’s, online publishing, electronic resources and online scholarly communications began to gather momentum. Initially, for libraries, this meant a huge reduction in print stock and the associated expenses. Library space was repurposed to house computer terminals, as opposed to stacks of journals. Libraries could offer more stock than ever before, without the restriction of physical space. This was especially advantageous for small libraries. In addition, these resources could be accessed by multiple users simultaneously, regardless of geographical location, without the frustrating slow wait times for inter-library loans or returns. Along with the libraries, publishers also initially profited from the move to digital. Larivière et al.’s research demonstrated that ‘the top commercial publishers have benefited from the digital era, as it led to a dramatic increase in the share of scientific literature they published.’ E-journals were not limited by paper, which meant an increase in the volume (though not necessarily quality) of literature published and consequently available for sale. In fact, the digital boom lead to an average 6% per annum increase in the volume of work published. It also dramatically sped up the timeframe in which a publisher could put a submission into print.
Unfortunately, increasing volumes of work meant increasing costs of scholarly communications; resurrecting the old problems of the serials crisis. The Economist shows that, in Britain, ‘65% of the money spent on content in academic libraries goes on journals, up from a little more than half ten years ago.’ With costs increased and budgets decreased; the big deals may have offered lower per-unit costs, but ‘the problem is that lower per-unit costs do little to help librarians grapple with the more fundamental affordability problem confronting them.’

Although the issues of the serials crisis have consequently returned to a degree, other avenues have offered some reprieve to struggling library and information services. The internet gave the concept of open access the boost it needed; allowing for the development of new projects such as institutional repositories, open access publishers like PLoS ONE, and pre-print repositories like arXiv. Open access typically means that the work is published with an open licence so that other researchers can build upon it. This type of openness is key to the collaborative nature of science, and contrasts heavily with the commercial publisher’s model of locking research behind paywalls. Open access costs are funded by charging the author an Article Processing Charge (APC), which is often covered by their institution or funding grants. Open access publishing also tends to be vastly cheaper; for example, ‘a paper that costs US$5,000 for an author to publish in Cell Reports, might cost just $1,350 to publish in PLoS ONE’ (For additional information, please see “Fig. 1: The Cost of Publishing” in the appendix.) Though the APC model is far from perfect, it represents an important development; as the APC means that the research is free at the point of access. This facet is extremely beneficial for libraries in underdeveloped areas and for any taxpayers who may have funded the work.

Nature reports that in 2012, 11.5% of papers were immediately available through open access publication, but by ‘2016 it had risen to 18.9%’ . This rise in open access materials, pre-print and institutional repositories has strengthened academics’ and librarians’ position in the resistance of commercial publishers and big deals. Some, (namely the Association of Universities in the Netherlands (VSNU), Projekt DEAL (Germany), the Bibsam Consortium (Sweden), and Couperin (France)), are now refusing to renew deals with big commercial publishers such as Elsevier as they simply cannot reach an agreement with them. Others, such as the 17,000+ academics involved in ‘The Cost of Knowledge’ boycott, are refusing to publish with, or peer-review for major commercial publishers as a show of protest. Given that such protests can often struggle to achieve major change on their own however, more direct intervention has been taken in some regards. For example, one practical development in open access efforts has been the development of Plan S. Plan S is an open access publishing initiative launched in September 2018. As stated by cOAlition S, their main goal is that:

After 1st January 2020 scientific publications on the results from research funded by public grants provided by national and European research councils and funding bodies, must be published in compliant Open Access Journals or on compliant Open Access Platforms.

Plan S’s 10 principles outline that published research must be immediately open access and under an open licence. It also stipulates that authors, not publishers, will retain copyright over the publications. The principles specifically disallow publishing in hybrid journals and warn that non-compliance will incur sanctions. For libraries, Plan S would mean that “read and publish” deals, where libraries pay subscriptions to access paywalled articles, but their researchers publish their work as open-access, would no longer be viable. ‘Plan S dictates that these [read-and-publish] agreements be phased out by 2024.’

For publishers, Plan S will have a considerable impact. Ultimately, the researchers must comply with the terms under which they accept their funding, and if funders dictate sanctions for publication in paywalled journals, these journals will likely see a big dip in their submissions. Publishers are thus objecting vociferously to Plan S, claiming it would render their business models inoperable, due to ‘high internal costs that couldn’t reasonably be recouped in a fully open-access model.’ Springer Nature claims that it costs between ‘€10,000–30,000’ to publish a single article in one of their journals, due to its highly selective nature. It is worth noting here that these publishers receive their research and editing labours for free from academics. Given that arXiv estimates hosting costs for a pre-print cost ‘$10 per article’ , these claims would appear to be exaggerated. As large publishers of STEM journals traditionally report the extravagantly high profits noted earlier, Robert-Jan Smits (Plan S) may be right in his assertion that these commercial publishers ‘should come up with new business models.’ Given the kickback from publishers and the ambitiously short timeframe for Plan S, it remains to be seen how effective it will be in enforcing open access in academic publishing.

Not content to wait for methods like the above to take effect, some academics take commitment to open access to more extreme levels. Alexandra Elbakyan, one Kazakhstani graduate student, founded a research piracy website named Sci-Hub in 2011. By simply inputting a DOI number into Sci-Hub, virtually any academic article can be instantly and easily retrieved for browsing, free of charge. Views on Elbakyan and Sci-Hub consequently remain harshly divided; with Elbakyan typically considered either a champion of open-access, or a criminal. What is certain is that Sci-Hub provides access to millions of research papers at no cost by utilising unrevealed institutional access codes. Elbakyan claims that her credentials have been ‘donated’ , but allegations of phishing have yet to be disproved. Their methods of access are certainly ethically dubious from a copyright perspective, and in terms of privacy and security.
Regardless, it is clear that Sci-Hub is growing in popularity. In 2016, Science’s John Bohannon worked with Elbakyan to create a dataset charting Sci-Hub’s usage. The results showed that Sci-Hub hosts ‘50 million papers and counting,’ and that, between Sept 2015 and Feb 2016, ‘Sci-Hub served up 28 million documents.’ For those with financial limitations, be they universities, members of the public or academics, Sci-Hub has a huge impact. Its reach extends beyond merely providing access to research papers, however; Scholarly Kitchen alleged that ‘[f]or a librarian, Sci-Hub is an unacknowledged reserve army prepared to enter the battle with publishers.’ Open access can be slow to progress and projects like Plan S can be objected to, but pirate sites like Sci-Hub are tenacious. Despite being shut down multiple times, it has simply reopened at a new domain, and continues to pick up the slack in providing universal access. Writing for Nature, Holly Else warns ‘without Sci-Hub the researchers would be screaming at the libraries and state agencies not to cut them off.’ For libraries, this new source of research dissemination strengthens their positions when bargaining with publishing giants like Elsevier. Yet Sci-Hub creates as many issues as it solves, raising important questions about ethics and copyright infringement. For example, can a librarian ethically make their users aware of a pirate website, even if the research downloaded was originally funded using that taxpayer’s own money? More practical issues also plague librarians; for example, what is Sci-Hub’s preservation policy? Can they be relied upon to archive the records of scholarly communications, especially when the website is frequently taken down due to legal action?

For publishers, Sci-Hub unsurprisingly poses a threat. Bohannon’s dataset showed that ‘Sci-Hub provided half-a-million downloads of Elsevier papers in one recent week.’ Furthermore, ‘some of the most intense use of Sci-Hub appears to be happening on the campuses of U.S. and European universities.’ What is particularly shocking is that these are users that most likely are not lacking access; but are simply choosing to use Sci-Hub’s services regardless. This has huge implications for research dissemination, suggesting Sci-Hub’s users actually prefer its simple interface to other more complex access options, even over their own libraries’. This hypothesis is strengthened by the fact that Sci-Hub also hosts ‘4000 different papers from PLOS’s various open-access journals,’ which are frequently accessed. In-depth studies like Himmelstein et al.’s ‘Sci-Hub provides access to nearly all scholarly literature’ reveal that Sci-Hub provides access to ‘85.1% of articles’ published in paywalled journals. Their data shows that Sci-Hub’s repository is growing in size per annum, and they are gradually pirating ever higher percentages. Larivière, in a recent press release about ‘The Oligopoly of Digital Publishing’, said that, as publishers have questionable levels of ‘real added value,’ that it is also ‘questionable whether they are still necessary in today’s digital era.’

It seems Scholarly Kitchen’s Joseph Esposito was right to warn of current developments as posing ‘a disruption to the entire ecosystem’ of academia and publishing. The adoption of the internet and digital dissemination has moved scholarly communications beyond the realm of print and brought new, varied forms of resources. Digital resources reinvented the way libraries and information services can offer content to their users, as online access means decentralised resources that can be used in any location. It also means that libraries can offer more resources regardless of limitations to physical space. Publishers also initially benefitted from the growth of the internet, and strategies like the Big Deal saw them reap remarkably high profit margins, much to the detriment of academic libraries. Due to this, publishers incur growing frustration from many academics and information services regarding the impediment they cause to open access and the limitations they place on scholarly communications and research dissemination. This frustration is resulting in the introduction of projects like Plan S, and pirate websites like Sci-Hub, which threaten to seriously disrupt the status quo of academic publishing. These developments may even see the eventual disintegration of these commercial publishers if they cannot adapt to the new environment.


Fig. 1: The cost of publishing: journal prices and cost breakdown
West, J., Bergstrom, C., Bergstrom, T., Andrew, T., ‘Journal Citation Reports’ quoted by Van Noorden, R., in ‘Open access: The true cost of science publishing,’ Nature, 2013. Accessible at:


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CityLIS Research Seminar led by Clare Thorpe: June 24th 12.00-14.00

CityLIS is delighted that Clare Thorpe, Associate Director (Library Experience), University of Southern Queensland, will visit us on June 24th. Clare will be giving a seminar around her work on evidence-based practice in A108 from 12.00-14.00. The timing will allow plenty of time for discussion, and we hope to see as many students and colleagues as possible.

Please bring your lunch!


Evidence-based practice in research and academic libraries: an applied approach

Research and academic libraries must become increasingly effective in meeting the challenges and opportunities faced by our information society, particularly in relation to open access, bibliometrics, digital scholarship, user experiences and cultural heritage. Libraries need to demonstrate their value and contribution to their institutions and communities. Evidence-based practice can meet both these needs. It is an approach to professional practice that involves a structured process of collecting, interpreting and applying valid and reliable research and evidence to support decision-making and continuous service improvement in professional practice (Howlett & Thorpe, 2018). This paper reports on two emerging initiatives in evidence-based practice at the University of Southern Queensland (USQ) Library, a regional multi-campus university in Australia. It demonstrates how evidence-based practice forms part of our organisational strategy to engage with our community and society.

Firstly, the paper reports on a new model of embedding evidence-based practice through a role explicitly dedicated to developing the library’s evidence base. While other libraries may have a person responsible for assessment, performance metrics or data analysis, the Coordinator (Evidence-Based Practice) has a broader mandate – to work with library staff to develop tools, skills and expertise in evidence-based practice. The paper will describe why this role was created and how the Coordinator is working to engage with library staff to understand their business and the evidence needed to support service improvement for the Library. By doing this, USQ Library is building the capacity to demonstrate value to stakeholders, gain a deeper understanding of clients’ needs and experiences, promote robust decision-making and improve service delivery.

The second initiative, led by the Coordinator (Evidence-Based Practice) is the development of a maturity model to conceptualise and identify practical steps to cultivate a culture of evidence-based practice within research and academic libraries. Current models of evidence-based library and information practice apply predominantly to individuals. Little is known about how an organisation can enhance its maturity level in being evidence-based, despite a growing demand from institutional leaders for proof to demonstrate why investments in libraries should continue (Baker and Allden, 2017; Council of Australian University Librarians, 2016). Informed by relevant literature and 16 semi-structured interviews with library professionals from Australian and New Zealand university libraries, the model identifies characteristics of evidence-based practice at different levels of maturity. Academic and research libraries will benefit from the maturity model as an innovative tool to identify the extent to which their organisation is practising and delivering services in an evidence-based way; build, measure and sustain a culture of evidence-based practice.

USQ Library is seeing the benefits of having explicit focus on building the capacity of library staff as evidence-based practitioners and developing tools to measure and sustain our success. These emerging initiatives demonstrate an applied approach by which research and academic libraries can become better informed and more adaptable to client and community needs in an ever-changing society.

Clare Thorpe is the Associate Director (Library Experience) at University of Southern Queensland. She has worked in academic and state libraries since 2001, using evidence-based approaches to develop and apply best practices in collection management, user experience, staff development, and information literacy design. She has also lectured and tutored in the MLIS program at Queensland University of Technology. Clare’s professional achievements include Australian Library and Information Association’s Distinguished Certified Professional status (2016), the Metcalfe Award for early career achievement (2005) and the Queensland Library Achiever of the Year (2016). Follow Clare on Twitter @thorpe_clare and ORCID: 0000-0002-0974-4087

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Suggested pre-course reading: CityLIS 2019-20

There is no required pre-course reading for those joining CityLIS Masters courses, but we are often asked for recommendations. Here is a suggested list of books, which might also be of interest to part-time students thinking about their second year.

They are not, for the most part, textbooks. Rather, accessible introductions to the kind of thing we will be thinking about on the course. Feel free to dip into whatever looks interesting.

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Student Perspectives: CILIP Wales Conference – Knowledge and Information Literacies. Cardiff, 16 May 2019

Student Perspectives is our series of posts written by current CityLIS students. This review of the CILIP Wales Conference: Knowledge and Information Literacies, held in Cardiff on May 16th 2019, is written by Catherine Jenkins. Catherine is currently a part-time student on our Information Science course. Catherine is on Twitter: @CathLynneJ
I’m writing this on the train back from a sunny Cardiff, where I have just survived my first time speaking at a conference. I would like to sincerely thank all the organisers and the delegates of CILIP Wales 2019 for making me feel so welcome and for smoothly facilitating my session – I wouldn’t have had the guts to actually do it if it hadn’t been for their support and reassurance! I would also like to thank my manager (who encouraged me to present on our health literacy project and gave me the confidence to respond to the call for papers) and my long-suffering colleagues (who have patiently sat through various iterations of my presentation and given invaluable feedback). My mum – the first generation of information professional in my family, and therefore my inspiration for all this – was also a star by offering to spend time with me the night before, so that I didn’t end up overthinking everything in a hotel room at 2am!
So, fortified by a VERY hearty breakfast (bagels, pastries, cheese…all before the conference refreshments themselves!), I began what turned out to be an adrenaline-fuelled day full of learning and insights. It started by me falling into conversation with someone who, after the surreptitious badge-read, I realised was the same someone that I follow on Twitter. I love moments like that – meeting someone IRL adds an extra dimension to future interactions on social media. We also both knew CityLISers, so it’s a small and wonderful world.
After stocking up on the obligatory freebies from exhibiting vendors and sponsors, we were treated to the opening keynotes, including an address yn Gymraeg with a simultaneous interpreter and a stirring speech from Nick Poole (with whom I failed to get a selfie because I was so busy taking notes!).
The first session of the day was led by Simon Savidge, Commercial Manager at Liverpool Libraries (the beautiful Liverpool Central Library has now joined my must-see list). Simon’s presentation was full of innovations in how libraries can leverage their collections, spaces and expertise to create revenue and provide funding for service enhancements. Checking bookshop events schedules to see when authors are in the area anyway (and then enticing them over to the library with the promise of a rare manuscript/tea and cake for a video interview), and partnering up with transport companies to combine home deliveries of books with reading group roadtrips (while getting the best deal by instigating a sense of healthy competition between company A and company B’s CSR box-ticking), were just a few of the ideas discussed. Monetising tourist footfall and linking up with neighbouring businesses were also among the lightbulb moments.
A quick break (with edibles), and then it was time for the first of the breakout sessions. I attended a talk on the Reading Agency’s Books on Prescription scheme, and honestly I have writer’s cramp from trying to capture the wisdom on display in this wonderful hour. The talk presented statistics on the untapped potential of the BoP scheme: only 10% of GPs know about the scheme, and <5% actually prescribe from it. This is despite bibliotherapeutic interventions being vastly cheaper – a fiver versus thousands of pounds – compared to in-person mental health therapies if used effectively (i.e., the patient reads the book and reflects on it). Pharmaceutical advertising also exacerbates the problem: 100% of GPs know about antidepressants, for example, and there is more merchandise out there with the names of drugs printed on them than pens or stress balls promoting reading for health. Even if you take into account the fact that borrowers of the BoP titles embrace self-help as a synonym for helping themselves to library copies (these titles are frequently not returned to libraries), the case for further work on and research into an alternative to drug-based therapies that comes with no contraindications, no risk of an overdose, and that can be enjoyed whilst pregnant (and if you opt for audio, whilst doing many other things too!), is still a compelling one. A truly inspiring talk which, for me, spoke directly to why I do what I do and why I love doing it (and why I’m studying at City so that I can delve deeper into it!).
Post-lunch, I enjoyed a Welsh-medium session on the provision of original Welsh-language books for older children (as a Welsh learner, I have had great fun making my way through Harri Potter a Maen yr Athronydd, but we do need to rely less on translating English bestsellers and focus more on nurturing children’s literature that reflects the diverse experiences of young Welsh-speakers today, in their own terms. I was dismayed to realise how many Welsh books for children written in the past are now out of print. Published in an era before ebook files, these stories are now effectively irretrievable for the majority of their would-be readers. We need to do better on supporting the current and upcoming generations of children’s authors in Wales so that their legacy, unlike that of previous Tir na n-Og awardees, is protected and preserved for future readers.
After that, my time had come (I had indeed been ticking down the hours throughout the day, the prospect of my impending talk looming large in my mind). As with many anticipated ordeals in life, the actual brief span of my talk couldn’t have been less scary. The chair introduced me; I checked that my slides were actually being displayed behind me; and away I went, telling attendees – probably in a slightly hysterical tone at the start! – about the health literacy project at our NHS library, collaborations with public libraries on running health information drop-in sessions to raise awareness of the open access resources available to help people self-manage conditions digitally and in print (hello again, BoP!), the practical nuts-and-bolts of lobbying and relationship-building (and good old serendipity!), and finally some impact case studies of how our project has positively changed the lives of service users. The audience was lovely and kind, and afterwards I could relax and learn from a presentation by another NHS library (on how their service had helped to manage the roll-out of mobile working by making key hospital information databases and subscriptions available on personal devices, saving whole days of staff time by removing the need for workers to return to base to access resources and freeing up additional opportunities for them to see patients). It was very useful to chat with other health librarians afterwards, and I came away with fresh perspectives on information management within healthcare. It was also interesting to talk to delegates from different sectors who had chosen to attend the health libraries session to learn more about ways of working in this area.
After more delicious food (scones, with proper jam!), I chose to finish the day by choosing a workshop on impact (a session on international partnerships also sounded great, but I’ll have to browse the hashtag #CILIPW19 for that one). Intriguingly, there is no exact Welsh translation for ‘impact’ – the closest approximation might be gwneud gwahaniaeth, make a difference – and that is very much the spirit in which our group approached the task of applying the Impact Playbook strategies to information literacy activities. More heads are better than one and I very much welcomed the suggestions of delegates on measuring the impact of our public library drop-ins. In particular, the idea of including a comments bookmark for Reading Well titles, with space to write or a link to fill in a feedback survey online, struck me as absolutely ingenious and I would love to implement it!
The conference therefore inspired me on several fronts: it introduced me to new people (or put faces to Twitter handles, in the case of those I follow on social media!) and furnished me with new ideas; it gave me the opportunity to speak in a safe space to a knowledgeable, friendly and collegial audience; and it helped me to develop as an information professional. I would highly recommend the CILIP regional conferences, especially if you can’t attend the larger one. Speakers, even lightning-talk ones like me, often have their delegate fee waived and are welcome to attend all the sessions at which they’re not speaking. These conferences are ideal testbeds for trying things outside of your comfort zone (and, with all the scrumptious sweetmeats on offer, they take good care of the body as well as the mind!).
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