***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 yyets.com 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.
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