And What About Students?: The Forgotten Role of Students in the Scholarly Communication Debate

Richard Nimijean (Carleton University)

Abstract: This paper has two major goals: to explain why students matter in the scholarly communication debate and to explore the student's role in selected issues surrounding that debate. Students, often neglected in the scholarly communication literature, have a potentially significant role in the evolution of the system, both politically and culturally. Academic and government decision-makers will need to address student-related issues as part of their strategic planning.

Résumé: Le but de cette communication est double: reconnaître la place des étudiants dans les débats sur la communication savante, puis explorer comment ils peuvent contribuer à quelques thèmes importants dans ce domaine. Les étudiants, trop souvent négligés dans les discussions consacrées à ce sujet, ont potentiellement un rôle significatif -- autant politique que culturel -- à jouer dans l'évolution de la communication savante. Les décideurs académiques et gouvernementaux devront adresser la question étudiante dans la formulation de leurs stratégies.

The changes in our system of scholarly communication are well known. They involve a growing body of published scholarly knowledge that far exceeds our capacity to consume this knowledge; the dramatically rising costs of acquiring this knowledge; the mushrooming of electronic communication networks and the costs of supporting such networks; new issues concerning intellectual property; a reassessment of the academic reward system; and so forth. These changes are taking place in an environment where a fundamental re-examination of the university's role and mission in an era of greater fiscal restraint is taking place.

While the outcome of these changes remain unknown, the parameters of the debate are being established, and the questions that must be asked are becoming clearer. But while academic administrators, librarians, and scholars are debating the changing world of scholarly communication, students -- with the notable exception of teaching and the Internet -- are at best haphazardly involved and referred to only in passing in the literature. For example, Scholarly Communication in an Electronic Environment (Martin, 1993) is the product of a conference on scholarly communication, yet in a section called "Reactions from Scholars," students do not merit consideration.

This is not to say that students' roles and needs are not understood, nor that individual universities undertaking strategic planning do not address them. If students were to become part of the debate, we would be better able to examine the changes in our system of scholarly communication and ultimately be in a better position to implement reforms within the context of the restructuring of our university system. In this sense, Canadians should follow the lead of the Follett Report (Joint Funding Council, 1993), which reviewed the state of British libraries in the context of the changing world of scholarly communication and clearly acknowledged the impact these issues are having on students. The Canadian academic community must also undertake such an examination, so that governments and university administrators can make more informed choices as we inch toward fundamental change. Students will have a major role in this, both as consumers of scholarly knowledge and, increasingly, as producers of scholarly knowledge.

In some areas, such as electronic publishing, students will be agents of change. However, in areas such as the academic reward system (namely, hiring), they are likely to be forces of conservatism. The mixed outcomes are due in part to the fact that, like scholars, students are a heterogeneous body, divided by status (undergraduate and graduate) and area of study (social sciences and the humanities versus the medical, physical, and natural sciences and engineering). As such, students do not possess uniform career expectations, are subject to different research programs, and thus have different roles to play in, and expectations from, their university experiences.

The central message of this paper is that meaningful and effective changes to our system of scholarly communication will occur only if students are brought into the debate and are involved in the process of reform. Failure to do so can lead to two possible, though not mutually exclusive, outcomes: further uncertainty in enrolment levels, which will force the university system to radically redefine itself, and /or a perpetuation of one of the root causes of the crisis in scholarly communication, namely, the development of a new generation of prolific scholars. Following an examination of the role of students in the system of scholarly communication, this paper will examine the implications of these roles.

Students and scholarly communication

If we accept the premise that the evolution of our system of scholarly communication is linked to the evolution of our university system (AUCC-CARL /ABRC, 1996), then the interests and roles of students must enter into the debate. These interests relate to the current conjuncture our university system finds itself in, namely, a massive rethinking of all aspects of the system, from finances to autonomy to expectations associated with a university education.

The nature of the changing university library, for example, has been well documented (AUCC-CARL /ABRC, 1995, 1996; Senate Library Committee, 1995). Under budgetary constraints, the library is expected to maintain levels of acquisitions despite rising prices and the growing body of published knowledge; balance the diverse needs of the university community; and keep pace not only with the traditional print-based materials but also with the growing body of electronic resources and databases (as well as provide the accompanying infrastructure). This has led to systematic journal cancellations and the transfer of funds from monograph acquisitions to the serials budget in order to lessen the impact of journal cancellations. In response, the university library is moving from a "just-in-case" model to a "just-in-time" model, placing greater emphasis on providing timely access to teaching and research materials outside the library.

Inquiries into the impact of these changes, such as the Association of Universities and Colleges of CanadaCanadian Association of Research Libraries / l'Association des bibliothèques de recherche du Canada (AUCC-CARL /ABRC) Task Force on Academic Libraries and Scholarly Communication (1996), have addressed issues such as the ability of universities to support the activities of their scholars and the ability of scholars to conduct research in this changing environment. However, the impact of these changes on students, who will also be affected, has not been adequately examined. In their traditional role as consumers of scholarly knowledge, students will be affected by changes in the university library, notably in terms of relatively decreasing holdings in the university library as the body of published knowledge increases. As future scholars in a tight labour market, students will contribute to the growing body of published knowledge.

Students as consumers of knowledge

Students are consumers of the information and knowledge generated by scholars. Students require access, particularly at the undergraduate level, to a readily available literature in order to complete course assignments and obtain course credits. Requirements vary by level. Undergraduate students normally require access to materials initially recommended by faculty, although they are usually expected to perform additional secondary research. Graduate students, however, are expected to perform more thorough searches in their academic work. In both cases, however, faculty participate in the development of the library collection in order to assure some congruence between course offerings and requirements and the needs of students to fulfill these requirements.

Increasingly, students are using non-print materials in their work, materials often not found in their university libraries. Electronic databases, CD-ROMs, and the World Wide Web (WWW) are increasingly important sources of information for many students. This is due in part to the fact that these sources, particularly information obtained via the World Wide Web, are not restricted to one user at a time. As a result, the range of information available to students has increased dramatically, thereby raising expectations that this material can or should be found in the university library.

However, many students, particularly undergraduates in the social sciences and humanities, appear to be comfortable with the just-in-case library. Facing multiple assignment deadlines and, increasingly, working in part-time jobs to support their studies, students face time constraints when performing research. A quick search of the stacks is often the most efficient, though not necessarily the most effective, method of obtaining source material, particularly for part-time students, who do not spend as much time on campus and do so for shorter intervals than their full-time colleagues. As described in the Times Higher Education Supplement, "For the part-time student, a library visit is often a question of grabbing as many relevant books as fast as possible before dashing to the next lecture" (Tysome, 1994, p. vii). Indeed, as the importance of part-time and continuing-education students increases, their needs will deserve closer scrutiny, especially since they have historically not received the same treatment as other students (Williams, 1995, p. 34).

New forms of data and holdings may not be alleviating this problem. A recent survey of two American universities found that even if they are aware of the existence of CD-ROM and on-line databases: "Few students used them for needed information" (Hsieh-Yee, 1996, p. 165). Undergraduates in particular are in-library customers who largely use on-line catalogues to search for information. Hsieh-Yee suggests that the most important factors for students are convenience, quality of data, ease of use, and availability: It appears that the "traditional" is indeed comforting to students.

It is tempting to extend this characterization of students to how they actually find and use source materials for their assignments. My Canadian Politics students at Carleton University would always use classics such as John Porter's The Vertical Mosaic, first published in 1965, and other old (albeit important) works. They would get upset when I would comment that their work would be improved if they used the most recent literature, until one particularly frustrated student told me that it was just not accessible. The most recent monographs (of which there is often only one copy) are either checked out or on reserve (if the library has them at all). A quick check of the catalogue was revealing: At Carleton, there were 28 copies of The Vertical Mosaic (which does not include copies in departmental reading rooms), yet rare was the book on the shelves that had been published within the last few years. (See Advisory Committee on Information Technology, 1996, p. 33, for a vignette that captures the problems facing undergraduate students when performing research for their assignments.) Recent data appear to confirm this observation. Acquisitions per student in ARL libraries continue to decline (30% fewer monographs and 8% fewer serials per student in 1995 than in 1986) (Association of Research Libraries, 1996, p. 13).

Addressing this situation necessarily leads to the issue of whether students possess the skills to adequately use the just-in-time library. While students tend to see library problems in terms of the lack of resources and not in terms of their own search skills (or lack thereof ), it remains that many undergraduates are not trained properly to conduct searches, and many do not know how to use or search for journal articles. Indeed, training students how to use journals would greatly increase journal readership, for one of the paradoxes of the current system of scholarly communication is that, despite their great cost, journals actually have a very low readership (Senate Library Committee, 1995, p. 6). Given the increase in non-print resources and the focus on access to material held outside the library, students will also need to be trained in searching for electronic resources in databases, the Internet, and the Web, because "... the organization of the information must be tailored to the search requirements of persons searching for references. It is no longer a matter of arranging the shelves; instead it is arranging bytes" (Boynton & Creth, 1993, p. xvii).

Students as producers of knowledge

Increasingly, students are becoming producers of information, as the development of new communications technologies reduces the gap between the consumption and production of knowledge (Advisory Committee on Information Technology, 1996, p. 9). Moreover, the students of today are the academics of tomorrow. They are influenced by the mentoring aspect of education and research and ultimately contribute to the shape of our evolving system of scholarly communication. This is due primarily to advances in communication and computing technologies, increases in graduate enrolment, and a tight academic labour market.

The dramatic growth in publication outlets, including the proliferation of electronic journals, will increase student publishing. As Marchionini & Maurer argue:

Digital libraries offer greater opportunity for users to deposit as well as use information. Thus, students and teachers can easily be publishers as well as readers in digital libraries. The number of student-produced [WWW] home pages continues to grow as teachers and students not only bring digital information into the classroom but move the products of the classroom out into the digital libraries (1995, p. 73).

In other words, the traditional filtering system that has kept the published contributions of students to a minimum no longer works in the digital world. As the TULIP final report notes (1996), unlike undergraduates, graduate students appear to be the greatest users of electronic journals and on-line systems, in part because of their propensity to perform wider searches of the literature as well as their research functions for faculty. Thus, for example, while some mainstream prestige journals have explicit conflict-of-interest policies that prevent graduate students from publishing book reviews and rarely publish articles by students, the proliferation of electronic listservs and the rise of the electronic book review offer new avenues for student participation. For example, H-Grad is a listserv specifically for graduate students, and it has a Web site as part of the H-Net initiative, which sponsors more than 75 listservs for scholars in history and the humanities. It allows for discussion on employment searches and will eventually offer a graduate book-review service.

However, in terms of the crisis in scholarly communication, we must focus on more than just increased publication opportunities: We must also examine the factors which are driving students and young scholars to publish more. Graduate students -- at least those who are likely to become academic or non-academic researchers and scientists -- will help determine the future evolution of our system of scholarly communication. They will contribute to the stock of published knowledge; they will be subject to new or reformed hiring and promotion systems; and they will be responsible for teaching new generations of students. The increased publishing activity of these students is influenced primarily by the current nature of the academic job market and the mentoring system.

In Canada, the number of doctoral degrees awarded continues to increase, with 3,552 doctoral degrees granted in 1994. However, fewer and fewer teaching jobs are available. In fact, the total number of teaching jobs declined by 1% in both 1993 and 1994 (Association of Universities and Colleges of Canada, 1996, chaps. 3 and 5). Thus, at a cursory level, it appears that there is a surplus of qualified candidates for the academic jobs available.2

A few decades ago, when there were fewer graduate students and the university system was expanding, mentors might easily advise promising scholars, "Keep up the good work, and a job could be yours." While scholars continue to be hired in 1997, an increase in graduate student enrolment has made competition incredibly severe. However, the advice commonly given out remains essentially the same: "Finish the dissertation, get it published, and develop a research agenda." Indeed, what responsible supervisor would tell a student, "Not publishing or publishing `responsibly' is going to get you an academic job, and you'll have the additional satisfaction of helping to address the crisis of scholarly communication!" Moreover, universities and departments continue practices that perpetuate the crisis of scholarly communication, such as seminars for graduate students outlining publication and job search strategies. These practices help ensure that future scholars develop the same mores that have contributed to the explosion of published knowledge. Furthermore, this issue is compounded by efforts to overcome long-standing inequities in the university, with the development of strategies to help those historically discriminated because of gender or ethnicity to learn how to work in the system. This includes, clearly, a publishing strategy (Frank Fox, 1985, pp. 13-14).

Hiring committees also contribute to this aspect of the scholarly communication crisis. As usually indicated in job ads, those with promising research and publication agendas and an ability to teach make the best candidates. Hence we are witnessing doctoral candidates who focus on broader horizons than the completion of the dissertation: articles and book projects are increasingly undertaken simultaneously while the dissertation is under way, as a means of distinguishing themselves from other candidates. If these are the candidates who are being hired, then this will only compound the problem of the growing body of published knowledge. As Mary Frank Fox has argued, while there is a significant attrition in research productivity following completion of the PhD, "Early publication is associated with continued productivity." Indeed, she states:

Of those who publish and receive citations to their work in the five years immediately after receiving their Ph.D., the majority continue to be active in publication... and to be cited in a subsequent period.... Correspondingly, those who fail to publish early on continue to be nonproductive in publication. (1985, p. 7)

So if universities are only hiring candidates with proven or potentially strong publishing records, then how does the problem of the growing body of knowledge get resolved? By hiring people who are not ambitious, who have a small research agenda or do not want to research?

Implications for changing our system of scholarly communication

If efforts to reform our system of scholarly communication are to be successful, the role of students as both consumers and producers of scholarly knowledge must be recognized. As consumers of knowledge and major users of the university library, students expect the library to adequately support their academic work, particularly in an environment of rising tuition. As more important producers of scholarly knowledge, it is necessary to see if the pressures leading to increased production can be addressed. This will be discussed below in terms of the changing university library, digital scholarly resources and the computing infrastructure, the academic reward system, and intellectual property.

The changing university library

That the university library is changing is no longer in doubt. In an environment of restrictive budgets and rising costs of published knowledge, the body of published knowledge is growing. At the same time, universities and their libraries are also expected to provide an infrastructure for computing and communication technologies. Balancing these pressures is a Herculean task that will not satisfy all interests. Scholars, through their representatives on senate library committees and their direct access to university administrators, can and do regularly express their various (and sometimes parochial) concerns on these matters. Students, on the other hand, certainly at the individual level and even at the organizational /representational level, do not have the same ability to participate in these important discussions and decisions regarding choices that the library makes.

Why should we even be concerned with what students think or want? As the Follett Report notes, two student surveys in Britain indicated that adequate access to library facilities, resources, and library staffing are among the most important factors in the overall undergraduate student experience (Joint Funding Councils' Libraries Review Group, 1993, p. 37). Assuming this to be true of the North American experience as well, the ability of any one university to offer library services is likely to be a major factor in how students "vote with their feet" -- the one trump that students have in an environment of change and uncertainty. Particularly in light of the heightened importance given to such issues, such as the annual Maclean's survey of universities, students have greater information about the universities they wish to attend. Universities can no longer assume that they have a captured market. Unstable enrolment levels, distance education, the Internet and the World Wide Web, the rise of virtual universities, the increasing differentiation between universities (including curricula and fees), and the increasing popularity of community colleges ensure this.

Universities and their libraries therefore must address or at least understand the needs of this major client group and provide the resources they expect. For example, the preponderance of on-line catalogues and CD-ROMs increases student expectations that a university provide such resources (McCarthy, 1995, p. 222). At the University of Rhode Island, she argues, student satisfaction is linked more to whether students find the resources they want than to their own abilities to estimate the strength of their search skills.

University libraries therefore must, if they have not done so already, measure the needs of their students, for as Williams notes, while the literature is replete with calls to evaluate the library needs of students, little data actually exists (1995, p. 33). These surveys must be broad-based and focus on the diverse needs of all user groups, not simply faculty.

However, it remains difficult to satisfy the needs of students. The price increases in scientific and technical journals and the institutional commitment to these journals hurts the acquisition of social science and humanities materials, particularly monographs (Manoff, 1996, p. 220). In CARL /ABRC libraries, serials expenditures accounted for 21% of library expenditures in 1993-94, while monograph expenditures accounted for only 8%. Furthermore, expenditures on serials continued to increase, but monograph expenditures peaked in 1991-92 (Canadian Association of Research Libraries, 1996). Pricing trends suggest that the serials budget is mostly devoted to scientific and technical journals and not to journals in the social sciences and humanities.

This affects students in two ways. First, the great majority of Canadian undergraduate (72%) and master's (63%) students are in the social sciences and humanities (Association of Universities and Colleges of Canada, 1996, p. 9). Secondly, undergraduate students, particularly in the first and second years, are dependent on monographs for their research. With student numbers at all levels increasing significantly over the years and library expenditures per full-time equivalent (FTE) student falling dramatically (22.4% in constant dollars from 1980 to 1993) (Association of Universities and Colleges of Canada, 1996, p. 4), student dissatisfaction is likely to increase. This likely dissatisfaction links to a direct correlation between increased library use and increased perceptions of problems or dissatisfaction with the library's collection (Williams, 1995, p. 41). In other words, students who use the library regularly are more apt to complain about its inadequacies.

Will the just-in-time library, with its growing emphasis on interlibrary loans (ILL), document delivery, and networked resources adequately serve the needs of students? First, how frequently do students use ILL and document delivery services? For example, of 70 students informally surveyed in my first-year Canadian politics class in 1996-97, none could either explain what the services were or report that they had used them. This admittedly unrepresentative sample nevertheless suggests that access to the growing body of knowledge is potentially restricted. Document-delivery systems are effective when you know what you are looking for, but are far less effective without a good bibliographic search tool (Greenberg, 1993, p. 18). Even if we were to teach students new search skills, ILL and document-delivery services raise questions of cost and logistics. Will students or their libraries willingly pay for document delivery? Can the de facto lender libraries (the major research libraries) support a system predicated not on the demand of a relatively small number of researchers but of a significant proportion of the Canadian student body? Can students working on tight deadlines effectively use document delivery even if these other factors are addressed? And, finally, as the University of British Columbia has asked: Who pays? (Senate Library Committee, 1995, p. 18).

An increase in non-print resources might not adequately address the needs and concerns of students, for the rise of electronic journals is likely to diminish serendipitous reading (Silverman, 1996, p. 60). This hurts students who face time constraints, tend to browse less than faculty, and possess less-developed search skills. On the other hand, there is also a positive side. As students develop electronic search skills, they will learn to use non-library sources found on the Web and through the Internet. For example, Andrew Heard of Simon Fraser University has recently reported that one third of his first-year students effectively used the Web in his first-year Canadian Politics course (Heard, 1997).

The university community must therefore re-evaluate its approach to teaching research skills. The various disciplines, in conjunction with the university library, will need to re-evaluate their courses on research methods to include the new dimensions of the scholarly communication debate and the Internet. Such is the case at Dalhousie University in Halifax, for example, where medical students are trained, as part of their curriculum, to perform electronic searches (Birenbaum, 1995, p. 7). Given the constant turnover of students and a faculty that is somewhat untrained in electronic search methods, universities might consider offering library courses for credit or include them as part of a common first year curriculum since most new university students do not possess adequate research skills and thus place huge demands on reference librarians (Adams & Morris, 1985, p. 5). (See Adams & Morris, 1995, chaps. 1 and 2, for an overview of the major issues and details in offering such courses.) The constant turnover in the undergraduate ranks ensures that this problem will not disappear, particularly as we move increasingly toward the digital library (University of California, 1996). On an encouraging note, however, instructional sessions in Association of Research Libraries (ARL) institutions are significantly on the increase (Association of Research Libraries, 1996, pp. 8-9).

Digital scholarly resources and computing

The new computing and communication technologies are radically transforming the student experience. Access to remote data and resources and the ability to work interactively with faculty, even in classrooms, are but two examples. However, we are far from the scenario where students have computers in each classroom and all faculty are able to offer coherent multimedia instruction. Thus, it is imperative that universities examine their information technology infrastructures, policies, and practices to ensure that they can best capture the democratic potential of electronic resources (AUCC-CARL /ABRC, 1996, pp. 5-6). In other words, universities can aid the transition to the just-in-time library.

Access to the computing infrastructure is an important issue. Only 29% of Canadian families own a home computer, and not all of them have Internet access. Moreover, there is a class discrepancy. Families in the top 20% income bracket are four times as likely to own a personal computer as a family in the bottom 20% (Statistics Canada, 1996, pp. 18-20), thus undermining somewhat the notion of universal access to post-secondary education in a computerized learning environment. Even when students do own computers, off-campus access to university networks is uneven across the country due to the great costs involved.

Until and unless all universities adopt the Acadia University strategy of building a fully wired campus with obligatory student leasing of computers, they will need and will be expected to provide adequate computing resources for students as part of tuition fees. A common excuse for late submission of papers is that students cannot spend sufficient time on the university computers to search the Internet and Web, to do word processing, or to print documents. The Advisory Committee on Information Technology (ACIT) at the University of British Columbia (UBC) reports that in computer and library labs "demand far outstrips the supply" (1996, p. 11), an experience that is likely representative of the situation across the country. The ACIT report also suggests other factors that must be addressed: equitable access across faculties; the wiring of student residences and graduate student offices; and the level of adequate and sufficient training in the new technologies offered by universities to students, faculty, and staff.

Smaller and more remote universities face a dilemma. While the new technologies might allow for an increased democratization and decentralization of knowledge production and consumption, as suggested by the AUCC-CARL /ABRC final report, inadequate investment in these technologies (due to their high costs, including the cost of technical support, training, and maintenance) places the capturing of these benefits at risk, leading to a potential scenario of both impoverished libraries and electronic infrastructure. How can such universities address this challenge?

Going the "wired" route also carries its own risks. Given the growing questioning of the value of a university degree, the skills developed for using computing and communication technologies are one of the tangibles that students identify with their education. Increasing tuition or ancillary fees to cover leased computers has not been a popular idea with many students, given the substantial increases in tuition in recent years. In fact, one of the concerns of protesting students who occupied the president's office at Carleton University in Ottawa in February 1997 was that the university not introduce "technology fees." Thus, access to the computing infrastructure becomes an equity issue within the university.

One method for addressing this issue is to set targets. ACIT, for example, recommends that UBC set a target of one public computer for each 50 students (Advisory Committee on Information Technology, 1996, p. 26). However, at the Saint John campus of the University of New Brunswick, with a student enrolment of approximately 3,000, the ratio is 25:1, suggesting that it might be more manageable (and important) for smaller universities to have a lower ratio. The ACIT report notes that this issue will have to be addressed as part of each university's strategic plan.

On-campus resources dedicated to accessing scholarly materials off-campus will therefore need to be examined. For example, the new £8-million library being built at the University of Abertay Dundee in Scotland is intended to increase the storage of and access to electronic resources. All 700 study spaces will be connected to the university's computer network and will also have a 24-hour study area (Wojtas, 1995, p. 4). This can be seen as the library variant of the Acadia strategy, yet the option remains very costly. It also points to the challenge facing libraries in balancing traditional expectations of a well-stocked collection with investments associated with the just-in-time library. As the head librarian of Oxford Brookes Library said, it is important to invest in technological and electronic resources, "but we must be careful not to develop these at the expense of covering the increasing demand from students for books" (Tysome, 1994, p. vii).

For students, it is not simply a matter of rising debt loads. Paradoxically, student loan programs are becoming more restrictive and bursaries have been virtually eliminated. Government-sponsored computer loan and rebate programs, in collaboration with the university community, might be one alternative, but these would have to be designed carefully, paying attention to tuition rates and the composition of the student body of each university. As well, as opposed to the lease strategy of Acadia, students at least would have the tangible benefit of computer ownership.


Much concern has been expressed with respect to the impact of the "academic reward system" on the crisis in scholarly communication. Stripped to its core, the basic argument is that there are tremendous pressures on faculty to publish in order to reap the benefits of the reward system. An unintended consequence of this is the great explosion in the body of published knowledge, which, as we know, is increasingly difficult for university libraries to acquire.

With respect to students and hiring, this trend is likely to continue. First, there is the matter of the shortage of academic jobs in Canadian universities versus the increasing pool of qualified candidates. For the universities, at one level, this is a positive development. They are able to hire relatively inexpensive, ambitious, and active researchers at the junior level in the face of funding constraints and aging (more expensive) faculty. In such a soft labour market, any reform of the academic reward system that limits the number of publications under consideration in the reward system (as recommended by the AUCC-CARL Task Force's final report) is unlikely to have any bearing on young scholars and graduate students seeking academic employment. An aggressive and diverse research agenda is one way to differentiate oneself from the competition. Thus the propensity to publish associated with early productive research and publication is likely to continue.

For example, at the June 1997 meetings of the Canadian Political Science Association (CPSA), the section on political theory (a field in which there are few tenure-stream jobs but a great many masters' and doctoral students) had 62 papers, 32 presented by graduate students. This demonstrates both the vitality of graduate research and the extent to which students wish to gain exposure and experience, not to mention publication, in the hopes of developing a curriculum vitae that will lead to an academic job.

Learned societies play a role in this socialization process. For example, the CPSA publishes Careers for Political Scientists (Pal, 1996). While geared to non-academic jobs, there is a section on academe, and here the guide offers conflicting advice. It paints a gloomy picture, conservatively estimating four to five applicants for every position in political science in Canada (not including overseas applicants). Wisely, the book recommends that only the top 5% to 10% of students should consider academic careers. It advises students to complete their doctorates as quickly as possible -- the key to hiring -- and suggests students avoid or be judicious in taking on any extracurricular activities such as teaching assistantships, conference participation, and job searches until they have nearly completed their dissertations. Further advice: given that the first job is likely to be a limited-term appointment, students should also develop a publishing strategy (including articles or a monograph based on the dissertation) and a new research agenda involving a book or several articles when they are hired.

Thus, this professional society in effect acknowledges and indeed socializes students into thinking that publication is the key to getting hired or tenured (even though the crisis of scholarly communication makes that less and less an option). The issue for the CPSA guide is not whether publishing and conference participation is key, but making sure the timing is right. For example, regarding conference participation, the book says: "Too many Ph.D. candidates present too many mediocre papers at the annual meetings in the hopes that their efforts will be noted for future job applications. Yet a single publication will garner more attention and respect than several CPSA paper presentations" (Pal, 1996, p. 19).

However, given the fierce competition for tenure-track positions, people never know when (or if ) the next opening or interview will come. In such an environment, it is likely that the dramatic growth of published knowledge will continue as young scholars remain active and aggressive.

However, some forces might mitigate the impact of these factors. Pressures on young scholars produce the risk that there are too many unread first books (the dissertation) and compromised (by the pressures of teaching and research) second books (Brooks, 1996, p. A52). Indeed, there are growing doubts as to whether that first book will even get published. As Sanford Thatcher notes, surveys indicate that faculty cite author's reputation as a key factor in deciding to purchase monographs. Given the pressures on university presses to cope with the crisis of scholarly communication, including contemplating a reduction in the reliance on the monograph because of low sales and rising costs, they will be increasingly reluctant to publish that first book, making it more difficult for young scholars to become tenured (Thatcher, 1995, p. B1).

Brooks offers one possible coping strategy, namely, that the PhD (at least in the humanities) become more like a teaching and research apprenticeship. Fewer students should be admitted, they should take more time to complete (as opposed to the current belief in reducing completion time), and they should have better support and more post-doctoral opportunities to ease the transition, all in the name of addressing the academic job crisis. Brooks' strategy clashes with contemporary objectives and values such as the extension of mass education, the prestige associated with doctoral programs, and pressures to reduce and not increase the time required for completion of doctoral studies (Brooks, 1996, p. A52). In other words, the concept is counter-hegemonic, yet it might somewhat ease the contributions of graduate students to the crisis in scholarly communication.

Intellectual property

Restrictive copyright legislation for electronic publications would be damaging for students. Students would be less able to surf the Internet and the Web to find resources and scholarly material, an activity in part required to overcome the inadequacies of the just-in-case library. If students were required to pay directly (in some type of cash transaction) for simply browsing material found on the Internet or the Web, then many simply will not browse. On the other hand, if universities were to pay for students in an indirect manner, as in the current CanCopy arrangements, then this would place even greater strains on strapped university coffers (Advisory Committee on Information Technology, 1996, p. 18). In either case, fee-based browsing rights would further the crisis of scholarly communication insofar as they only accentuate the cash crisis and undermine the democratizing potential of electronic scholarly resources and the ability of university students, faculty, and the just-in-time library to access them.

Another area of concern, particularly for graduate students, that is not often discussed in the literature on scholarly communication pertains to the results of faculty research. The primary issue in the social sciences and humanities relates to publications emerging from student research paid for by a faculty member's research grant. Often, faculty members will extend co-authorship to these research assistants, which acknowledges their intellectual contributions as well as assists them in their careers (with a publication). In other cases, faculty, fully in accordance with granting council regulations, assume full authorship and responsibility. In the sciences, engineering, and computer sciences, concern is increasingly expressed about profits that result from academic research. Issues include allocation of profits; the relationship between a student's research and private contracts held by supervisors; delays for patent applications; and the desire of sponsors to keep results private. (See Saunders, 1995, for an overview of the issues.)

Overriding all of these are the traditional concerns: disputes over who came up with the original research ideas and faculty and students who abuse their positions and responsibilities (for example, professors who take ideas from the work or proposals of students and pass them off as their own, leaving the students in a delicate position). Given all that is at stake, particularly as the role of the university in the new economy is redefined, it is likely that students will continue to aggressively protect and promote their interests as universities establish or revise their policies on intellectual property.

Bringing students into the debate: Conclusion and
policy recommendations

Failure to seriously address the interests and concerns of students in the scholarly communication debate will undermine efforts to implement reforms. An inability to provide students with adequate library and computing services is likely to contribute to further uncertainty in enrolment levels. Indeed, many students are questioning the value of a university degree, as evidenced by fluctuations in enrolment levels; students going to community colleges where they can obtain "practical" skills; concern about increasing debt burdens; and students' fears that they will not obtain jobs upon graduation. If universities do not offer what students perceive to be the tools and preparation required to participate fully and actively in the labour market, then they will seek alternatives.

In an era of restrictive budgets, with increased investments in computing and electronic infrastructure and the growing costs of published knowledge, the position of universities is not enviable. However, as one university examining these issues noted, universities must face these challenges and assume technological leadership, for if they do not, they will "... leave their students ill-prepared to meet the expectations of their workplaces, academic or otherwise" (Senate Library Committee, 1995, p. 20). In other words, there are identifiable computing and communication technology skills that students can take with them when they leave university and, in fact, are increasingly required in order to work in the new economy (Statistics Canada, 1996). These new skills therefore complement the traditional benefits of a university education, namely, research skills and critical thinking.

The university community will also need to examine how it is training and socializing future scholars. This is perhaps the greatest challenge in reforming our system of scholarly communication. While universities can attempt to reform their academic reward systems in the hope of reducing publications, they have far less control over the new scholars they are hiring, who, as I have suggested, are likely to be even more productive.

Still, we can build on recent initiatives and reports such as The Changing World of Scholarly Communication (AUCC-CARL /ABRC, 1996), Beyond Gutenberg (Advisory Committee on Information Technology, 1996), and Scholarly Communication, Serials and Technology (Senate Library Committee, 1995) to ensure that student issues are included in the debate and in the reform process. These reports demonstrate an understanding not only of the breadth of the scholarly communication issue, but, as importantly, reflect an awareness of the complexity of the university community itself (that is, that students matter in the scholarly communication debate) and the ways in which this complexity further muddles efforts to effectively promote change.

Universities, individually and collectively, must therefore re-evaluate their policies and practices with regard to the scholarly activities of graduate students. In a similar fashion, scholarly societies should continue to examine the employment prospects of graduate students as part of their examination of scholarly communication issues. Universities and scholarly societies, in reviewing the relationship between publishing and the academic reward system (as recommended by the AUCC-CARL /ABRC Task Force), must pay particular attention to hiring and employment issues. Failure to do so will only perpetuate the problems associated with the dramatic increase in published knowledge.

In their surveys of users and in their transition to the just-in-time model, university libraries should evaluate the diverse needs of their client community and how these clients use the library. Given the inability to maintain the just-in-case library, which appears to be useful for students, libraries must take action to educate students, particularly at the undergraduate level, to use the just-in-time library. As well, students must be better educated in the use of journals. These initiatives could involve, where practical, the offering of library courses for credit. Furthermore, librarians and academics need to work together to refine discipline-specific research methodology courses to ensure that search skills, particularly with respect to the Internet, the World Wide Web, and electronic databases, are adequately taught and developed.

Students must have adequate access to their universities' computing infrastructures. Universities should set targets for the number of public-access computers available to students at a level that reflects the size and composition of the student body, and they must ensure adequate off-campus access to the computing infrastructure. Universities and governments should also review student loan programs so that computer purchasing is made easier for students regardless of discipline.

Finally, copyright legislation must ensure that electronic browsing rights for all university members are preserved. As well, universities should review their intellectual property policies to ensure that the concerns of students about the communication of research results are addressed.


I would like to thank Joan Adams, David McCallum, John Teskey, and Rowly Lorimer for their comments on earlier drafts of this paper.
In 1994, AUCC estimated that there were 1,577 new appointments. However, the gap between PhDs granted and new appointments is not as large as it initially appears, in part because of international students who do not stay in Canada and because of graduates who are not interested in academic positions.


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