Scholarly Communication Online

This special issue was originally conceived during an electronic publishing conference that I attended at the University of Minho, Portugal in July of 2003, which Leslie Chan, my co-editor, helped organize. The articles from that and previous electronic conferences can be found at http://elpub.scix.net/cgi-bin/works/Home. I was impressed by both the technical and general presentations and thought that there was good reason to report the research and development activities in the Canadian Journal of Communication. Thus, after gaining approval for the idea from the current CJC editor, David Mitchell, I asked Leslie Chan if he would join me as a guest co-editor for the issue. To some degree, these articles also follow up a previous exploration of this topic in this journal Scholarly Communication in the Next Millennium (Volume 22, Issues 3 and 4, 1997).

The second context that informed the creation of this special issue was the Synergies project, an effort to attract funding from the Canada Foundation for Innovation (CFI) for creating a national technical infrastructure for online publication of Canadian social science and humanities (SSH) journals that would stimulate innovative research as well as serve the whole community. We hoped that such funding would have been approved by the time of publication. Alas, salient realities of social science and humanities seemed too foreign to CFI for it to grant funding.

The third and final context for this issue was my continuing effort to assist communication scholars in recognizing the value of social science research and development.

The articles that make up this special issue form a valuable base of knowledge of various elements of online journal publishing. The issue begins with an exploration of the realities of Canadian SSH journal publishing. These realities were determined by means of a survey of Canadian French- and English-language social science and humanities journals. With the collected data in hand, the article provides a financial analysis of the costs of online publishing. On this foundation, it argues that even if all individual subscriptions were to disappear (as a result of institutional subscriptions providing ready workstation access), journals could still gain sufficient revenues to cover the (reduced) costs of publishing from libraries if libraries were prepared to pay the same net amount for the opportunity to make journals available to their clientele. The argument regarding the same net amount is based on reduced subscription costs and a reduction of operating costs for handling print journals. The appropriate role of libraries and the costs of providing online access will be discussed later in this editorial.

Leslie Chan's article opens a different online publishing door in considering the role of open-access institutional repositories (IRs). He reviews a number of dynamics of IRs and suggests roles for IRs in increasing access to research - for example, through the publication of datasets. In doing so, by implication, he raises for debate the appropriate balance and boundaries between journals controlled by scholars (either through peer review or ownership, or both) and the activities of universities and other research institutions. Chan sees the primary role of IRs to be "advancing, supporting, and legitimizing a broader spectrum of scholarly communications," and perhaps also "making available research generated in poor countries."

It is easy to assume that the universe is composed of English-language publications, so dominant are they in the scholarly realm and many others. Kim Braun's article on GAP (an abbreviation, ironically in English, for "German Academic Publishers") is intended to illustrate how non-English-speaking countries are organizing online publishing systems. It points to some of the planning being undertaken and the goals of online publishing in Germany. It is also useful to consider because the design of the project is quite similar to that proposed by Synergies.

Perhaps the most unusual article for this journal is Ana Alice Baptista's article on RDF-encoded metadata. It is included to provide a sense of the technical underpinnings of providing meaningful access to content published online. It offers a sense of the social implications of technological design. It also is an interesting article for communication scholars in that it reports on the Omnidata project's attempt to construct a multi-language European database of newspaper articles. The social and cultural implications of such an initiative are certainly significant.

Communication scholars and others often speculate whether print or online provision of knowledge has a greater chance of finding readers in developing economies. Leslie Chan's activities with Bioline, as well as the undertakings of the International Network for the Availability of Scientific Publications (INASP), address this issue. The head of publishing initiatives of INASP, Pippa Smart, and her colleagues Carole Pearce and Nyerhovwo Tonukari consider some of the dynamics of online publishing in Africa through their presentation of two case studies. They point out, among other things, the need for both infrastructure and skills. The authors also emphasize the need for subscription-based revenues, to allow the flow of funds from the developed to the developing world. In general, they conclude, while online publishing increases the flow of information from Africa to the global community, it does not greatly facilitate the flow of information within Africa (or other financially challenged economies).

Gérard Boismenu and Guylaine Beaudry bring forward several useful perspectives in their article. Within the overall context of a public-service model, they point to the significant role of not-for-profit journal publishers and the possible public service-guided actions that could increase knowledge dissemination. In weaving their argument, they review various elements of both commercial and not-for-profit journal publishing. They consider the dynamics of the oligopolistic practices of the commercial publishers and the limitations inherent in the efforts of libraries to increase their bargaining power by forming purchasing consortia.

Recently retired National Research Council Press Director Aldyth Holmes presents an overview of publishing trends and practices in the scientific, technical, and medical journal community and their implications for SSH journal publishing. She discusses a number of variables that have yet to emerge fully in the migration of SSH journals to the online environment that is just beginning. Among them are the necessary investment in transition; the economies of scale in building online publishing tools; the importance of rights management; the impact of library purchasing behaviours (see also Boismenu and Beaudry); and the gradual emergence of workable publishing models. While Holmes does not discuss institutional repositories, her points on rights management are germane to the need for journals to cover publishing costs. IRs have the potential to reduce or deprive journals of that revenue stream and increase the requirements of other streams to generate revenues.

The value of Richard Smith's article is its documentation of the various online-publishing initiatives that were extant in 2002-2003, which were to be the foundation of the Synergies proposal. Within the context of other initiatives, he surveys the activities of Érudit, this journal, the Public Knowledge Project, the NRC journals, the Electronic Text Centre at the University of New Brunswick, and the IR activities at the Universities of Toronto and Calgary.

John Willinsky is an indefatigable advocate for access to and circulation of knowledge in society. His first love is open access, because it offers a way of addressing the public's right to know about research (itself a result of public funding). His article, the final one in the collection, brings forward the usage of the Internet by policymakers and discusses an element of his Open Journal Systems (OJS), the Research Support Tool (RST), a piece of software that allows users to gain a sense of the context of research findings and the author who produced them. As he points out, the RST needs some further work, and the social practice of taking advantage of technology such as RST must be encouraged by both authors and users. These points notwithstanding, the RST is a significant innovation that may serve researchers and those who make use of research extremely well.

Our intent was to have included in this issue a commentary representative of the perspective of Canadian research libraries. Unfortunately, none was available at the time this issue was published in print form. It is still our wish to add an article to the online collection. In its place, for the time being, this editorial briefly reviews below some considerations involved in a national project to make Canadian SSH journals available online. A reader might also be interested in a study released just a few days prior to this publication going to press. It is a study undertaken of non-subscription costs associated with print and online journal subscriptions at 11 US university libraries. http://www.clir.org/pubs/reports/pub127/pub127.pdf.

Each of the above articles makes a valuable contribution to an understanding of online journal publishing, particularly for the social sciences and humanities. That said, journal publishing (and in fact, all publishing) is in the midst of remarkable change, and while certain Canadians are playing key roles in that change, the SSH research community appears to be falling behind because opportunities are not emerging quickly enough.

What is Canada's direction with respect to online journal publishing?

In 1997, when this journal published the articles from the "Scholarly Communication in the Next Millennium" conference, the serials pricing crisis caused by the aggressive pricing practices of the large commercial scientific, technical, and medical (STM) journal publishers was the most dramatic element on the landscape. Calls were made for alternatives involving public entities and not-for-profit journals. There were a few reports of experimentation with online publishing. These various elements were typical for the period, at least in North America, which appeared to lead Europe in thinking about and experimenting with the online environment at that time.

Since 1997 a great deal has happened. Technology that allows journals to publish online, such as GAP and the OJS, is available at no cost. Certain countries and agencies (for example, BioMed Central) have set up or are setting up competitive journals designed to provide alternatives to high-priced commercial journals. Various institutional and national projects exist or are coming into being to facilitate national digital archives of research. And open archives exist that allow scholars to make their research freely accessible. Paradoxically, as John Willinsky has written elsewhere and others have thought, while there is a great deal of innovation in thought and action by Canadians, there has been little systematic development in the Canadian journal community - at least in the SSH journal community. Among the innovators are Stevan Harnad, with regard to open access; John Willinsky, in providing journal software and pushing open access; Mike Sosteric, in providing a portal for various journals in and outside Canada through the IAACP; Leslie Chan, with Bioline; Gérard Boismenu and Guylaine Beaudry, with Project Érudit; the NRC journals that are now all available online to all Canadians without charge; various universities and their IR initiatives; the journal Conservation Ecology; our efforts at the CJC to augment the OJS software and enhance the individual journal with online innovation; and Jean-Claude Guédon and his general efforts, particularly those with the Budapast Open Archives Initiative.

Perhaps the lack of a concerted effort in an environment that has created so many innovators can be attributed to the fact that, for the most part, there is no pricing crisis in SSH journal publishing, especially in Canada. Such journals, generally speaking, are not overpriced. One might equally propose that many social science and humanities scholars and editors are not ready to publish online, even though many rely heavily on the Internet to conduct literature reviews. However, a pricing crisis could emerge within a few years, particularly if publishers begin to aggregate journals and seek to emulate their STM equivalents. And there are signs that some companies are moving stealthily in that direction.

What has also emerged, particularly as a result of the Synergies project, is that some universities, mainly through the systems divisions of their libraries, are both willing and in a good position to significantly extend their notion of access. By providing enabling technology, these university libraries could partner with journals to serve as publishers, thereby providing access.

For me, the critical point in moving to take advantage of online publishing is this: While open access to research is the ideal, not only is it necessary for journals (or whoever administers peer review and acts as a quality filter) to recover costs - in countries with both developed and developing economies - but also the peer review and editorial processes are key to the production of reliable and valid information that is delivered in a usable form. For example, even though this issue is based on conference presentations, it has taken a full 12 months for the various authors to rewrite and develop their articles to an acceptable standard for journal publication. In an information-overloaded world, a person seeking research results hardly needs to encounter five different drafts of a single set of arguments designed to explain one set of data. While open access has the possibility of freeing the flow of information and analysis, it also has the propensity to glut the information system with needless noise.

To provide online access, libraries must invest in hardware and systems expertise. Not every library must do this equally, because once systems have been designed, in the wonderful tradition inherent in the library community, they can be shared among public (and private) institutions. Such systems created to make already-published journals available to their user communities can equally be used to provide publishing services. In Canada, given the strength of the not-for-profit SSH journals - all journals supported by Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council (SSHRC) are not for profit - and given that libraries are moving toward providing systems capable of publishing journals (for the STM community and for IRs), it makes good sense for journals and libraries to make common cause and to develop a partnership for online publishing. Such a partnership makes good use of human, organizational, and capital resources. Such a partnership also allows a continuation of the very valuable tradition that SSHRC has created - a strong not-for-profit journal sector that delivers SSH research at a low cost, in Canada and around the world - a model that could well be emulated in developing regions.

My article in this issue provides a starting point for negotiating a partnership, in that it brings forward data on the very real costs of publishing journals and, similarly, the very real costs libraries incur in providing access to print journals for their clients. Moreover, the cost details allow us to see the various types of costs that add up to the whole. While the article provides a beginning, as my library colleagues quite rightly point out, it is probably inappropriate for libraries to shoulder a considerable increase in added direct expenditures that have been, at best, only argued in principle to be cost neutral. Actual costs have not really been tested (although the CJC is working with SFU library to put a system in place and examine its costs). Further, it does not seem like good policy for libraries to step in to shoulder a significantly greater percentage of costs while others save (individual subscribers no longer pay), others such as SSHRC maintain a steady state, and still others (senior university administrations) remain uninvolved in designing this keystone information system. The library community appears to be of the opinion that the provision of journals to scholars and students (and to a wider audience) is not simply a journal/library issue. It is a research, educational, and social issue and, at the very least, all the primary stakeholders should be involved in planning a transition to online publishing. This stakeholder group would include journals, libraries, scholars and their associations, universities, and SSHRC. Arguably, research infrastructure-mandated CFI and the Department of Canadian Heritage, with its magazine mandate, should also have a place at the discussion table. Each of the first group currently plays a financial role, and each should continue to do so. If there is to be a re-allocation of costs, the librarians argue, then all involved should be at the table.

In science, the problem of the re-allocation of costs in an online environment is being addressed primarily through submission fees. Such a regime makes sense in the much more richly endowed regime of STM research, as opposed to the penury that surrounds much SSH research. Also, as Smart and her co-authors argue, this is inadequate for science in countries with developing economies. To fund SSH journals in Canada using the mechanism of submission fees would require major re-allocation of funds. The mandate for such a re-allocation by SSHRC does not yet exist in the scholarly/academic community, partly because SSH journals outside Canada do not consistently require submission fees. Also, a considerable amount of research takes place without the benefit of formal research grants, some by private scholars. So designing a submission-fee regime might prove difficult.

In considering who should bear what burden for online journal publishing, there is also the issue of greater technical capacities leading to a transformation of form. While development may be slow, with an expanded media palette and ability to make data, as well as peer-reviewed articles available to readers, costs will begin to rise. Libraries might find themselves facing higher bills than are projected. It might reasonably be argued that any savings might be temporary, as researchers begin to take advantage of the potentials of the technology for enriched presentations of knowledge.

All this said, many libraries, and especially the research libraries within Canada, wish to work to increase access to Canadian SSH journals. Perhaps more than any group, they see the future in online journal publishing. Moreover, as part of their general social mandate, if a system could be created to provide access to all Canadians, then the interest of research libraries and their association, the Canadian Association of Research Libraries (CARL), would probably be even stronger. In fact, I think it would be fair to say that the CARL libraries are interested in providing global leadership by working with the Canadian journal community as partners to provide easy access to knowledge. After all, the main thrust behind the Synergies project came from research libraries. In addition, the increased access, expanded capacity, usability, and flexibility that online journals make possible fits the transformation (currently being discussed) of SSHRC from a research-granting agency to a knowledge council like a glove.

The research libraries of Canada appear to be fully committed to using the funds they have available to them to work with all other interested parties to develop reasonable cost-sharing agreements that will be of the greatest benefit to the greatest number. But they want all parties at the planning table. They are not alone in this. SSHRC appears to want the same thing, judging from various statements made by SSHRC President Marc Renaud, as do the journals. Few senior Canadian university administrators seem to perceive journal publishing on their horizons, so this rather significant community needs to be brought along.

At the Canadian Centre for Studies in Publishing (CCSP), we have an interest in these developments and in advancing them further. We believe that in creating technology, one has a chance to shape it to conform with social goals. In May 2004, we sat down with John Willinsky and, largely responding to his ideas, developed what I slightly reworked into a seven-point, non-sequential development strategy for assisting the Canadian SSH community to understand and respond to the potential of the online environment. I presented that plan to the annual meeting of the Canadian Association of Learned Journals in Winnipeg in early June and reproduce it in summary here. As I noted, it is only one strategy, but it does touch on a number of important elements.

  1. There must be support for a group of early adopters who will continue to lead by developing and testing various technologies and elements of online publishing (by adding new features, making increased use of media other than print, trying new funding models, and creating integrated databases, for instance).

  2. A publicly accessible Canadian SSH e-print archive that is compliant with the Open Archives Initiative (OAI) should be created to allow scholars, and even journals, to post their articles to an online environment. This would enable them to gain a sense not only of how to carry this out, but also the results of doing so.

  3. A Canadian SSH index should be created mainly by having authors add metadata and made freely available to the Canadian public. Only a small amount of funding need be set aside for this purpose.

  4. A Canadian SSH digital archive of published journal articles should be created. Though this would be more expensive than the index, yet in the greater scheme of things given that it would be the record of Canadian SSHR research, the expense would be a trifling amount. Working with Simon Fraser University Library, the CJC has all but completed the digitalization of its back-issue archive, Volumes 1 to 15 (at roughly four issues per year), for approximately $5,000. If one doubles this amount to allow for journals with a longer life span and the general lack of digital files in the Canadian SSH journal community, then multiplies the result by 150 (the approximate number of Canadian SSH journals), the bill still only comes to $1,500,000 - less than one major research grant.

  5. Support for continued development of and migration to an online journal management system should also be provided. Since OJS already exists and is becoming a significant technology internationally, it should receive support to develop and sustain it until it has a sufficient user base to be self-supporting.

  6. At some point the scholarly community will have to bite the bullet, and there will need to be a general migration to online journal publishing. Of course those that move sooner will have market advantage; however, even the laggards will benefit significantly in terms of costs, as well as access. The beauty of the journal community making this move is that it is relatively inexpensive. My estimate is that there could be an increase in human resource costs of as little as 20% over a period of six months, plus a small amount of technological upgrading. With a modicum of professional development (which we specialize in at the Summer Publishing Workshops of the CCSP at Simon Fraser University), the pain of transition could be significantly diminished. Cross-Canada seminars might easily be arranged. The CCSP has already developed the curriculum and delivered a trial version in summer 2003. If either print publication or subscription management were to cease, the 20% increase in human-resource costs could be recouped within two years. Hardware and software costs could also be recouped in a similar time frame. Some in the journal community, and I count myself among them, believe that SSHRC squandered a valuable opportunity by not providing clear incentives for journals to move to online publishing as part of its June 2004 competition for funding. In 2007 (the next competition) it would be a travesty if online publishing were not the dominant form of journal publishing for Canadian SSH journals.

  7. The final element of our proposed non-sequential development strategy would be the support of library/journal co-operatives. With quickly evolving institutional commitments to both institutional repositories access infrastructure to commercial online journals, we (and others) believe that a fully operational, secure, robust, decentralized Canadian SSH online publishing system could be put in place for less than $2 million.

Each of the above seven points is a piece of the puzzle. Different funding bodies - public and private, Canadian and non-Canadian - could become involved. Different elements might be adopted at a different pace by different libraries and journals. But as each element increased in strength, the transition to an online environment would be confirmed, and the advantages of online publishing would be more readily appreciated. Our desire in publishing this volume is to increase the understanding of the dynamics of online publishing and assist in the transition to this form of journal publishing.

Rowland Lorimer
Simon Fraser University

Nurturing online journal publishing

As Rowland Lorimer has already noted, this volume had its partial origin in the electronic publishing conference held at the University of Minho in Portugal in 2003. In recent years, we have seen a plethora of similar conferences and workshops in North America and Europe on the theme of scholarly communication and access to scholarly literature, all aiming to find solutions to the problem of the increasingly high cost of scholarly information and to ensure equitable access to knowledge. While these conferences are extremely valuable opportunities for practitioners to exchange ideas and develop new contacts and partnerships, they are not as effective at creating behavioural and institutional changes, which are much needed if we are to accelerate innovation in the scholarly communication process. This is partly because we tend to find the same "usual suspects" at these conferences, preaching the same messages, mostly to the converted, about the virtue of online publishing and the ideals of open access. It is encouraging to note, however, that working scientists and active researchers are beginning to participate in these meetings and are thus starting to recognize that access to knowledge is not simply a library issue. Senior administrators and policymakers, who are in a position to effect and promote changes, are also beginning to pay closer attention to scholarly communication issues and the broader implications these have for their institutions.

In this context, we hope that this volume, which reflects the current excitement about online publishing and provides a good sample of the diversity of collaborative approaches to scholarly communication, will reach a wider audience beyond those traditionally interested in electronic publishing. In particular, we hope researchers, senior administrators, and policymakers in granting agencies in Canada will pay attention to emerging international trends, as well as local and national initiatives that are receiving international attention and are well documented in this volume.

These initiatives, however, need to be nurtured and supported by institutions of higher education and funding bodies in Canada if they are to bear fruit. Universities and funding agencies are committed to encouraging new research, but they have a poor track record when it comes to the management and stewardship of research results, whether they are in the form of data collected or of formal journal publications. One of the consequences is that the scholarly record is highly fragmented. Parts of it are accessible through expensive tollgates, others through lower-cost scholarly and university press publications, and a small but growing portion through open access, while a sizeable portion is simply lost or forgotten.

Creating alternative scholarly publishing models and platforms, such as institutional repositories or the Open Journal Systems, is about more than simply reducing the cost of scholarly communication; it is also about leveraging existing information-technology investments and maximizing the impact of publicly funded research. In this regard, the Synergies proposal for a national infrastructure for Canadian SSH journals online represents a relatively low-cost alternative for making a large corpus of Canadian research accessible. This model is not only financially sustainable, it guarantees high-quality publications, and it is a model that could be transferred to disciplines outside of SSH and also to developing nations.

Such a national project requires commitment from a variety of institutions and, above all, funding from the national granting bodies. It is a wise investment both for the health of scholarly publishing in Canada and for the health of SSH research. We believe that scholarship is better served if strong support for knowledge production is matched by an equally strong commitment to knowledge dissemination. This volume is a contribution in this direction.

Leslie Chan
University of Toronto at Scarborough

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We wish to acknowledge the financial support of the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council for their financial support through theAid to Scholarly Journals Program.