Scholarly Communication

Scholarly Communication

Communication is the essence of scholarship; new scholarship builds upon ideas communicated by others, and derives its value through communication back to the community.  Scholarship is an inherently social act, with an overarching purpose of advancing the public good.  Accordingly, academic norms have always promoted open sharing of research findings and creative scholarship.  This principled commitment to open scholarship has been bolstered over the past two decades by global advances in information technology that allow scholars to collaborate in real time when conducting research, as well as exercising greater control over how, when, and with whom their findings are shared.    

While open dissemination of university scholarship is well supported by institutional norms and information technology, there are countervailing market forces, legal strictures, and normative systems that impede sought after openness and operational efficiencies in scholarly communication.   Some of the present-day challenges that beset scholarly communication include:

  • The high cost of scholarly journals
  • The proliferation of scholarly output
  • Inadequacy of peer review
  • Restrictive access to published content
  • Authors ceding to publishers control over their intellectual property
  • Unduly restrictive copyright laws
  • A lack of secure digital archiving strategies for the scholarly record
  • A proliferation of ephemeral channels of scholarly discourse including email, blogs, webpages, etc.
  • Limited public access to scholarly information, including taxpayer funded research
  • A lack of adequate or respected output channels for scholarship in certain disciplines, or for new forms of research and scholarly expression that are not well represented in traditional text-based media
  • Myriad challenges faced by university presses

While these challenges are most directly visited upon faculty, researchers, scholars, and graduate students, there is a growing unease among campus administrators—Deans, Library Directors, CIOs, Provosts, etc.— that longstanding academic norms governing communication, and the management of the scholarly record, are under strain, and not necessarily in the control of our universities to repair. 

National and International Trends

The advent of the Internet has caused the academy, scholars, scholarly societies, libraries, funding agencies, publishers and others to rethink their traditional roles in relation to scholarly communication.  Some of the more notable recent developments growing out of this recapitulation of roles in the ecology of scholarly communication are noted below:

Open Access Journals— Because open access journals are funded by author submission fees rather than reader subscriptions, their published articles can be made universally available.  Some high prestige, high impact journals such as the Public Library of Science (PLoS) are open access titles, as are many traditional (hybrid) titles that offer authors the option of paying a publication fee so that their articles might be freely distributed to interested readers.  The Directory of Open Access Journals currently lists over 7,000 open access journals

Archiving Mandates—The faculties of some prestigious research universities including Harvard, MIT and Stanford have “mandated” that their colleagues deposit copies of their published articles in institutional or disciplinary repositories so they might be more accessible to interested scholars and readers, and securely archived for future generations.  Likewise, several funding agencies including the National Science Foundation and the National Institute of Health have issued guidelines requiring deposit of taxpayer funded research publications in open repositories.  More generally, many academics and taxpayer groups have urged Congressional action on the Federal Research Public Access Act (S. 1373 and HR. 5037) which would require federal agencies with large external research funding programs to make funded research reports publicly accessible within six months of publication in a peer-reviewed journals.

Author Rights— Most academic authors are not motivated by royalties to publish their research findings or ideas.  Rather, most academic authors are motivated to publish as a means of sharing their ideas with other scholars and advancing the public good.  Accordingly, these authors would best achieve their goals by the use of a Creative Commons License  or an Author’s Addendum whereby authors retain a degree of control over the distribution of their intellectual property.

Peer Review— Peer review is valuable research practice in that it protects the public from dubious ideas and findings, and helps to recognize and reward desirable researcher characteristics such as creativity, relevance, rigor and clearly delineated opportunities for replication and validation.  To a great extent, the job of organizing peer review has been outsourced to commercial publishing interests that use it to decide which articles are worthy of publication.  By extension, these oft-times closed publishing decisions are also used as a basis for determining academic career success, i.e., decisions governing promotion and tenure.  Increasingly, new methods of organizing peer review are attracting attention, especially systems of open post-publication peer review (OPR) which would arguably be more open, cost-effective, and in the control of academics than is the case with the current organization of peer review. 

Big Ten Academic Alliance Activity in Support of Open Access

Big Ten Academic Alliance universities are among the national leaders in promoting greater author control over the dissemination of their research.  The faculty senates of twelve Big Ten Academic Alliance universities have commended to their colleagues that they use the  Big Ten Academic Alliance Authors Addendum when assigning rights to a prospective publisher. 

In 2006, the Provosts of the Big Ten Academic Alliance publicly endorsed congressional passage of federal legislation (Federal Research Public Access Act) that would mandate deposit of federally funded research findings in an openly accessible repository. 

Almost all Big Ten Academic Alliance university libraries manage secure repositories for digital content.  While the scope of content held in such repositories varies considerably from university to university, some of the country’s largest and best institutional repositories for research findings are maintained by Big Ten Academic Alliance Universities.  Visit Big Ten Academic Alliance's Open Access Repositories page for a list of OARs.

Big Ten Academic Alliance libraries and/or campuses support designated scholarly communication resources/liaisons to assist faculty sort through their publishing options, manage their intellectual property rights, and securely archive and/or share their scholarly content.  Visit Big Ten Academic Alliance's Scholarly Communications Campus Resource page for a list of campus scholarly communication resources.

In addition, many Big Ten Academic Alliance libraries support publishing operations intended to encourage innovation in genres of publication, as well as supporting the open dissemination of both new and traditional forms of scholarly communication.  Visit Big Ten Academic Alliance's Campus-Based Publishing page for a list of open-access publishing operations.