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Scholarly communication is the process of academics, scholars and researchers sharing and publishing their research findings so that they are available to the wider academic community (such as university academics) and beyond.
Another definition of scholarly communications is the creation, transformation, dissemination and preservation of knowledge related to teaching, research and scholarly endeavors. Among the many scholarly communications issues include author rights, the peer review process, the economics of scholarly resources, new models of publishing (including open access and institutional repositories), rights and access to federally funded research, and preservation of intellectual assets.
The most common method of scholarly communication is by writing up the findings of research into an article to be published in a scholarly journal; however, there are many other methods, such as publishing a book, book chapter, conference paper, and - particularly in the arts and humanities - multimedia formats such as sound and video recordings.
Scholarly communication crisis
The term "scholarly communications" has been in common usage at least since the mid-1970s, in recent years there has been widespread belief that the traditional system for disseminating scholarship has reached a state of crisis (often referred to as the "publishing crisis" or "serials crisis").
Main areas of the crisis:
- Journal costs have consistently risen above inflation in recent years.
- The high cost of journals coupled with the increasing numbers available have led to universities not being able to subscribe to the journals they require.
- Funders and tax payers not having access to the research they pay for.
- Those not associated with universities (mainly in rich countries) have no access to current research, which acts as a barrier to entry to most of the world's population.
- As journals move to 'online' only, preservation is a major issue: in the past, if a publisher ceased operations, libraries would still have their back catalogues and archives ensuring the published research was not 'lost'; today, as journals are online, should a publisher or journal disappear, including their website, research could be lost.
- There is a belief that by making research easier to access and open will make research itself more efficient and increase the total research output.
- Producing a research paper may require years of work and require a lot of money, however publishers, who will often do little more than copy edit articles ready for publication, normally require that they become the copyright holder.
The proliferation of new journals and the "twigging" of established journals into smaller sub-specialities, combined with rising prices, especially in the sciences, have dramatically reduced the capacity of research libraries to purchase resources required by their scholarly communities. All disciplines and formats are affected, the humanities and social sciences as well as the sciences, books as well as journals. The proliferation of electronic journals and the various pricing models for this information has further complicated the acquisitions issue, both for libraries and for publishers.
Many groups, including library consortia, research funders, academics and universities have been calling for changes to the ways scholarly communication takes place, particularly in light of the Internet creating new and low cost methods to disseminate research, while still maintaining a 'peer review' process to ensure the quality of research is maintained. Developments such as open access and institutional repositories at universities are seen as vehicles for changing or improving the scholarly communication process.
Chief among the factors contributing to the perceived crisis is the academic reward system, which emphasizes quantity of publication. There is a consequent demand by scholars for peer-reviewed publication outlets. Another important cause is the commercialization and internationalization of scholarly publishing. The growing dominance of publishing conglomerates in scientific, technical, and medical fields, and to some degree in the social sciences, is of special concern to information professionals. Scholars, often indifferent to rights issues, transfer copyright to for-profit publishers, frequently for reports of research funded wholly or partially at public expense. Commercial publishers have established a highly profitable niche for themselves in the scholarly communication chain.
Scholarly communication and academic reward and reputation
Scholarly communication is seen as a crucial part of research, and researchers - many of whom are lecturers and academics at universities - are often judged by their academic output and list of publications. Promotions will normally take into account the number of publications and how prestigious the journals they were published in (e.g. Nature and The Lancet are seen as very prestigious journals within the sciences). A researcher's publication list will help create them a reputation within their discipline.
Peer review and quality control
A key element of the process is ensuring the research meets a level of quality and is of scholarly merit. This is normally done through a process of peer review, where other researchers in the same discipline review the research write up and decide if it is of sufficient quality. For example in the case of a journal article, the author(s) of a piece of research will submit their article to a journal, it will then be sent to a number of other academics who specialise in the same area to be peer reviewed. The journal will often receive many more articles than there is space to publish them, and it is in their interest to publish only those of the highest quality (which will over time increase the reputation of the journal). If the reviewers feel the article is of a high enough quality for the journal, they will often request some changes to be made and once these are done, accept the article for publication.
- Bernard Becker Medical Library
- University of Connecticut Libraries
- "The Crisis in Scholarly Communication", Iowa State University Communication
- The Wellcome Trusts' Position Statement in Support of Open and Unrestricted Access to Published Research
Belhajjame K, Corcho O, Garijo D, et al. Workflow-Centric Research Objects: A First Class Citizen in the Scholarly Discourse. In proceedings of the ESWC2012 Workshop on the Future of Scholarly Communication in the Semantic Web (SePublica2012), Heraklion, Greece, May 2012.
- Scholarly Communication at the Association of College and Research Libraries, a Division of the American Library Association
- Scholarly Communication at the Association of Research Libraries
- Scholarly Communication in Africa Programme (SCAP), and the OpenUCT Initiative at The University of Cape Town (UCT)