Scholarly publishing: the shape of things to come
Electronic journals have made a huge impact on study and research around the world, and the revolution has only just begun. The University of Adelaide is currently the only institution in Australia - and one of only 14 in the world - working with a major corporation to investigate the future of scholarly publishing. The University's Electronic Resources Librarian, Stephen Cramond, explains.
This is the age of disruptive technology. The World Wide Web has introduced great opportunities for traditional links in the scholarly communications chain - publishers and libraries - to do better what they have always done. It has, however, encouraged entirely new ways of operating and the building of new links, to which the old must necessarily respond.
For libraries such as ours this has meant, for example, migrating the journals collection from print to online. Print copies of online journals can then be moved off-site to free up space in the Library for students, allowing the role of the Library in providing informal, network-linked, more social study environments to be considered.
It has meant experimenting with new ways to reach library users. Recognising that many staff and students will not search the established databases or the Catalogue as their first information-seeking option, libraries are trying to make library material identifiable and retrievable via Google and Google Scholar.
While maintaining print and online incarnations of the traditional library, we also promote Open Access (OA) by paying journal article publication fees to OA publishers, such as BioMed Central. Most importantly we are establishing the University of Adelaide Digital Library, an online repository of digital content produced by the University, which includes author versions of research papers published as journal articles by companies such as Elsevier.
With 10 million users globally, and having just had its billionth article downloaded, Elsevier's ScienceDirect publishing platform is well known and valued by academic institutions. However, other, newer forms of communication may be challenging the primacy of the article and the role of commercial publishers. Blogs, RSS feeds, OA journals, institutional and pre-print databases in many disciplines enjoy huge popularity. Some public research funding agencies now routinely require that grant-funded papers are made freely available to the taxpayers that have paid for them. The consequent availability of more and more high-quality information freely on the Web only raises frustration with the pay-for-access model on which the traditional publishing model relies.
For Elsevier, as the largest scholarly publisher in the world, these changes will mean experimenting with new business models. It also means getting closer to actual users of their products - academics and students especially - to look at ways in which ScienceDirect can increase user productivity and in which it can add value to the information Elsevier publishes, thus reducing simple reliance on subscription fees.
The University of Adelaide's Library has been invited to help Elsevier develop the ScienceDirect platform - an invitation based on our geographic location, institutional profile, and the customer feedback we have given Elsevier over a number of years. Right now, we are the only Australian participant in the ScienceDirect Development Partner program. Other participants include major institutions such as Texas A&M, the universities of Illinois, Rochester, and Toronto, the Max Planck Society and GlaxoSmithKline.
Since Elsevier takes the largest single chunk of our institutional library budget and accounts for most article downloads here at Adelaide, participation seems to make good sense. With invitations to participate in end-user testing of new features, Adelaide academics and students will get an opportunity to influence ScienceDirect's form and function. Institutionally, we will gain insights into Elsevier's business thinking and, through a program of international meetings, be in a position to directly influence their commercial directions in ways that would otherwise not be possible, and at a critical juncture in the history of scholarly communication.
by Stephen Cramond