[CHWP Titles]

Electronic Journals and Legitimate Media in the Systems of Scholarly Communication

Rob Kling and Lisa Covi

Department of Information & Computer Science
University of California, Irvine

CHWP D.1, publ. January 1996. © Rob Kling 1995. [To appear in The Information Society 11 (4), Special issue on Electronic Journals and Scholarly Publishing.]

[Abstract] [Résumé]

academics, electronic communication, scholarly communication, electronic journals, Internet, peer review, publishing, research, World Wide Web

    1. Scholarly communication systems are socio-technical systems
    2. Connecting authors and readers
    3. Economic conditions and the shift from paper to electronic publication
    4. E-journal formats
    5. Once an electron, always an electron?: How do media matter?
    6. Field shifts


Scholarly publishing in books and journals, like lecture series, workshops and conferences, are forums for scholarly communications whose character can be influenced by the media of communication. With each electronic invention, many scholars hope that new media can expand authors' or speakers' abilities to reach new audiences. They hope that listeners or readers will hear new voices, or hear old voices faster or more conveniently.

This paper offers a way to conceptualize scholarly publications that can help understand some key issues in the debates about the appropriate roles of paper and electronic publication. It also examines some key beliefs that appear in the debates about electronic publication. On one hand, advocates of electronic publication often hold that paper-based journals (and books) will become obsolete within a few decades, that materials will remain in electronic form once they are in electronic form, that electronic publication offers an exceptional opportunity to speed and expand the range of scholarly communication, and that the shift to scholarly electronic publication is inevitable (Lanham 1993, 1994; Okerson 1991; Odlyzko 1995). Few critics of electronic publication express their misgivings in writing, and dismiss these publications through indifference. But many scholars who are wary of electronic publication seem to think that the intellectual quality of electronic publications must be deficient in some key ways (in contrast with paper-based alternatives).

For simplicity, we will define an electronic journal (e-journal) as one which is distributed to some or all of its primary subscribers in electronic form. In contrast, a paper journal (p-journal) is one that is distributed exclusively in paper form. It does not take much work to find that the number of e-journals is growing annually and includes fields from theoretical computer science to medieval literature, or to find numerous instances where scholars have learned of new results or studies more rapidly by using electronic media.

The more difficult questions are how to conceptualize the changing scholarly communications systems and their social roles. We are especially concerned about the next few decades -- a period of experimentation, excitement, confusion, and anxiety -- for the publication forms that thrive in this period may become institutionalized as the most valid forms of scholarly journals for the following century. We will examine what we believe are the range of plausible forms of viable scholarly publishing, rather than emphasizing the most exciting but more socially fragile possibilities of electronic publication.

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