CHWP D.1 Kling & Covi, "Electronic Journals"

1. Scholarly communication systems are socio-technical systems

While few scholars have diverse experiences with electronic publishing, academics are familiar with oral forms of scholarly communication, and its alteration by electronic communication. Amplifiers in lecture halls, video conferencing, and videotape alter the nature of audiences that scholars can reach, and also shift the relationships between those audiences and lecturers/speakers. These electronically enhanced forums do not simply provide "more communication," but also alter the ways that people speak and interact. As the audience scales up in size, or moves out in space and time with real-time video or othertime videotape, the informal give and take between speakers and listeners becomes more difficult (in contrast with the smaller face-to-face seminar). On the other hand, people watching a videotape may privately replay sections to enhance their comprehension, while in a face-to-face meeting they may have to ask questions (that might also embarrass the speaker or questioner).

Voice-based face-to-face conference, video conferencing, and videotape are not simply technologies; they shape scholarly communications as socio-technical systems in which social characteristics such as controls over access (via pricing and distribution channels), and social protocols for regulating discussions between speakers and audience also influence the character of scholarly communications. The nature of videotape pricing and the distribution channels can lead to minor or huge expansions beyond the original conferees. Despite scholars' potentially broader access to conference talks via videotape distribution, a face-to-face conference is different from a videotape collection of its talks because of the diverse informal discussions and important social networking that conferences support. The face-to-face conference and the videotape collection are different scholarly communication systems with overlapping capabilities, but which also support very different forms of scholarly communication. These observations discourage us from conceiving of electronic media in exclusively celebratory, cornucopic, technologically utopian terms (see Kling and Lamb 1995).

In a similar way, a scholarly journal can also be usefully understood as the product of a socio-technical production and communications system. The publishing communication system includes both full-text materials (articles and books), and indexes/pointers to these materials (including book reviews, abstract sets, specialized bibliographies, and diverse catalogs).

Most readers of p-journals see few of the social and technical alternatives that differentiate one journal's production and distribution systems from another's. Scholars are aware of different reviewing practices of journals in which they publish, and also aware of the time periods between the date that they send a final manscript to a publisher and the date that it appears in print.

But other differences in the production systems that create a journal's issues can also be substantial, and have been changing over time. Some scientific journals print color plates of a kind that were implausible twenty years ago, while many mathematics and humanistic journals still print exclusively black and white text and diagrams. Most p-journals are now willing to accept the final form of manuscripts in electronic form, and a few require it. Further, some p-journals are willing to review articles that are submitted in electronic form. The production of scholarly journals has become much more computer intensive in the last decade, and there have been no significant scholarly controversies over these shifts. However, the possibility of electronic distribution -- the distinguishing characteristic of e-journals -- is the one that is most subject to debate by both publishers and scholars. E-journal editors and publishers have been experimenting with different ways to charge for an e-journal (now often free), have articles reviewed, lay out each issue, and distribute it. We will discuss some of the differences in the socio-technical design of e-journals below.

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