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

2. Connecting authors and readers

Scholarly publishing should be viewed as one part of the scholarly communications systems that connect authors and readers. In the extremes, world-class scholars (and national class scholars) are eager to have their works be read (and appreciated) by their peers, and also by some larger disciplinary or cross-disciplinary audiences that usually number in the range of hundreds to thousands. In contrast, there are other scholars who are simply happy to publish periodically, or at least publish before receiving tenure or other professorial promotions. Scholars are very sensitive to the legitimacy and status of the journals (or publishing houses) that publish their work, but they vary in their insistence in publishing in the journals that their peers regard most highly.

Every major traditional field has a few high status journals whose content is controlled by a small set of gatekeepers and is widely read within its scholarly community. Other journals that are believed to be of lesser quality and at the bottom tier are "write only journals" that few scholars read regularly.

Within the United States alone there are over 2,000 four year colleges and universities, of which fewer than 200 have vigorous campus-wide research programs. A relatively small fraction of 500,000 professors in the U.S. publish routinely in the highest-status journals in their fields. The majority of professors publish relatively few scholarly works, and in the lesser-quality journals, especially after receiving tenure. But even in many of the 1,800 colleges and universities with minimal research programs, faculty are often required to publish some work as a criterion for tenure. Some analysts would draw the boundary between these two classes more narrowly, and refer to perhaps 100 research intensive universities and 1900 other colleges and universities. Regardless of where one draws such boundaries, there is tremendous heterogeneity within these classes and a huge cultural divide in the meanings of scholarly publishing between them.

While communication systems link people (or groups), not every scholar writes to be widely read. They may publish so as to be seen as "being in the scholarly system" by their colleagues and academic administrators who review them for promotions and pay raises. In contrast, scholarly readers are usually seeking highly trustworthy or "interesting" materials within what they see as a huge corpus of publications (books and articles with plausibly relevant titles). Scholars who work within well-defined article-based disciplines report that they routinely read a few "high-quality" journals or (conference proceedings). They find other works through diverse socially filtered processes that emphasize the credibility or "quality" of the work such as asking expert colleagues for references to related studies, tracing references in the bibliographies and footnotes of "high quality studies," or seeking the relevant publications of respected scholars.

Scholars often use electronic indices and abstracts to facilitate parts of these searches, especially when they are searching for a specific document or its location, based on clues about the author or title. These electronic indices and abstract services have expanded greatly in the last decade, and there is a good chance that they will continue to expand. For example, journal publishers may post their own journals abstracts on the WWW (or other services), although field-wide abstracts (i.e., Chemical Abstracts) will probably remain viable independent services. Conference organizers may also post paper abstracts and author contact information on the WWW, and thus enable many potential readers to track parts of a field or to contact authors for specific papers (which they might send electronically or in paper).

But social networks also play a key role in informal scholarly communication. Scholars usually track the work of 10-50 colleagues (or labs). They often learn about new studies and results in their immediate areas well before they are published -- through collegial conversation, conference presentations, attending invited seminars, acting as journal editors and reviewers, and receiving manuscript drafts or preprints from close colleagues. Active scholars are usually well positioned in these (primarily) verbal networks.

We have heard active scientists dismiss the value of journal publishing because they print "old news" in fast moving fields when the publishing delays are one to three years between the time that an article is accepted and it appears in print. High energy physicists have taken a lead in developing a preprint server ( where physicists can post articles that have been submitted for publication (articles are removed after they have been published). According to Stevan Harnad (in press) 25,000 physicists worldwide are accessing the archive 45,000 times a day, with 350 new papers deposited per week. Computer scientists have at least two networks of technical report search systems that can help eager readers locate papers when they are issued in the technical report series of the computer science departments at the major research universities. (URL ...)

Journals continue to play many key roles in scholarly communication, in helping insure that published work is of higher quality than under a self-publishing system, resolving "priority of discovery" disputes, and in making work available to those who are outside of the tiny subcommunities that produce the leading work on narrowly defined topics. The journal system of scholarly publishing also seems to work as an efficient system of packaging materials and signalling the likely quality of the edited articles (as with brand names).

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