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

5. Once an electron, always an electron?: How do media matter?

University libraries have not yet developed ways to effectively archive e-journals and integrate them into their catalogs and collections, unless they can buy paper versions (as with JAIR, Public Access Computer Systems Review, etc.). There are serious questions about what a library should deliver when a client requests an article from an e-journal -- a printout, a file, or a URL, for example. In a seminar in 1993, one of us (Kling) suggested that libraries print e-journals and integrate them into their paper collections. A librarian sternly replied that a paper version of an e-journal "undermined the concept" of an e-journal.

In principle, paper and electronic media need not influence the scholarly quality of a book or journal. But paper and electronic media do have significantly different material properties, and that influences some of their social properties. It is usually easier to transform an electronic document into a paper form, than vice versa. In practice, paper and electronic formats have complementary virtues and vices. A key point is that most scholarly documents that start in electronic form will end up in paper form sooner or later. When publishers or readers (and their assistants) transform electronic documents into paper is part of the story of electronic publishing.

Fifty years ago, most scholars worked from longhand notes and manuscripts. In the 1940s to 1970s, many scholars developed typing skills and transformed rough notes and verbatim manuscripts from long hand to typescript. Some scholars composed on a keyboard. In the 1980s, many scholars began using word processors in lieu of typewriters. Scholars vary in the extent to which they start a manuscript by composing on keyboards or develop notes, outline or even a first full draft in longhand. Today, virtually all scholarly manuscripts exist, in part, in electronic form in a scholar's office. Pictures and diagrams are least often in electronic form, and the frequency of pictures and diagrams in a book or article varies a lot by discipline and subfield.

Even when scholars prepare papers and books in electronic form, they commonly print intermediate drafts for their own review and revision. Most scholars find it much easier to annotate paper manuscripts than electronic drafts. Paper manuscripts offer different affordances than electronic formats: ease of getting a sense of the whole, ease of short marginal comments and arbitrary markings, and portability. In contrast, electronic documents can be more rapidly searched for keywords and radically restructured. These complementary properties of paper and electronic documents also influence readers as well as authors. When academics obtain documents in electronic form -- drafts, preprints, technical reports, and whole articles, they may preview them on screen. But in our research, they universally report preferring print manuscripts for serious reading and annotation.

Collaborating co-authors may prefer paper formats for reading and electronic documents to facilitate revision. But other than authors, few scholars have a deep interest in revising the works that they receive! (One kind of exception is our own preference of reformatting electronic documents in a large easy-to-read font for subsequent printing and reading).

We suspect that scholars in diverse fields will continue to write and revise their manuscripts while shifting back and forth between paper notes, electronic documents, and printed drafts read and marked for revisions. The existence of electronic documents heightens the possibility that they could be readily published (and distributed) in electronic form at lower costs to wider international audiences.

Scholarly book and journal publishers vary in the extent to which they will accept electronic submissions of original manuscripts, although the publishers are drifting towards accepting (or even preferring) electronic final copies in addition to a printed version.

Electronic documents do not remain in electronic form, and discussions of electronic publishing should be cognizant that exclusively electronic representations will be relatively rare in serious scholarly publications. Even so, there is a continuing slow shift from exclusively paper to a mixture of paper and electronic publishing, distribution, archiving, searching and previewing scholarly journals.

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