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Scholarly communications

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Photo: David Lamond.David Lamond, Associate Dean of Nottingham Business School, is an expert on publishing in the electronic era. He has presented papers on these issues to both the Association to Advance Collegiate Schools of Business and the European Foundation for Management Development conferences, and he also provides strategic advice to Emerald.

In this viewpoint, he talks to Editor, Margaret Adolphus, about the future of scholarly publishing.


If you google "scholarly communications", your results are likely to include a number of strategy and position papers from libraries of well-resourced academic institutions, concerned with ways of preserving their academics' intellectual property and outwitting greedy publishers.

There is no doubt that scholarly communications, the route by which academics disseminate the fruits of their research to their public, is undergoing something of a revolution. The academic publishing business dates back to the seventeenth century when the Royal Society of London began publishing its Philosophical Transactions, and until about a decade or two ago, followed a fairly well-established process. Articles were submitted to editors, peer reviewed, revised and then published in a journal which was available in print form.

Then came the electronic journal: research was published online. Although there was initial scepticism about quality, the process of research, writing, and reviewing migrated to an online environment with few problems and publishers quickly established databases for their journals, so the medium was the only change.

Now, however, there are more changes and threats, perhaps even more radical than the move to the electronic environment, as they affect the very nature of scholarly publishing. Amid concern about rising costs of subscriptions, new models of publishing are emerging – open access, author pays, and institutional repositories for example. On top of this, Web 2.0, with its blogs, wikis and podcasts, has transformed academic communication, making it much easier and faster.

The Association of College and Research Libraries (ACRL) exhorts its members to understand how the values and work practices of scholars are changing. Tellingly, it maintains:

"New research, presentation, and dissemination methodologies are being used with resulting implications for libraries and their institutions seeking to balance investment in commercial publications with support for new research and publication models. More understanding is needed about how scholars create knowledge and how libraries can participate in the process."
(ACRL Scholarly Communications Committee, 2007[emphasis added])

The more wealthy libraries have been quick to take the initiative, developing their own content management systems. One such content management system is DPubS (Digital Publishing System), developed by Cornell University Library, which declares that libraries are in a better position to take on publishing tasks, as the publishing industry has become dysfunctional and stultified by inflexible, multinational-dictated business models.

Other libraries have developed institutional repositories, for example the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy (Zalta, 2006). Many of the publishing constituents are there: the brand, the academics who can edit and review the material. But, there is also the possibility (as with the content management systems like DPubS) of publishing all sorts of other types of literature which may be relevant to the research process, for example, theses, discussions and grey literature.

So, are libraries taking on the task of publishing, and should publishers be worried? Emerald is lucky to have as its adviser in these murky waters a man with considerable understanding of how scholars create and disseminate knowledge. David Lamond, who has just left his Australian home of 50 years to return to the UK and take up the position of Associate Dean of Nottingham Business School, is an expert on publishing in the e-era. He has presented papers on these issues to both the AACSB (The Association to Advance Collegiate Schools of Business) and EFMD (European Foundation for Management Development ) conferences, and he also provides strategic advice to Emerald's board and senior executives.

David is also an experienced editor – currently he is editor-in-chief of Emerald's Journal of Management History (he is a managerial psychologist by training, but an historian by passion); he is also consultant editor for Asia-Pacific Journal of Business Administration. We caught up with him as he bounced back to Australia from the Far East, just before he jetted off to the UK to take up his new post.

Publishers as knowledge brokers

On the question of libraries taking on the role of publishers, David believes that not much will change, simply because publishers offer the mechanism for discipline experts (editors, EABs, reviewers) to carry out the critical quality assurance process that libraries don't. So this is the value that publishers add – quality control and marketing.

And the quality assurance process of peer review will continue, because "individual livelihoods (tenure, promotion, etc.) and institutional livelihoods (Research Assessment Exercise (RAE) evaluations, rankings, research funding decisions) are closely tied to this process and an obvious alternative is not extant".

But, he continues, that challenge now is "not so much in terms of the publication process per se but, rather, in the knowledge production process". Publishers need to become "partners in the knowledge production process rather than simply the quality assurers and marketers of the end product".

What we will see, he believes, is the increasing encouragement of authors and their universities putting their material in some sort of institutional deposit or repository. This sort of publishing may increase as libraries become frustrated with what they believe is the unfair cost burden imposed on them by the large publishers. The strength of the digital repository is that it can grant greater access to material which was formerly in print form only. The tipping point away from publishers may come if sufficient libraries encourage their academic customers to archive their material in this way.

However, someone has to pay for the academic quality assurance, and most libraries are not in a position to do that. While publishers are in such a position, they need to do more than provide quality assurance and marketing. They need to become partners in the knowledge process, and can add real value by creating the infrastructure that facilitates the production of books and journals.

As an example of this, David cites one of his current publishing projects, where he is “cyber-collaborating” on an introductory management textbook project with more than 900 other scholars from nearly 100 different countries. The book will contain podcasts, videos, text, case studies and second life. The end result will be a 600-700 page hard-copy management text, with other associated media.

To support this, their publisher, Routledge, has provided them with wiki software which they can use to create and attach content. People work together on chapters (David's is the one on the historical background) "collegiately and collaboratively" as "semi-autonomous working groups".

More assets to quality control

The inclusion of multimedia – video, podcasts, second life – impose additional problems for quality control, not to mention expense. This is another reason, David believes, why "none of this will get done by libraries". Publishers themselves need to move away from a rigid notion of publishing hard copy and embrace the content that the new technologies are supporting – interactive maps, diagrams, photos, and even videos and podcasts as attachments to the scholarly works.

He also points out that increasingly you can get video and audio which is "fit for purpose" (it doesn't need to be the quality of a Stephen Spielberg movie) with the help of hand-held devices. For the chapter on management in a historical context, he is drawing on a number of interviews with older (and deceased) members of the Academy of Management recorded at Academy conferences over a number of years. And for video, it's easy to set up a couple of cameras and then edit the results on a computer. The benefit of these assets is as "learning additions", and quality control also needs to be about their usability.

Blogs and wikis

We asked David his thoughts on whether blogs and wikis will change scholarly dissemination, making the process as important as the end product (i.e. the results of the research disseminated in a scholarly article). David feels that one change will be that the base data with which management researchers work will be collected over the Net, stored on the Net, and then manipulated and analysed by various people in different parts of the world.

David is currently doing research with colleagues in Brisbane and Melbourne about what drives highly qualified graduates in China. He says, "some of the data will be collected by structured interview and we will store all the data on a server somewhere where we can all access it at different times and play with it. The fact that you have a document which you can work on independently, with a record of who's changed what, will change the data collection and analysis part of research".

[Editor's note: However, a report from the Joint Information Systems Committee (JISC) – Franklin and van Harmelen (2007: p.13) – suggests that very little sharing of research currently does go on via Web 2.0 technologies, less than 10 per cent in fact.]

"The process of journal article writing can also be a lot more iterative. Different people can work on the methodology, the analysis, the results and discussion, and the literature review. And as the electronic medium for publishing becomes more accepted, hotlinks can potentially link journal articles to blogs."

The future of the journal

But will blogs and wikis change the nature of academic publishing, in the sense that the journal article will cease to be the most important unit of knowledge? Will people look with more interest at the former as providing an audit trail?

David is sceptical here, believing that the system of academic tenure and promotion will ensure the survival of the journal. "I think that it's much more likely to happen in science than it is in management because, and this might sound jaundiced, it seems to me that management academics have gone a long way away from why they were originally in the game."

Publishing is seen as a means to an end, not for contributing to knowledge, but as a way of gaining tenure, promotion and funding. Not to mention the vast sums of money being allocated by all governments across the world on the basis of various evaluations of journals.

The scholarly quality assurance process that publishers help maintain simply has too much riding on it – "individual livelihoods (tenure, promotion, etc.) and institutional livelihoods (RAE evaluations, rankings, research funding decisions) are closely tied to this process and there is no obvious alternative".

In response to the question, "don’t blogs – and particularly wikis – provide a good infrastructure for the increasing trend for large, multi-partner research projects, allowing for a more detailed and step-by-step account, whereas the research article inevitably condenses and may only focus on one aspect?", David points out that large research projects are made up of individuals whose interests are often much narrower. "So while we see multidisciplinary, multi-geography, multi-sector, multi-aimed research being carried out and the big picture reports being written, within that each of the various chunks are deconstructed and reconstructed for the purposes for the journal article in a top tier journal."

But yet again we see an example of the hijacking of research by government funding models: grants are contingent on publication in top quality journals, and jobs are offered on the basis of articles, not books. David comments ruefully that a job is more likely to go to the person who has 17 articles and one book, rather than to someone with 17 books and one article.

Wearing his "historian" hat, David finds it instructive to reflect on the historical development of the journal. Originally, research was disseminated by correspondence. Then this got too hard with the growing number of scholars, so attempts were made to bureaucratize the situation by publishing journal articles as a way of regularizing the collective wisdom. Then peer review came in as quality assurance.

So, David believes, we are in danger of losing sight of the reason why journals came into existence, i.e. as a sort of chat room. "We have the thesis, the antithesis, the synthesis and then we move on. So, you have the same idea of an article being read and responded to. We actually don't see the responses in the same way, rather we just see the next set of journal articles, or sometimes, the response can appear in the same issue, for example if the article is a critique then the editor can approach the person who was critiqued and invite a response."

Now the technology is there to have the conversation much quicker, but to do so effectively means extending quality control. The publisher would not only need to provide blog space, but also to ensure that the space is moderated. "In fact, the way that you could make it attractive to scholars is to get blog contributions double blind reviewed, so that to all intents and purposes it would be treated as a moderated contribution to the journal."

A future for the hard copy?

Snobbery, believes David, is at the root of the desire to maintain the hard copy. The old bias against the e-journal, that because people can't touch and feel it, "breathe in the wonderful musty scent of the knowledge that flows through the pages that I'm holding on to", it can't be a real journal, let alone a top tier one. So, we continue to have the huge cost of printing, while librarians are part of the problem because they drive subscriptions based on journal titles.

It gives rise to a situation where top journals such as Academy of Management Review need to keep publishing in hard copy, despite the fact that their online version in PDF form is exactly the same.

David believes that we will only get change when all stakeholders – governments, scholars, librarians, universities and so on – agree that everything will be published electronically, and that content itself, rather than the medium, will determine whether something is top tier or not. It follows that librarians will get funding based on the service they provide rather than on how many journal articles they have on their shelves.

Until then, publishers will be in a difficult situation, having on the one hand to look forward to a market that wants videos and blogs and on the other backward to one that wants hard copies. David likens this to saying to an international rugby union team that they've got to train for two different games, one that you play locally and the other that's played under experimental rules. You need to both prepare for where the market is going and meet its current needs. That is why publishers need to develop partnerships, to help them read the market into both directions.

Not all the fears surrounding hard copies are based on prejudice, however: there is the very real fear that back numbers of journals would be lost if hard-copy publishing ceased. That's where initiatives such as the UK Research Reserve, which organizes the storage of back numbers in the British Library and distributed holdings, are valuable – and because they have double and triple sets and disaster recovery plans, you know that they are safe.

Open access

A major study of librarians showed a strong preference for open access materials as more become available in institutional repositories (Beckett and Inger, 2007). Librarians also wanted to keep peer review in order to maintain quality, and were concerned about what version of the article would be archived – there was a preference for the refereed version over a pre-print. The study claimed that "the tipping point at which journal subscriptions start to be cancelled may be closer than currently thought".

David suspects that the problem for librarians is that the growth in subscription costs is outstripping budget growth. However he also points to the study's finding that open access materials are not valued when they are unrefereed manuscripts – "it is indeed the academic quality assurance process where publishers add value, and so they should be able to claim their share of the value added in the payments they receive". Although he doesn't believe that the tipping point has been reached yet, he warns that publishers should be careful about their pricing structures.

Relationship management and sensitive selling is the key here, and he acknowledges that Emerald is recognized as one of the "good guys". "You need to have salespeople who are able to engage with the very particular set of circumstances and university funding models librarians are confronted with, and try and make what the publisher offers more affordable. Emerald, as an organization, has been both much smarter and much more moral than some of the large multinational oligopolies which basically use their market space to gouge significant chunks of money out of librarians. Emerald, by contrast, will actively seek to bring librarians together in consortia, even at the expense of what they could have got from individual subscriptions."

What about other emerging sustainable economic models for open access, such as the endowment model as in the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy, where libraries join a network and pay for the cost?

David thinks that the Stanford model illustrates the fact that open access may be free to end users, but it is not a “no cost” option – significant funds in the form of grants have been used to produce the encyclopedia. "Many of the critics of the publishers forget that they (the critics) are a cost in the process – they are paid by their respective universities for the work they do and certainly don't come to the process on a purely philanthropic basis. For me the key principle of reform that is mentioned here is 'fair and reasonable prices for scholarly information'. This is the basis of any sustainable business model going forward, combined with a relationship management model wherein publishers and library service providers are partners in the process."

Peer review and metrics

Peer review has come under much criticism – notably, for example, it is too easy to identify the reviewer and the whole process takes too long – but David believes that it should be not so much improved as reaffirmed as critical to the objective evaluation of the quality of the work being offered to the information marketplace.

However, the review process needs to be recognized and valued as much as the production process – editors, EAB members and reviewers are given "short shrift" in terms of recognition by their institutions for the work they do. Publishers can play a role in supporting the work of this group, by encouraging greater recognition in the context of research assessment exercises in their various forms as carried on around the world.

And speaking of research assessment exercises, what are the best metrics for measuring the value of new forms of research? David believes we should use what we are already using – a combination of citation indexes and other bibliometric statistics such as download/usage rates for individual articles. "We need to have a combination of metrics that address value, at least in part, in terms of the conversation we have as scholars (citation rates) and the conversations between scholars and learners/practitioners (download/usage rates) to get a better 'feel' for the quality of the research that is being produced."

David believes that in five years' time Emerald will be a knowledge broking organization firmly embedded in the knowledge production, transmission and transformation process, and it will provide quality assurance and the mechanisms by which the knowledge is stored and transmitted. The media will change, rather than the basic process.

If publishers now are “knowledge brokers”, at the interface between scholars, learners, practitioners, and library information service providers, then academic publishers/commissioning editors are the personification of that knowledge broking role. Accordingly, they need to combine a knowledge of the field in which they work (discipline area) as a basis for identifying and managing the development and dissemination of that knowledge, with a set of interpersonal skills that underpins the complex relationship management and negotiation tasks they are required to fulfil.

From David's comments, it would seem that even the pace of technology cannot effect major change in the face of the entrenched values of the academic establishment. Yet, although journals are here to stay, publishers must not be complacent: they need to develop realistic costing models if they are to resist the march of open access. As for librarians, they need to do what they have always done: facilitate the research process. This will mean keeping up with and embracing the collaborative technologies of Web 2.0, and making sure their customers know how to use them.


ACRL Scholarly Communications Committee (2007), Establishing a Research Agenda for Scholarly Communication: A Call for Community Engagement [accessed August 19 2008].

Beckett, C. and Inger, S. (2007), Self-Archiving and Journal Subscriptions:Co-existence or Competition? An International Survey of Librarians' Preferences, Publishing Research Consortium [accessed August 19 2008].

Franklin, T. and van Harmelen, M. (2007), Web 2.0 for Content for Learning and Teaching in Higher Education, JISC [accessed August 19 2008].

Zalta, E. (2006), "The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy: A university/library partnership in support of scholarly communication and open access", C&RL News, Vol. 67 No. 8, September [accessed August 19 2008].