Scholarly Publishing: The Electronic Frontier

Robin P. Peek + Gregory B. Newby (editors)

The MIT Press 1996
A book review by Danny Yee © 1996
Scholarly Publishing is a collection of papers on the future of academic publishing in a world moving rapidly towards electronic publication. The papers are non-technical, exploring broad issues rather than describing particular examples, systems, or implementations: there are no in depth studies of existing electronic journals, for example, or of cryptographic systems for copyright enforcement and version control. The strength of the collection lies rather in the range of perspectives which it encompasses — among them those of librarians, publishers, and academics.

In a brief introduction Robin Peek highlights a few of the most fundamental issues of electronic publishing. Rob Kling and Roberta Lamb categorise the different genres of writing about electronic publishing and digital libraries. Robert Silverman presents a framework within which to view the effects of electronic communication on academia, stressing that these vary greatly depending on the context. And Jean-Claude Gu├ędon looks to the history of academic communication systems to provide clues to understanding present changes.

Andrew Odlyzko is largely optimistic about the "impending demise of traditional scholarly journals" and a greatly reduced role for publishers and libraries in academic communication. Stevan Harnad considers ways of implementing peer review for electronic journals, arguing that we can combine traditional forms of review with the current free for all on the Internet to produce a hierarchical system of "scholarly skywriting". Larry Hurtado thinks there is a need for a consortium of universities, academic societies, and non-profit publishers to coordinate a unified approach to refereed electronic journals and to prevent domination by commercial publishers.

From a rather different perspective, Janet Fisher explains some of the hidden roles played by publishers in producing journals and argues that they will continue to play an essential part in scholarly communication. Lisa Freeman addresses the same issues specifically from the point of view of university presses. And Fytton Rowland argues that the costs of electronic publishing will not be as low as some have predicted, leaving commercial publishers and libraries an important role in producing and managing journals.

Several papers look at things from the perspective of the librarian. Ann Okerson presents a synopsis of a study of 24 US research libraries, looking at changes over the last half century as well as at their current state and possibilities for the future. Marlene Manoff suggests that the shift to electronic publishing may exacerbate the trend away from monographs towards serials and the resulting bias against the arts and humanities. In the most technical paper in the volume, Rebecca Guenther looks at the bibliographic problems raised by electronic materials and at the relevant parts of the USMARC standard.

Other papers consider specific differences between electronic and traditional publishing. Brian Hayes writes about "the economic quandary of the network publisher" — the obvious problems with charging for electronic materials. Ira Fuchs points out that networked information is not free, that its costs have largely been hidden from users, and that this is likely to change with the introduction of new charging schemes. Clifford Lynch sees much of the uncertainty about electronic publishing (and some of its greatest challenges) arising from integrity issues. Brian Kahin writes about legal and ethical issues and Patrice Lyons more specifically about the copyright problems that arise when books are computer programs. Perhaps the odd paper out in the volume, David Rothman's "TeleRead: A Virtual Central Database without Big Brother" is a wildly utopian suggestion for a central database to hold all books, newspapers and magazines.

While Scholarly Publishing may not provide information of immediate utility, it will be profitable reading for anyone involved with longer term planning for research journals, publishing companies, and libraries — and for academics curious about the future of the publication system which plays such a central role in their careers.

April 1996

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%T Scholarly Publishing
%S The Electronic Frontier
%E Peek, Robin P.
%E Newby, Gregory B.
%I The MIT Press
%D 1996
%O hardcover, references, index
%G ISBN 0262161575
%P xxii,363pp