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Scientific Communication and the Dematerialization of Scholarship
(Released March 2007)

  by Douglas Brown  


Key Citations



Institutional Repositories, and the Future


Institutional Repositories, Focused or Expansive
While acknowledging the crucial role of arXiv in developing a centralized, subject-based repository, Harnad is now a leading, tireless advocate of supplementary research self-archiving in institutionally-based e-print repositories. These have proliferated with the support of the Open Archives Initiative (OAI), which promotes standards of interoperability, and particularly the OAI Metadata Harvesting Protocol (2001), which has provided metadata tagging standards with the aim of allowing for a global network of repositories. Compliant software is now available open source, leaders being DSpace (developed at MIT) and EPrints (University of Southampton). Institutional repositories received an indirect boost from the appearance of the academic search engine Google Scholar in beta form in 2004.

Photo of Stavan Harnad
Professor Stevan Harnad

While the majority of the 24,000 peer-reviewed scholarly journals in all fields now appear in electronic form, including a growing number of openly accessible 'born digital' journals, Harnad suggests that only around 15 per cent of researchers are currently making their work freely accessible on the Web through self-archiving (14). He is not concerned with reforming scholarly communication processes as such; his focus is squarely on research impact and usage, and the degree to which this has been lost since publication began by the high costs of print production and distribution. Harnad puts the case that, today, the deposit of a scholar's final, post-peer review version of an article in an institutional repository, in compliance with copyright law and with publisher policies, is the quickest and most effective means of ensuring that as many interested researchers as possible read and are led to cite the article; research suggests that open access may increase citation impact by 50-250%. (15) He submits that maximizing impact potentially benefits both the individual researcher and his or her institution, in making visible the quality and relevance of its intellectual output, and that ultimately society can benefit from increased return on investment and accelerated research progress. (For a discussion of how scholars can maximize accessibility, see CSA's Publish or Perish: Afterlife of a Published Article.)

To achieve these ends Harnad campaigns for policies of institutional and funder-level self-archiving mandates; in the meantime, an apparent lack of willingness or incentive for faculty to self-archive, and alternative, more expansive conceptions of institutional repositories that resemble full digital libraries, have recently led some repositories to house a vast range of materials, including datasets, learning objects, presentations, technical reports, theses, video and sound files, teaching materials, and administrative and numerical data. All of these were previously unavailable campus-wide or to the wider research community. Enthusiasts for a possible new, active role for universities in management, preservation and stewardship of digital materials, and experiments with institutional repositories re-engineered as new university-based publishing platforms, seem to be setting off on a divergent path from Harnad's more focused position, which prioritises global access to peer reviewed papers. (16) A decade of technological flux has alerted librarians to issues of long-term accessibility and digital preservation, but for 'archivangelists' like Harnad who regard self-archiving of research as essentially supplementary to the version of record held by the publisher, concerns about preservation should not deter researchers from making their work immediately openly accessible.

Conclusion: Towards Another Scientific Revolution?
Uncertainty about the future role of institutional repositories is part of a much broader landscape of uncertainty. As scholarly publishers have begun over the last decade to test alternative business models and experiment with many varieties of Open Access, and alternatives to traditional peer review begin to be trialed, Blaise Cronin, a leading authority on scientific communication, has questioned whether it makes sense to speak of the scholarly communication system at all. Cronin predicts that cultural differences among disciplines will persist and combine with technological innovation and plenitude to discourage the emergence of any unified model of scholarly communication, and eventually encourage 'a much more heterogeneous and dynamic publishing ecosystem' than in the past, from which 'new hybrids' will evolve. (17) By contrast, other commentators see the developments reviewed here as symptoms of the wholesale disruption of a traditional, discipline-centred system and emergence of 'a new mode of knowledge production', the research infrastructure for which will require to be addressed and developed through 'an holistic approach' to the entire scholarly communication cycle across disciplines. (18)

Meanwhile, the sheer volume of data produced by scientific research is now said to be doubling with each passing year, and a recent report from some of the world's leading scientists suggested that the further evolution of computationally intense science will effectively result over the next decade or so in another scientific revolution. (19) Something that should remain unaltered is what John Willinsky has called a basic principle of science: 'that knowledge lives through the scope of its circulation, and thus through its very susceptibility to contention and alteration'. (20)

© 2007, ProQuest-CSA LLC. All rights reserved.

List of Visuals


  1. Bacon, F., The New Atlantis, English version, 1629

  2. Oldenberg, H., The Introduction, Philosophical Transactions, vol.1 no.1, Monday, March 6, 1664/5

  3. Quoted in Willinsky, J., The Access Principle: the Case for Open Access to Research and Scholarship, MIT Press, 2005, p.202

  4. Atkins, D., et al, Revolutionizing Science and Engineering through Cyberinfrastructure: Report of the National Science Foundation Blue-Ribbon Advisory Panel on Cyberinfrastructure (2003)

  5. Atkins et al, ibid

  6. Atkins et al, ibid

  7. Research Councils UKAbout the UK e-Science Programme

  8. Odlyzko, A., The Future of Scientific Communication (2002)

  9. Van de Sompel, H., Payette, S., Erickson, J., Lagoze, C., Warner, S., Rethinking Scholarly Communication: Building the System that Scholars Deserve, D-Lib Magazine vol.10 no.9, September 2004

  10. Warner, S., The Transformation of Scholarly Communication, Learned Publishing vol. 18, no. 3, July 2005, p.181

  11. Ginsparg, P., As We May Read, Journal of Neuroscience vol.26 no.38, September 2006, p.9606

  12. Harnad, S., Scholarly Skywriting and the Prepublication Continuum of Scientific Inquiry, Psychological Science 1, 1990, pp.342-343

  13. Harnad, S., The Invisible Hand of Peer Review (1998)

  14. Harnad, S., Publish or Perish - Self-Archive to Flourish: the Green Route to Open Access, ERCIM News 64 (2006)

  15. Hajjem,C., Gingras, Y., Brody, T., Carr, L., and Harnad, S., Open Access to Research Increases Citation Impact, Technical Report, Institut des sciences cognitives, Université du Québec à Montréal (2005)

  16. Poynder, R., Open and Shut? Institutional Repositories and a Little Experiment (2006)

  17. Cronin, B., Scholarly Communication and Epistemic Cultures, ARL, Washington DC, October 2003

  18. Houghton, J.W., Steele, C., Henty, M., Research Practices and Scholarly Communication in the Digital Environment, Learned Publishing vol.17, no. 3, July 2004, pp.247-248

  19. 2020 Science

  20. Willinsky, op.cit, p.205