Book Review

D-Lib Magazine
March 1998

ISSN 1082-9873

Scholarly Publishing


"Recent changes in scholarly publishing have already begun to affect the creation and maintenance of scholarship; and they will have a major impact on the production, distribution, and archiving of academic research in the coming century"

By William Y. Arms, D-Lib Magazine


Scholarly Publishing
The Electronic Frontier

Edited by Robin P. Peek and Gregory B. Newby
363 pages. Illustrations. Cambridge, Massachusetts:
The MIT Press Press in conjunction with the American Society for Information Science (ASIS) 1996, $37.50.
http://www-mitpress.mit.edu


At D-Lib Magazine, we are constantly asking the question, what materials are best published in book form and which are best on-line? This book is a good example of the dilemma. It is a collection of nineteen independent essays, with a foreword and introduction, that examine the changes that are occurring within scholarly publishing. Although the publication date is 1996, internal evidence suggests that many of the essays were written two years earlier. They were written as the web was just beginning its spectacular growth and before any mainstream journals were available over the Internet. With the benefit of hindsight, we can read these articles and see what leaders in the field were anticipating.

Several of the papers could be written today, with little change. Surprisingly, they include two of the most outspoken articles, by Andrew Odlyzko and Stevan Harnad, both of whom are informed and optimistic about the potential for on-line communications to transform journal publishing. The strength of both articles is that they concentrate on describing the present, analyzing how publication supports the dissemination of research, and back up their arguments with personal observations or descriptions of current experiments.

Another set of papers that still read well are those that explore the strengths and weaknesses of traditional publishing and use the analysis as a basis for discussing the issues that face electronic publications. James Rush's foreword, with its emphasis on change and uncertainty, is in this category, as are articles on the economics of publishing, integrity issues, bibliographic control, and copyright implications. Over the past few years, progress has been made in all these areas, but the basic issues remain unchanged and the discussions are still pleasingly current.

What topics have fared less well? There appear to be two infallible rules. Any statement that begins, "It is inevitable," is inevitably wrong; any topic that is described as, "needing further study," is probably unsuitable for systematic study, but will quickly be resolved by events. Apart from the few papers that made specific predictions, the articles that have dated most rapidly are those that attempted to build philosophical or sociological frameworks for discussing electronic publication. Perhaps this is inevitable. People closely involved with an activity can not see it from the broad perspective needed to identify the themes that experience will deem important.

Overall these articles have held up well. This book provides an excellent snapshot of the best thinking in this field as electronic publishing was beginning its spectacular growth. When sensible people write on topics that they understand, their opinions are worth reading, even after several years.

Copyright 1998 Corporation for National Research Initiatives

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