What is the future of scholarly communication?

 

The future of scholarly communication (Facet, 2013) is edited by Deborah Shorley and Michael Jubb. It is divided into two parts. The first, longer, part deals with changing researcher behaviour; the second deals with ‘Other players: roles and responsibilities’. (It’s not entirely clear why a chapter on the changing role of the publisher is allocated to the first part, but that is unimportant.)

In their preface the editors write that they have ‘sought to include players from as broad a spectrum as possible’. One wonders how hard they tried, for wide areas of scholarly communication receive little or no attention — including teaching, book publishing (whether in the form of monographs or textbooks), and public engagement. Industry and commerce barely receive a mention: the editors keep them firmly off campus, like over-zealous security guards at the campus gates denying visitors access because they lack the necessary car parking permits. Though Ian Carter in his chapter on ‘Changing institutional research strategies’ writes that ‘scholarly communication is not only about the dissemination of new knowledge to other scholars’ (p. 151), his editors appear not to have heard.

The chapters I most enjoyed reading were those by Mark L. Brown, Katie Anders and Liz Elvidge, and David C. Prosser. Though Brown’s chapter on the changing role of the research library is not especially original, the treatment is succinct. Prosser neatly illustrates the way that researchers’ behaviour influences the forms of scholarly communication, which in turn influence researchers’ behaviour, resulting in ‘mutual dependency’. Anders and Elvidge explore the opportunities for creative communications on the part of postdocs. In their study of a public engagement project, they quote a postdoc’s view that the need in the project to communicate in ‘plain language…opens your mind. It also helps you to slow down and understand what you are doing’ (p. 57). It’s a shame that the rest of the book gives so little attention to such issues.

Elsewhere on this blog I have written about the benefits of providing abstracts for monographs. It is pleasing that this book provides abstracts for each chapter. These are used to good effect on the publishers’ website, which provides potential readers with admirably full information.

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