Chapter 7: Openness in Scholarly Communication: Conceptual Framework and Challenges to Innovation

Clifford Tatum, and Nicholas Jankowski

Across the domains of scholarship, expectations are high for development of “new forms of scientific discovery and scholarly research” previously considered impossible (Arms and Larsen 2007, 3). In contrast to such expectations, recent empirical research on scholarly communication suggests low rates of adoption of the technologies that underpin the vision of an e-infrastructure. Instead, there is continued preference for publishing in traditional, high-ranked journals and book-length monographs (Harley et al. 2010). At the same time, publishers are providing digital versions of articles and books, and open access journals are increasing in number. Nevertheless, the format and structure of formal scholarly communication remains largely unchanged.

In less formal communication settings, researchers are inclined to adopt a variety of the freely available internet products and services. Without overt concern for the academic reward system in the informal setting, scholars are experimenting with new practices. These occur differently across disciplinary contexts, degrees of collaboration, and stages in career (Procter et al. 2010a). A general analysis of technologically-facilitated scholarly communication is complicated by differences in situated practices across disciplinary and national cultures. Common among these new informal venues and practices is an environment of openness, less compatible with the role of formal scholarly communication, particularly regarding the academic reward system.

In light of these challenges, we propose an analytical framework of openness to understand better scholarly communication in the digital era. The chapter begins with a panoramic “snapshot” of developments already underway. This is followed by elaboration of the conceptual framework of openness afforded by digital media and the proliferation of user-generated content associated with Web 2.0 (O'Reilly 2005; Vossen, and Hagemann 2007). Further, we situate these changing practices within the rubric of e-research. The chapter introduces this perspective, followed by a review of scholarly communication more generally. We then focus on the dynamics of openness in formal and informal communication. This serves as a means to examine emerging practices and the ways in which such practices help us to understand challenges and opportunities in scholarly communication. Against this conceptual backdrop, we offer illustrations of both formal and informal communicative forms, focusing on emerging practices in the informal realm and recent digital publishing initiatives by academic publishers. These illustrations serve as a basis for examining the tension and flux in scholarly communication associated with dimensions of openness, and for proposing avenues for further empirical exploration.


Figure 1: Components of e-Research (adapted from Jankowski, 2009, 8)

Figure 7: Diagram of Openness Framework (Tatum 2010)

Figure 8: Nelson’s notion of Evolutionary List File (ELF) applied to historiography.


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