Recently I had a somewhat unusual question from a library student who is working in a library where part of her assignment is to look for grant funding opportunities related to developing a scholarly communications program.  After telling me that the whole concept of scholarly communications was somewhat bewildering, the student asked me what search terms I thought she should use when looking in databases of grants and funders.

The question was sufficiently off center, I think, that it forced me to reflect on the meaning of this “baggy monster” discipline from a different perspective and to formulate a fairly succinct but comprehensive reply.  Here is my answer:

“Let my answer this by suggesting four words that I would search on and, with a bit of explanation about each word, maybe give you some perspective on what scholarly communications means (in my opinion, anyway).

“Publishing” – the origin of most scholarly communications work is in trying to understand how the publishing process for scholarship is changing in the light of new technologies, and what the library role is in assisting or adapting to those changes.

“Copyright” – when some institutions talk about scholarly communications, their major need is advanced knowledge about copyright law.  This has become a problem on lots of campuses, again because of advances in technology, and it explains why so many people who are hired into scholarly communications positions (including me) are lawyers.

“Open Access” – this is the area where the seems to be the most push for change to traditional publishing models, and the place where libraries are developing lots of programs.  Libraries often administer institutional repositories, for example, which provide open access to faculty and student scholarship.  These efforts co-exist, usually, with traditional publication, and figuring out if and how scholarly publishing will transition to open access is the big issue for scholarly communications right now.  BTW, other open access projects in libraries include hosting open journal publishing platforms, administering funds to pay the article processing charges that some open access journals charge, and advocating for public access programs like the NIH’s PubMed Central requirement.

“Research process” – at its core I believe that libraries’ attention to scholarly communications means a deeper involvement with the whole research process as it occurs on our campuses, where in the past we have focused only on the output and input (published works) stages.  This means that libraries may be more involved in help to curate research data, manage versions of research output, and focus on access to the local resources of a particular campus, rather than on those published resources that are increasingly available to all without the intervention of libraries.

Looking back on what I have written, I guess I would add “technology” and “institutional repository” as search words.”

While I hope this reply was helpful to the student, I realize how incomplete and sketchy it is.  It seems like a perfect opportunity to ask others to comment. So please leave a comment and suggest other words that would be appropriate search terms and other ways to describe and discuss the ones I have mentioned.  Let’s see if this can be a useful thought experiment.


3 Responses to What does scholarly communications mean to you?

  1. tjvision says:

    Interesting exercise. I would consider “Data/Information/Knowledge Exchange” as the cornerstone of scholarly communication. The first 3 of those key phrases are certainly hot topics, but scholars communicated before publishing, copyright, open access and institutional repositories had been conceived as such, and we can expect scholars to communicate even if/when these things evolve beyond recognition.

  2. Cathy Sarli says:

    Excellent suggestions.
    Per research process—assisting authors with management of their scholarly output might also include strategies to enhance the dissemination of scholarly output as well as guidance on how to evaluate the impact of scholarly output. There are various metrics for scholars to evaluate impact from the following perspectives: individual document, author, or research group. All of these activities could be considered as being part of the Scholarly Communications umbrella for some libraries.

  3. Interesting exercise.