1.3 History and Evolution of Scholarly Communication

Scholarly communication can be defined as "the system through which research and other scholarly writings are created, evaluated for quality, disseminated to the scholarly community, and preserved for future use. The system includes both formal means of communication, such as publication in peer-reviewed journals, and informal channels, such as electronic listservs." 

According to Adrian K. Ho “scholarly communication is a cyclical process in which content is generated, reviewed, disseminated, acquired, preserved, discovered, accessed, and assimilated for the advancement of scholarship. The assimilation can potentially lead to generation of new content and thus start a new iteration of the process (or lifecycle)”. The scholarly communication lifecycle is represented in Fig. 1.5:


There are different stakeholders involved in the scholarly communication process that includes authors, publishers, libraries, researchers, higher education institutions, and funding agencies. We will discuss the role of these stakeholders especially the libraries in details in section 1.5.

The communication of information began with the beginning of civilization with people recording their experiences in inscriptions and later manuscripts. With the invention of the Printing Press by Gutenberg in mid-15 th century it revolutionized publishing in printed book form. Ever since the first scholarly journals were started in mid 1600s, (Journal des Sçavans and the Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society of London), researchers and academicians have been striving to publish and disseminate the results of their research work through the. The scholarly journals provided a platform to share their research finding and also acted as a public registry of scientific communication. For most scholars the gold standard in the world of scholarly communication is the peer reviewed article. Publishing articles in peer-reviewed journals is the prime indicator of professional standing for researchers and it also fulfils other requirements such as author recognition, quality control, historical record of and the archive for the progress of science. This triggered the unprecedented growth of the scholarly peer journals.

With the exponential growth of scientific literature since World War II, the need for new ways of organizing, storing and accessing enormous body of information was felt. Invention of Vannevar Bush’s microform-based system, Memex (memory expander) to store and retrieve information using a series of navigational links is considered the precursor to the modern hypertext based electronic systems.

The expansion of R&D activity brought an exponential growth in the number of publications over the years. Research and academic institutions around the world since then have been grappling with the related problems and issues in scientific and technical communication process. The major problems relate to managing information explosion, increasing publishing costs, and delays in publishing and distribution inefficiencies. On the other hand libraries face the problem of spiraling prices of journals, limited physical space for storage and resource crunch. E-publishing and digital processing of information, their storage and retrieval has made great impact on the scholarly communication process both from the publishing and dissemination point of view. The emergence of e-journals in the 1980s and development of the World Wide Web in the 1990s have revolutionized the scholarly communication landscape. The Internet has affected scholarly publication especially from the availability and accessibility point of view. Although the distribution of scientific information has retained part of its traditional structures, the ways of scholarly communication and research dissemination have been substantially affected with the availability of innovative ICT applications. With the advent of enabling technologies, innovative publishing models for scientific communication are emerging facilitating self-publishing where the responsibility and ownership of scholarship rests with the creators.

As it stands today substantial proportion of scholarly publications are controlled by limited number of large publishing houses. It has directly impacted the scholarly communication process and is threatening to defeat the purpose for which the scientific community invented it. Last two decades saw growth in the number of scholarly journals, spiraling prices and falling purchasing power in developing countries. This has resulted in a crisis situation where the academic and research institutions are not able to subscribe to full range of publications and have been forced to cancel subscriptions and resort to other methods to facilitate access to the researcher and academic community. This has paved the way for open access movement which we will cover in detail in the next unit.

Last modified: Monday, 22 March 2021, 11:27 PM