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Industry groups agree on fundamentals of scholarly communication

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As librarians, publishers and funding bodies in the USA squabble about how best to move scholarly publishing forward, the UK's Research Information Network (RIN) has managed to get representative organisations in the UK to agree on major public policy goals for the scholarly communications process.

It has issued a statement of the goals and principles of the scholarly communication process that has been endorsed by major representative organisations for both librarians and publishers in the UK, as well as the Joint Information Systems Committee (JISC) and the Wellcome Trust. Signatories include the Consortium of Research Libraries in the British Isles, the Association of Learned and Professional Society Publishers and the Society of College, National and University Libraries.

The statement defines the key aspects of scholarly communication in seven broad purposes or objectives. These are: the pursuit of research; assuring the quality of the information output; ensuring appropriate recognition for all those involved; presenting and dissemination of information; facilitating access to information; assessing and evaluating the usage of that information; and preserving information outputs so that those of long-term value area accessible for the indefinite future.

Michael Jubb, director of RIN, admitted that ‘at one level, the statement states the blindingly obvious’, but he was keen to point out that this is the first time that all the major players have agreed on what the goals of scholarly publishing are. ‘The next step is for us all to discuss how best to achieve these goals,’ said Jubb.

He told researchinformation.info that he was pleasantly surprised at how quickly the major stakeholders managed to agree and sign up to the statement. ‘We now want to ask the various government agencies such as the Department of Trade and Industry and the Department for Education and Skills to endorse the statement,’ said Jubb. ‘We want government to take a lead in this and hope that our statement will act as a framework on which to base public policy.’

This is in direct contrast to the situation in the USA where the open-access debate has had publishers and librarians fighting with each other and the government (see Publishers oppose government mandates).

RIN's statement comes shortly after the announcement that in the USA, the Association of American Publishers has hired a high-profile PR agent to combat the open-access movement. However, RIN's statement does not in any way define the various stakeholders' points of view on open access. ‘We wanted to try and stand back from the open-access debate and first define what it is that we are all trying to achieve,’ explained Jubb. ‘Now that this is established and everyone is agreed, we can work with the stakeholders to achieve these goals.’

He stresses that the aim of the statement is to make it clear that there is much more to the process of scholarly communication than writing up research and getting it published. He also points out that today's technological advances have blurred the roles that different organisations have in this process. ‘There are no longer clear roles in the publishing industry,’ he pointed out. ‘Authors have got involved in publishing; publishers have got involved with access. Our statement gives policy makers a clear picture of the lifecycle of scholarly communication without specifically saying who does what.’

Robin Green, executive director of the Consortium of University Research Libraries (CURL) commented: 'The support this framework has received from a wide range of stakeholder groups involved in the scholarly communications process makes it an important step forward. This recognition of principles beyond the specific interests of each group will facilitate debate on future developments in this complex and fast-changing arena.'

Ian Russell, chief executive of Association of Learned and Professional Society Publishers (ALPSP), said: ‘The scholarly communications environment has recently been a source of a great deal of frantic and often heated debate. RIN has displayed a deep understanding of the issues and concerns of the various stakeholders - this statement represents a major step forward by providing a framework for constructive dialogue between them all. It makes clear the importance of the publishing industry and recognizes the value that it adds, while at the same time urging continued innovation. It will play an important role in building consensus and advancing the debate.’

Nadya Anscombe is a contributing editor of researchinformation.info