First Monday

Scholarly Publishing, Peer Review and the Internet

The Internet is arguably one of the most significant technological developments of the late 20th century. From its modest beginnings some decades ago - where the use of networked computers was largely limited to to a select group of technical specialists in research institutions, the military and government - to the present situation, with a complex global grid of more than 50 million users, the Internet has become an increasingly important medium of communication in a variety of public and private spheres. In the international academic community the arrival of the Internet has received a mixed reception, with responses ranging from unbridled enthusiasm to outright hostility. My preferred stance is one of cautious optimism. This paper addresses one domain of academic activity where I believe such a stance might be appropriate, namely, scholarly publishing. A number of different forms of writing in cyberspace are identified, and some of the arguments in favour of moving from print-based publishing to electronic environments are assessed. The paper reinforces the need for rigorous systems of peer review in scholarly work, and considers possible futures for serials in cyberspace.


The Multilayered Internet
Electronic Publishing in the Scholarly World
The Importance of Peer Review
Concluding Comments

The Multilayered Internet

Over the past decade a burgeoning literature - much of it available in electronic form - has developed around the implications of new information technologies for reading, writing and scholarly publishing. Some of this work has addressed the emergence of the digital text in the light of the history of technology, reviving earlier debates over the differences between oral and written forms of communication (Bolter, 1991; Brent, 1991; Harnad, 1991; Chandler, 1997). The shift from print to hypertext has attracted much discussion, and substantial bodies of work have built up around the application of multimedia technologies in educational settings (Burbules and Callister, 1996; Delany and Landow, 1991; Duncan, 1997; Fillmore, 1995; Green and Bigum, 1993; Lemke, 1993; Ryder, 1995). Questions about copyright and intellectual property in the electronic realm have provided fodder for controversy and opened up new legal minefields (Brent, 1991; Dilworth, 1992; P.E. Peters, 1995; Saltrick, 1995; Strong, 1994). Attention has been paid to the changing roles of, and relationships between, writers and readers in digital environments (Landow, 1992; Lanham, 1993; Romano, 1996; Sewell, 1992). The emergence of new literacies - conceptions and practices of reading and writing - in cyberspace has been explored in some detail (Green, 1995; Green and Bigum, 1996; Lankshear, 1997; Lemke, 1996; P. Roberts, 1997a). Work has been conducted on the economics of electronic publishing, and debates over the true costs of making information and courses available via the Internet continue to rage (Day, 1994, 1995; M.M. Roberts, 1994; Rowland, 1994; Varian, 1996). Possibilities for digital libraries (Arnold, 1995a, 1995b; Cohen, 1993; Hawkins, 1996; Helstein, 1994; Kahin, 1995; Rooks, 1993) and 'virtual universities' (Acker, n.d.; Bothun, 1997; Luke, 1996; Gilbert, 1996; Gresham, 1994; Morey, Binning and Combs, 1996; Peters and Roberts, 1998) have been investigated.

The Internet can be conceived as a rich, multilayered, complex, ever-changing textual environment. Texts created in the Internet range from simple e-mail messages to sophisticated 'documents' (sites) incorporating sounds, images and words. The Internet is a 'live', constantly 'moving', theoretically borderless, potentially infinite space for the production and circulation of information. While printed materials have a certain fixity and finitude (Peters and Lankshear, 1996), texts published via the Internet have a much more fluid character. Both authors and readers can readily alter the size, shape and appearance of documents. Fonts and margins can be changed. Paragraphs can be rearranged; words can be added or deleted; graphics can be resized, removed or reinserted. New links can be established with ease, and old links can become out-of-date as documents 'disappear' into the electronic ether. With texts no longer housed between library or bookshop walls, it becomes impossible to 'pin down' all or even most of the available materials in given subject areas for archival and classification purposes. The Internet might thus be described as a 'sea of information', subject to the ebb and flow of various forces (political, corporate, institutional, etc.), creating an ever-shifting shoreline.

First quote

What do we find as we enter the vast world of the Internet? There is no easy way to categorise the diverse array of texts in cyberspace, but several major forms are immediately recognisable. First, and perhaps of greatest importance for many subscribers to on-line services, there is e-mail. It is easy to overlook this aspect of cyberspatial life. Computer connectivity between nations has allowed a new form of correspondence to evolve, and, while we have seldom noticed this, our daily lives have changed as a result. Academics now send more words to others, more often, than ever before. While the bureaucratisation of the university has contributed to an increase in 'busy work' of all kinds (including memoranda and correspondence), e-mail seems to have exacerbated the effects of this trend. E-mail has conferred some wonderful advantages. We can now communicate easily and rapidly with people thousands of miles away. E-mail has become a seemingly indispensable part of our academic lives, and correspondence by post seems tedious and slow by comparison. Yet, perhaps precisely because e-mail, in removing previous barriers of geography and distance, reduces some of the perceived burdens of the old paper and post systems, we use it almost incessantly! How many of us wrote 10-12 notes or full-length letters a day prior to the arrival of e-mail? Self-discipline and restraint in replying to others may help in keeping this under control - it does not take long to type the word 'no', and avoiding a response altogether is even less time consuming - but this is contrary to the kind of friendly and informal collegiality e-mail often seems to promote.

The flood of words generated by e-mail is matched by a similar drowning in discourse through the myriad discussion groups and 'chat rooms' of all kinds now available on the Internet. Some of these are outgrowths from, or affiliated with, formal publications or professional societies. In such cases participants usually take considerable care in their submissions to discussions. Such restraint is not so common, however, in many other less formal forums. When all impediments to free expression are removed, and when participants are protected by a veil of anonymity in cyberspace, discussion can often degenerate into exchanges that are either banal or defamatory (Korthof, 1995). Nastiness seems to know no bounds in some cases, and immensely irritating practices - the deliberate saturation of e-mail circulation lists with huge numbers of messages is one example - are not uncommon. New terms have evolved to describe the discursive features of some of these practices and exchanges. Thus we now hear talk of 'spamming' and the eruption of 'flame wars'. 'Netiquette', the unspoken code of conduct for Internet users, serves to regulate much of the discussion in cyberspace, and many groups employ password protection systems to limit participation to a restricted membership. As with e-mail, however, the ease with which contributions to a discussion group can be made sometimes encourages those who might otherwise not be bothered to get involved - even if this is in a less than productive manner.

There are now thousands of Internet 'home pages'. Many of these serve as information sources for institutions and organisations. Most universities, polytechnics and colleges of education throughout the world have a presence on the Internet. There are also numerous individual home pages, where people construct a site either as a means of expressing their creativity (some construe this as vanity) or for a very limited range of potential visitors. A large proportion of the home pages currently available - and they appear to number into the hundreds of thousands - are devoted to a specific person (e.g. a musician, actor, television celebrity), cause (saving fauna and flora of various kinds, opposing nuclear weapons, preventing censorship, etc.), or organisation (everything from Marxist groups to the New Zealand Business Roundtable). In some cases the World Wide Web is used to make government documents available to the public. In New Zealand, this includes a variety of items issued by ministries (e.g. green papers released under the auspices of the Ministry of Education) together with legislative materials (Acts of Parliament). Finally, the Internet is fast becoming a major site for commercial activity, and many corporations now advertise their goods and services - and sometimes sell them, either as one wing of a larger operation or as their sole form of business activity - in cyberspace.

Journals, magazines, newspapers, books and archives provide another important avenue for the construction, publication and circulation of Internet texts. It may surprise many who have seldom 'surfed' (or searched) the Internet to know that many classic literary and philosophical books are available for reading in electronic form. The only costs readers incur are the standard Internet connection fees and hourly rates. Unlike print versions of the same volumes, the books themselves have no prices attached. These 'Great Books' have been converted to hypertext mark-up language (HTML) - a few are still available in ASCII form - and housed in large, well-organised collections through comprehensive scholarly initiatives such as Project Gutenberg. Additionally, there are now hundreds of serials published via the Internet. These range from informal newsletters constructed for small groups on individual personal computers to sophisticated, highly specialised, fully-refereed academic journals. Some newspapers (e.g., The Independent and the Christchurch Press in New Zealand, the Chronicle of Higher Education in the United States, the Times Higher Educational Supplement in Britain) and well-known magazines (Time set an early example) produce electronic equivalents of their print publications. Increasingly, however, serials of all kinds are being released in electronic form only. Some of these make the most the new medium, and would be impossible to duplicate in the print world. Hypertextual publications, incorporating 'live' or moving images and 'real' sounds as well as words defy easy classification, and multiple links to other documents and sites encourage new (hitherto impossible) patterns of reading activity.

Electronic Publishing in the Scholarly World

The proliferation of written materials through the Internet seems inevitable. Anyone with access to the necessary hardware and appropriate software can now 'publish' their work. This is obviously not possible in a print-dominated publishing environment. Yet just because publication in electronic form is possible, does this mean academics ought to make this the preferred route for disseminating their ideas and findings? This question has been investigated by scholars in range of disciplines (compare, Burbules and Bruce, 1996; Burnett, 1993; Guedon, 1994; Unsworth, 1996; Kling and Covi, 1995; Peek and Newby, 1996; Sosteric, 1996; Stodolsky, 1993, 1994; Harnad, 1991, 1992, 1995, 1996; J. Peters, 1996; Wilson, 1995). Library specialists have made a significant contribution to the debate (see, in particular, the work of Ann Okerson: 1991a, 1991b, 1994, 1996), and several conferences have been organised around this issue in the last few years. I believe the potential advantages of moving toward electronic publication for scholarly work far outweigh any possible disadvantages associated with such a move. Some of the arguments in favour of academic publishing via the Internet have been developed at length elsewhere (e.g. Roberts, 1996, 1998). A few remarks must suffice for present purposes.

In recent years the perception of a crisis in scholarly publishing has become more widespread. With growing specialisation and continuing pressure to publish, academics have been producing ever greater numbers of articles and books every decade of the twentieth century. In some fields the growth in published papers has followed a roughly exponential path (Odlyzko, 1994). Libraries, almost always short on both money and space, have become crammed with millions of books, serials, monographs, and other printed materials. Costs for serials, in particular, have reached unsustainable levels, with annual subscriptions for some journals exceeding $1,000 (see further, Astle, 1991; Okerson, 1991b; Taubes, 1996a; UCSB Library Newsletter for Faculty, 1996). At the same time, hundreds of new periodicals continue to be developed each year (Greenwood, 1993; Peek and Burstyn, 1991). This has forced libraries to steadily reduce the proportion of 'purchased serials' to 'total available serials' in most subject areas (cf. Tuttle, 1991). Prices for academics books have also posed difficulties for libraries, students and staff wanting to expand their scholarly collections. By comparison with popular fiction, newspapers and glossy magazines, academic publications - both serials and books - have very small readerships (cf. Thatcher, 1995). Yet the costs associated with publishing, purchasing and storing them - if they are produced in print form - are exceptionally high.

Print publishing also involves unacceptable delays, especially for journal articles (Harnad, 1996; Guedon, 1994; Taubes, 1996b). Such delays are frustrating for academics, and work against some of the ideals often set for research and scholarship. Publishing in print-based refereed scholarly journals involves several steps. These are broadly divisible into a 'thinking, researching and writing' phase and a 'submission, consideration and revision' phase. A prospective author might begin to formulate some thoughts for a possible article at, say, the start of an academic year. She may develop several rough outlines in structuring her ideas, and perhaps discuss these in an informal manner with colleagues. Depending on the topic, her experience and prior knowledge, and the time available for reading and writing, she might devote perhaps one to six months to preliminary research and the development of a clear plan for the article. Work on the manuscript can then begin in earnest. This could take as long as a year, but in most cases is likely to involve two to four months of committed time (allowing for necessary interruptions). Once the article has been completed, the author selects an academic journal she believes will be a suitable outlet for publishing her ideas (if she has not done so already), and forwards the required number of copies (usually two to four) of her paper to that journal. If the editor of the journal judges the manuscript worthy of further consideration, he or she sends it out to several reviewers (referees) for comment. The reviewers will typically be two to three academics whose areas of expertise are related (as closely as possible to the subject matter of the submitted paper. Reviewers usually do not know (or are not supposed to know) the identity of authors, and authors almost never find out - at least not directly from editors - who their reviewers are. Following the reviewing process - which may take anything from a few weeks to six months - the editor makes a decision about the fate of the manuscript. He or she may decide to accept it 'as is', reject it, or ask the author to modify aspects of the paper in the light of comments and criticisms from the referees. If a manuscript is revised to the satisfaction of the editor, the paper is then accepted for publication and waits 'in press' (for a period of time varying from several months to two years) for the print-run of the issue containing the final version of the manuscript. The paper is then 'released' to the wider academic community for perusal, having enjoyed an incubation time of one to three years from the moment at which ideas were first conceived to publication in print form.

Second quote

In scholarly journals writers are not employed by editors, as they might be for magazines and newspapers; instead, most full-length articles are submitted on an unsolicited basis. Contributors are not paid for their work when it is published. Publication in scholarly journals allows academics to communicate, in a disciplined and rigorous manner, with their national and international colleagues. Scholarly articles usually only find audiences beyond the academy when their subject matter is especially controversial or noteworthy. Some of the delays associated with traditional print journals arise from the distinctive character of scholarly publishing. Meeting the imperatives of peer review takes time. But 'print and post' systems of correspondence and publication extend these inevitable delays. The Internet allows many 'transitional' steps in the academic publishing process to move at a much faster rate. Authors can submit their work electronically, all correspondence can be conducted through e-mail, print production queues can be eliminated, and each new issue of a journal can be delivered within days rather than weeks or months (see further, Harnad, 1996).

A surprisingly large number of new electronic journals are, in almost every respect, exactly the same as print journals. They are issued on a regular basis. They have editors, editorial boards and editorial advisors. Suitable submitted papers are sent out to referees for comment, and a limited number of articles (perhaps five to ten) are published in each issue. The papers accepted for publication have a very similar appearance to those published in print journals. Scholars who read electronic journals of this kind can, similarly, treat them in much the same manner as they might treat print periodicals. A paper is likely to be read in a linear fashion, and, copyright restrictions permitting, a print copy of the article can be produced to ease strain on the eyes. Such an article will have references or footnotes to which the reader can refer for further research, and is (in the Humanities and Social Sciences) likely to be of a standard length: around 3,000-8,000 words in most cases.

Electronic publication in such circumstances simply makes the task of getting hold of scholarly articles easier, and - if the journal is provided free of charge (or at a reduced rate) - cheaper than print and post systems allow. Downloading and printing articles in electronic journals allows academics to make clean, laser-quality copies of the papers they have an interest in. Publication through the Internet eliminates the need for photocopying and, for those who would normally borrow journals from their university libraries, also saves time that would otherwise be spent walking backwards and forwards between different locations on a campus. Even where reasonably substantial subscription levies are charged for gaining access to particular serials, many academics might prefer to browse scholarly journals published in electronic form given these reductions in the amount of time 'wasted' on tasks not directly related to the actual reading of the material.

Electronic publishing does, of course, have its share of potentially time-consuming problems. Power shut-downs, malfunctioning software, system failures, network breakdowns, and viruses are all familiar to contemporary computer users. These problems are hardly likely to go away in the future; if anything, as more and more people hop aboard the 'information superhighway', they may increase. Dealing with growing volumes of Internet 'traffic' will require constant monitoring. At present, complaints about electronic 'congestion' and low bandwidth are common. Printers will come under enormous strain. Somewhat ironically, the digital revolution, far from signalling the death of paper, appears to have led to an upsurge in the total amount of material being printed in businesses, educational institutions, government departments, and (some) homes. Finally, site addresses for electronic journals frequently become outdated, requiring additional time and costs in moving from one 'space' to another in the Internet.

On balance, however, the savings in time, space and costs will be considerable as an increasing number of writing and publishing activities move into the electronic realm. Electronic journals do not take up space on library shelves. Articles can be retrieved with relative ease, and search engines can assist in locating the appropriate material for given projects. While the costs of publishing via the Internet vary considerably and remain somewhat uncertain (and contested), it seems likely that electronic scholarly journals will in the longer term be much cheaper to produce and circulate than their print equivalents (Odlyzko, 1997). There are, moreover, new possibilities for alternative modes of presentation and peer review in the hypertextual world of the Internet. No system for producing and circulating scholarly ideas is flawless. There are, however, few benefits of print that cannot also be attained through the new media.

The Importance of Peer Review

Academics reluctant to make the move to electronic publishing often complain that the Internet is littered with 'rubbish': with mountains of trivia and a sea of information, within which serious scholars struggle to find anything of real value. Part of this claim is true: there is at present a great deal of shallow, inaccurate, poor-quality writing on the Internet. However, there is also some material available (sometimes only available) in electronic form equal in quality to almost anything published in the print world. The difficult step for those unfamiliar with the Internet is finding such work. I would predict that in the near future mechanisms for sorting the good from the bad will become increasingly sophisticated as academics come to accept that a shift toward electronic publishing seems inevitable. Peer review will have a vital role to play as we move into a digital scholarly future (see further, P. Roberts, 1997b). This does not mean that exactly the same measures for ensuring quality control as those employed with print journals will suffice (or be wanted) in all cases in electronic environments. Some kind of 'filtering' system will, however, be essential if the academic community is to have faith in the digital mode of scholarly publishing.

The process of peer review has attracted its share of criticism from academics (and others) over the years. A number of commentators (e.g., Agger, 1990; Readings, 1994) argue that scholarly refereeing is inherently conservative. Those selected to be referees, at least for 'established' international periodicals, are generally 'recognised' scholars in their field who have already passed through the various publication hoops themselves. Original work which challenges orthodox views, while ostensibly encouraged, is - in practice - frequently impeded by academics who have a stake in keeping innovative critical scholarship out of respected journals. For if a contributor to a major journal rubs against the grain of conventional scholarly wisdom in a given discipline, it is likely his or her submitted manuscript will have to pass through the hands of one or more academics who are prime representatives of prevailing opinion. In Readings' words,

"Normally, those who review essays for inclusion in scholarly journals know what they are supposed to do. Their function is to take exciting, innovative, and challenging work by younger scholars and find reasons to reject it. The same goes for book manuscripts: one receives a hundred dollars for rejecting a manuscript, but if you suggest that it should be published, the check never seems to arrive" [1].

In the case of journals, much depends on the goodwill of editors. Anecdotal tales of being 'set up' by editors abound in academic corridors. Such experiences - where referees known to be especially 'vicious' in their criticisms, or to have strong prejudices against particular perspectives, are selected - can be devastating for beginning scholars setting out on the path to an academic career. Equally, of course, there is considerable satisfaction for authors when they encounter conscientious referees who submit their reports promptly, with balanced comments, fair criticisms, and constructive suggestions for improvement. Indeed, on many occasions, referees perform an invaluable service in identifying faults the author may not have noticed - faults which, if left unattended, could prove professionally embarrassing. Undertaking refereeing duties can be a thankless task (although many authors make a point of acknowledging the helpful comments and constructive criticisms of referees in the final versions of their papers). It takes considerable time and effort to read scholarly papers and to respond to them thoughtfully. Refereeing can, however, also be a fickle, unpredictable and frustrating process for authors.

Agger (1990) maintains that, given the shortage of journal space and the abundance of manuscripts in most fields of study, the balance of power at present rests very much in the hands of those who edit, review for, and produce the journals. There is, his analysis suggests, simply not enough room for everybody - at least not in 'respected', international journals. Agger claims that much of the writing produced by academics is either never published or ends up in local, unrefereed publications. As a result, it remains - as far as the international scholarly community is concerned - largely 'invisible'. With so many academics competing to publish in prestigious refereed journals, traditional canons of collegial respect and scholarly support can sometimes disappear. Agger observes:

"Academic reviewing becomes even nastier in an extremely competitive marketplace.... [I]t is no longer enough in many disciplines to have two strongly positive reviews and one lukewarm one; all three must be sterling given the rate at which writers submit papers for publication. In this climate, reviewers learn (and teach themselves, circularly) not to read generously but to target the smallest issues in their overall evaluation" [2].

Agger argues that the 'value-free' process of scholarly exchanged envisaged by thinkers such as John Stuart Mill has failed to eventuate. Instead, he claims, 'reviewing is frequently done out of petty jealousy, ideological interest or simply incompetence' [3].

Third quote

I think Agger overstates the case here. Refereeing may, at times, be a nasty, interest-serving exercise, but the benefits of peer review still outweigh a situation where 'anything goes'. While competition for space in respected international journals is fierce, the total volume of printed material is, as my comments earlier in the paper indicated, still quite overwhelming. Most good quality work is published - sooner or later - and many scholars would prefer to put their writing and research to the test, in their community of peers across the globe, before seeing it in print. Without some sort of rigorous mechanism for judging academic work on an international basis, the publication of scholarly articles and monographs can become a somewhat incestuous, sheltered process. If it is true that academics may on occasion be treated unfairly by reviewers, it is also true that scholars who do succeed in publishing their work in international journals often deserve their success. This is especially so in cases where a scholar has managed to publish articles in refereed journals all over the world. Submitting work to an international journal for anonymous refereeing by unknown peers is, in short, still one of the best tests of scholarly credibility in the academic world.

Having papers published by invitation - whether in journals or edited collections - always leaves scholars open to the criticism that their work might not have stood up to the scrutiny of anonymous referees. It is much harder - and this is a point Agger would support - for scholars who do not have friends in influential places (e.g. as editors of journals or books) to get their work published. Without the benefit of collegial connections that almost guarantee publication, scholars seeking to disseminate the results of their research in the form of academic articles have no option but to compete with hundreds of others for limited journal space. Having a paper accepted for publication may from time to time be a matter of good fortune, but successfully negotiating the rigours of international reviewing on numerous occasions in a wide variety of journals across the globe is still a better measure of the quality of an academic's writing than anything else.

Some of the potential problems with peer review are intensified by the sluggishness of print and post systems. Delays in sending and receiving letters can make it more difficult for authors to quickly resolve problems with unresponsive editors and referees. Where clear procedures are established for rapid reviewing in an electronic environment, any concerns can - with the aid of e-mail - be almost instantaneously addressed. As the total 'incubation' time between submission and publication is typically drastically reduced in electronic journals, the damage incurred through less than adequate editorial practices is also lessened. Authors who encounter incompetent or disrespectful editors have a better chance of finding an alternative publication venue for their work.

Harnad summarises some of the advantages of shifting from print to electronic publication as follows:

"There are no essential differences between paper and electronic media with respect to peer review. And the Net is populated by frail human beings, just as the paper world is. But the Net does offer the possibility of distributing the burdens of peer review more equitably, selecting referees on a broader and more systematic basis (electronic surveys of the literature, citation analysis, even posting calls for reviewers to pertinent professional experts' bulletin boards and allowing those who happen to have the time to volunteer themselves). The speed with which a manuscript can be circulated electronically is also an advantage, as is the convenience that many are discovering in reading and commenting on manuscripts exclusively on-screen. All in all, implementing the traditional peer review system purely electronically is not only eminently possible, but is likely to turn out to be optimal, with even paper journal editors preferring to conduct refereeing in the electronic medium" [4].

Standard refereeing practices are, in my view, likely to remain an important mechanism for allowing readers to make meaningful distinctions between reputable scholarly work and second-rate material. However, other systems are beginning to emerge as scholars attempt to make the most of the new medium (compare, Harnad, 1992, 1996; Stodolsky, 1993, 1994; Sosteric, 1996). One route is via what might be termed 'post-hoc assessments' of papers already 'published' (i.e. released) on the Internet. Several variants of this approach have been mooted in the literature. These range from informal judgements by scholars browsing the Internet using search engines and subject catalogues to formal, structured systems for organising, evaluating and filtering published material. 'Interactive' journals, involving commentaries and sometimes ongoing debate on articles, position statements or issues have emerged. Some Internet publications actively encourage 'open' peer review, where authors and referees do not have their identities shielded by the traditional cloak of anonymity. Many authors who publish through less formal outlets solicit feedback from readers, adding some or all of their comments to later versions of the original article. Changes in archiving practices are evident in some journals, with traditional production cycles (typically a single volume with several issues each year) being replaced by less regular patterns in the organisation of published material. Some 'journals' are now not really 'periodicals' in the strict sense of that term - i.e. scholarly publications produced at measured intervals - but simply collections of articles, bundled together thematically rather than chronologically. Most of these new systems still rely on some form of peer review as a legitimating mechanism: judgements about the quality of work are made, or sought, in the company of others with like interests and expertise. This process, which gives scholarly publishing its distinctive character, will be vital as the information explosion reaches full force in the electronic era.

Concluding Comments

We do well, I think, to maintain a critical frame of mind when considering any new developments in electronic publishing. While a number of avenues for enhancing scholarly communication are opened up through the information superhighway, this does not mean older systems will - or ought - to completely disappear. It is easy to be swept along by the Internet wave and to forget that electronic discourse is still a relatively privileged domain (Luke, 1996). It is crucial that the new information technologies be understood not merely as technical developments, but as social, political, cultural, and economic phenomena (see further, Street, 1984; Lankshear with Lawler, 1987; P. Roberts, 1997c). The problem of escalating costs (discussed near the beginning of the paper) can only be addressed when suitable computers and the appropriate software packages have been paid for. Network charges for accessing and downloading material from the Internet also need to be met. The difficulties university librarians currently face in attempting to store ever-increasing collections of books and serials will certainly be largely overcome as texts are gradually converted to digital form and housed on hard disks (or other devices). Again, however, those fortunate enough afford the best machines - with fast, powerful processors and sophisticated graphics capabilities - have a distinct advantage over scholars and students who can only gain access to more rudimentary and 'outdated' equipment. As many academics know only too well, moving around electronic documents in computers with modest processing power can be a frustratingly slow (and sometimes impossible) process.

Equally, it would also be unwise to ignore the new developments in information technology, pretending the print publishing practices of the past will or could continue indefinitely. They cannot, and academics should, I believe, be positioning themselves to make the most the Internet as a medium for scholarly communication. Bringing (greater) control of scholarly publishing back to academic communities - a process some (e.g., Okerson, 1991b) believe will be enhanced by the shift to electronic environments - is, in my view, a positive development. Electronic journals and other scholarly forums can provide a means through which the domination of cyberspace by corporate giants is theorised and contested. Decisions have to be made within universities, as well as by politicians and bureaucrats in government departments, about the resourcing of new systems for publishing, circulating and accessing information. Enhancing opportunities to read Internet materials will be vital if staff and students in universities are to stay abreast of the latest findings and theories in their chosen disciplines. Money is, for most universities, always difficult to come by and there will invariably be a shortfall between what academics would like to do and what is practical or financially feasible. Setting up and maintaining rigorous, internationally-refereed electronic journals may, however, be a domain of academic activity worthy of increasing institutional recognition in the future.

About the Author

Peter Roberts is a Senior Lecturer in the School of Education at the University of Auckland in New Zealand. His major areas of scholarship are educational philosophy and policy studies.


1. B. Readings, 1994. "Caught in the Net: Notes from the electronic underground," Surfaces, volume 4, number 1, pp. 9-10.

2. B. Agger, 1990. The Decline of Discourse: Reading, Writing and Resistance in Postmodern Capitalism. London: Taylor and Francis, pp. 141-142.

3. Ibid., p.142.

4. S. Harnad, 1996. "Implementing peer review on the Net: Scientific quality control in scholarly electronic journals," In: R.P. Peek and G.B. Newby (editors). Scholarly Publishing: The Electronic Frontier. Cambridge, Mass.: MIT Press, p. 112.


S.R. Acker, n.d. "Space, collaboration, and the credible city: Academic work in the virtual university."

B. Agger, 1990. The Decline of Discourse: Reading, Writing and Resistance in Postmodern Capitalism. London: Taylor and Francis.

K. Arnold, 1995a. "The electronic librarian is a verb / the electronic library is not a sentence," Journal of Electronic Publishing, volume 1.

K. Arnold, 1995b. "The body in the virtual library: Rethinking scholarly communication," Journal of Electronic Publishing, volume 1.

D. Astle, 1991. "High prices from Elsevier," Newsletter on Serials Pricing Issues, NS 15 (December 12).

J.D. Bolter, 1991. Writing Space: The Computer, Hypertext, and the History of Writing. Hillsdale, N.J.: Lawrence Erlbaum.

G.D. Bothun, 1997. "Seven points to overcome to make the virtual university viable," Cause/Effect, volume 20, number 2 (Summer).

D. Brent, 1991. "Oral knowledge, typographic knowledge, electronic knowledge: Speculations on the history of ownership," EJournal, volume 1, number 3 (November).

N.C. Burbules and B.C. Bruce, 1995. "This is not a paper," Educational Researcher, volume 24, number 8, pp. 12-18.

N.C. Burbules and T.A. Callister, Jr., 1996. "Knowledge at the crossroads: Some alternative futures of hypertext learning environments," Educational Theory, volume 46, number 1, pp. 23-50.

K. Burnett, 1993. "The scholar's rhizome: Networked communication issues," Arachnet Electronic Journal on Virtual Culture, volume 1, number 2 (April 21).

D. Chandler, 1997. "Writing oneself in cyberspace."

J.A. Cohen, 1993. "The Electronic library in higher education: An Overview and status report," Interpersonal Computing and Technology, volume 1, number 1 (January).

C. Day, 1994. "Pricing electronic products," Paper presented at the AAUP/ARL Symposium on Electronic Publishing (November).

C. Day, 1995. "Economics of electronic publishing," Journal of Electronic Publishing, volume 1.

J.B. Dilworth, 1992. "Credit, compensation and copyright: Owning knowledge and electronic networks," EJournal, (second supplement), volume 1, number 3-2 (September).

B. Duncan, 1997. "Hypertext and education: (Post?)Structural transformations," Philosophy of Education Society Yearbook.

L. Fillmore, 1995. "Internet: Literacy's last best hope," Paper presented at Ed-Media: The World Conference on Educational Multimedia and Hypermedia, Graz (21 June).

A.D. Gilbert, 1996. "The Virtual and the real in the idea of a university," Paper presented at the symposium on 'The Virtual University', University of Melbourne (21-22 November).

B. Green, 1995. "On compos(IT)ing: Writing differently in the post-age," Paper presented at the annual conference of the Australian Association for the Teaching of English, Sydney (January 13-16).

B. Green and C. Bigum, 1993. "Aliens in the classroom," Australian Journal of Education, volume 37, number 2, pp. 119-141.

B. Green and C. Bigum, 1996. "Hypermedia or media hype? New technologies and the future of literacy education," In: M. Anstey and G. Bull (editors), The Literacy Lexicon. London: Prentice-Hall.

C. Greenwood, 1993. Publish or perish: The Ethics of publishing in peer-reviewed journals," Media Information Australia,, volume 68, pp. 29-35.

J.L. Gresham, Jr.,1994. "From invisible college to cyberspace college: Computer conferencing and the transformation of informal scholarly communication networks," Interpersonal Computing and Technology, volume 2, number 4 (October), pp. 37-52.

J.-C. Guedon, 1994. "Why are electronic publications difficult to classify? The Orthogonality of print and digital media," In: Directory of Electronic Journals, Newsletters and Academic Discussion Lists (Association of Research Libraries), 4th edition.

S. Harnad, 1991. "Post-Gutenberg galaxy: the fourth revolution in the means of production of knowledge," Public-Access Computer Systems Review, volume 2, number 1, pp. 39-53.

S. Harnad, 1992. "Interactive publication: Extending the American Physical Society's discipline-specific model for electronic publishing," Serials Review, special issue on Economics Models for Electronic Publishing, pp. 58-61.

S. Harnad, 1995. "Electronic scholarly publication: quo vadis," Serials Review, volume 21, number 1, pp. 70-72.

S. Harnad, 1996. "Implementing peer review on the Net: Scientific quality control in scholarly electronic journals," In: R.P. Peek and G.B. Newby (editors). Scholarly Publishing: The Electronic Frontier. Cambridge, Mass.: MIT Press, pp. 103-118.

B.L. Hawkins, 1996. "Planning for the national electronic library," Educom Review, volume 31, number 3 (May/June).

B. Helstein, 1994. "Libraries: once and future," Interpersonal Computing and Technology, volume 2, number 4 (October), pp. 53-67.

B. Kahin, 1995. "Institutional and policy issues in the development of the digital library," Journal of Electronic Publishing, volume 1.

R. Kling and L. Covi, 1995. "Electronic journals and legitimate media in the systems of scholarly communication," The Information Society, volume 11, number 4, pp. 261-271.

E. Korthof, 1995. "Spamming and usenet culture," Bad Subjects, number 18.

G.P. Landow, 1992. Hypertext: The Convergence of Contemporary Critical Theory and Technology. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press.

R. Lanham, 1993. The Electronic Word: Democracy, Technology and the Arts. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

C. Lankshear, 1997. Changing Literacies. Buckingham: Open University Press.

C. Lankshear with M. Lawler, 1987. Literacy, Schooling and Revolution. London: Falmer Press.

J. Lemke, 1993. "Education, cyberspace, and change," Arachnet Electronic Journal on Virtual Culture, volume 1, number 1 (March 22).

J. Lemke, 1996. "Critical literacy for the multimedia future," Interpretations, volume 29, number 2, pp. 1-18..

T.W. Luke, 1996. "The Politics of cyberschooling at the virtual university," Paper presented at the symposium on 'The Virtual University', University of Melbourne, 21-22 November.

W.F. Morey, B. Binning and P. Combs, 1996. "Intellectual freedom in the virtual university," Revised version of a paper orginally presented at the Southwest Business Symposium, University of Central Oklahoma, Oklahoma City, 11-12 April.

A.M. Odlyzko, 1997. "The Economics of Electronic Journals," First Monday, volume 2, number 8 (August).

A.M. Odlyzko, 1994. "Tragic loss or good riddance? The impending demise of traditional scholarly journals," Surfaces, volume 4.

A. Okerson, 1991a. "The Electronic journal: What, whence, and when?," Public-Access Computer Systems Review, volume 2, number 1, pp. 5-24.

A. Okerson, 1991b. "Back to academia? The Case for American universities to publish their own research," Logos, volume 2, number 2, pp. 106-112.

A. Okerson, 1994. "Oh Lord, won't you buy me a Mercedes Benz: or, there is a there there," Surfaces, volume 4.

A. Okerson, 1996. "University libraries and scholarly communication," In: R. P. Peek and G. B. Newby (editors). Scholarly Publishing: The Electronic Frontier. Cambridge, Mass.: MIT Press, pp. 181-199.

R. P. Peek and J. N. Burstyn, 1991. "In pursuit of improved scholarly communications," In: J. N. Burstyn (editor). Desktop Publishing in the University. Syracuse, N.Y.: Syracuse University Press, pp. 99-120.

R. P. Peek and G. B. Newby (editors). Scholarly Publishing: The Electronic Frontier. Cambridge, Mass.: MIT Press.

J. Peters, 1996. "The Hundred years war started today: An Exploration of electronic peer review."

M. Peters and C. Lankshear, 1996. "Critical literacy and digital texts," Educational Theory, volume 46, number 1, pp. 51-70.

M. Peters and P. Roberts (editors), 1998. Virtual Technologies and Tertiary Education. Palmerston North: Dunmore Press.

P. E. Peters, 1995. "Networked intellectual property: Brain-ache of the decade," Educom Review, volume 30, number 3 (May/June).

B. Readings, 1994. "Caught in the Net: Notes from the electronic underground," Surfaces, volume 4, number 1, pp. 4-13.

M. M. Roberts, 1994. "Why is the Internet so cheap?," Educom Review, volume 29, number 6 (November/December).

P. Roberts, 1996. "A New academic medium? Scholarly publication and the promise of cyberspace," Sites, volume 33, pp. 68-86.

P. Roberts, 1997a. "Literacies in cyberspace," SET: Research Information for Teachers, Special issue on Language and Literacy, Item 3.

P. Roberts, 1997b. "Scholarly life in virtual universities," Keynote address at the AUSNZ conference on 'Virtual Technologies in Tertiary Education: A Vision for New Zealand?', University of Auckland, October.

P. Roberts, 1997c. "The Consequences and value of literacy: A Critical reappraisal," Journal of Educational Thought, volume 31, number 1, pp. 45-67.

P. Roberts, 1998. "The Crisis in scholarly publishing: Exploring electronic solutions," Access: Critical Perspectives on Cultural and Policy Studies in Education, volume 17, number 1, pp. 1-16.

S. Romano, 1996. "Writerly readers: Close readings of close relationships," Computers, Writing, Rhetoric and Literature, volume 2, number 1.

D. Rooks, 1993. "The Virtual library: Pitfalls, promises, and potential," Public-Access Computer Systems Review, volume 4, number 5, pp.22-29.

F. Rowland, 1994. "Electronic journals: Neither free nor easy," EJournal, volume 4, number 1.

M. Ryder, 1995. "Production and consumption of meaning: The Interplay between subject and object in open hypertext representation," Paper presented at the conference 'Semiotics as a Bridge Between the Humanities and the Sciences', Victoria College, University of Toronto, 2-5 November.

S. Saltrick, 1995. "The Pearl of great price: Copyright and authorship from the middle ages to the digital age," Educom Review, volume 30, number 3 (May/June).

D. Sewell, 1992. "The Usenet oracle: Virtual authors and network community," Ejournal, volume 2, number 5; see also 1997 revision of this article in First Monday.

M. Sosteric, 1996. "Electronic journals: The Grand information future?" Electronic Journal of Sociology, volume 2, number 2.

D.S. Stodolsky, 1993. "Consensus journals: invitational journals based upon peer review," Proceedings of the Nordic Conference on Scientific Journals, Olso: International Peace Research Institute.

D.S. Stodolsky, 1994. "Telematic journals and organizational control: Integrity, authority and self-regulation," Interpersonal Computing and Technology, volume 2, number 1 (January), pp. 50-63.

B. Street, 1984. Literacy in Theory and Practice. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

W.S. Strong, 1994. "Copyright in the new world of electronic publishing," Paper presented at the workshop Electronic Publishing Issues II, Association of American University Presses annual meeting, Washington, D.C. (17 June).

G. Taubes, 1996a. "Science journals go wired," Science, volume 271, number 5250 (9 February).

G. Taubes, 1996b. "Speed of publication - stuck in first gear," Science, volume 271, number 5250 (9 February).

S.G. Thatcher, 1995. "The Crisis in scholarly communication," Chronicle of Higher Education, (3 March), pp. B1-B2.

M. Tuttle, 1991. "From the editor," Newsletter on Serials Pricing Issues, NS 15 (12 December).

UCSB Library Newsletter for Faculty, 1996. "Why we buy fewer books and journals: The Continuing crisis in scholarly communication, part II," University of California at Santa Barbara (Spring)

J. Unsworth, 1996. "Electronic scholarship, or, scholarly publishing and the public," In: R. Finneran (editor). The Literary Text in the Digital Age. Ann Arbor, University of Michigan Press.

H.R. Varian, 1996. "The Information economy: How much will two bits be worth in the digital marketplace?" Educom Review, volume 31, number 1 (January/February).

T. Wilson, 1995. "In the beginning was the Word...": social and economic factors in scholarly electronic communication," Aslib Proceedings, volume 47, pp. 195-202.

Contents Index

Copyright © 1999, First Monday