Scholarly Communication Basics

Scholarly communication is the system through which research and other scholarly works are created, reviewed, disseminated, and preserved. Learn more about scholarly communication issues that interest you.

What is Open Access? | Disciplinary Differences | More Information


What Is Open Access?

Open Access (OA) refers to scholarly, research, or other creative material that is freely available online with no barriers to access and that one may be able to reuse and remix. While the OA movement is generally focused on journal articles, it increasingly applies to data, theses, dissertations, monographs, book chapters, and other media, as well.

What are the benefits of open access?

Rapid and broad sharing of knowledge via open access venues promotes innovation, the creation of culture, and economic growth. For example, scientists and researchers who have immediate access to time-sensitive publications may find new treatments for critically ill patients, information to detect or respond quickly to natural disasters, and preemptive solutions to economic crises. Whatever the situation or reason, knowledge that is current, scholarly, and made freely available online, will result in the greatest public benefit.

Scholarship that is less time sensitive will endure to be easily discovered and rediscovered through online tools that continue to increase in sophistication. Moreover, long-term preservation is more likely for digital content than content fixed in media that are susceptible to physical environmental fluctuations (like, paper).

On a personal level, open access publishing exposes your work to a limitless audience. In addition to your peers, there potentially will be new users, both lay and academic, who will discover and experience your work. Your audience, in turn, has the opportunity to provide you with significant feedback, making your research richer and more meaningful.

Green or Gold open access publishing models

For journal publishing, there are generally two paths to open access, Green and Gold.  In the Green OA model, an article is made openly available at some point after formal publication; whereas, in the Gold model, an article is freely available without delay upon publication.

Green Open Access self-archiving – the publisher allows authors to self-archive a version of the published work for free public use in their institutional repository, such as Mason Archival Repository Service (MARS; mars.gmu.edu). Learn more about archiving work in MARS…

Gold Open Access publishing – the work is initially published as freely available without access restrictions. There are various business approaches to support this model, including fees for authors to submit to a journal. Learn more about open access publishing…


Disciplinary Differences

There are significant disciplinary differences in approaches to scholarly communication, in general, and to open-access journal publishing, in particular. Researchers in science, technology, engineering, and medicine are frequently grant-funded and, consequently, may expend large sums on staff, equipment, services, consulting, etc. Typically these researchers design and execute tightly focused empirical and quantitative studies and generally place a high priority on timely publication of findings in journals.

Scholars in the arts and humanities, on the other hand, seldom receive large research grants and, thus, spend relatively small amounts of money. These scholars conduct investigations that are often of a historical and hermeneutical nature, using primary source materials while engaging in significant secondary writing. Usually they consider the scholarly monograph to be of more influence and impact than the journal article, although the latter venue is significant and dominates scholarly output in these fields. Currency is important to humanities writers, of course, but so is historical context, and discourse advancing knowledge on humanities topics often takes place over a period of years.

The disciplinary differences mentioned are reflected in the world of open-access journals. STM (science-technology-medicine) publishing traditionally took place in print journals produced by a handful of large for-profit publishers with expensive infrastructure paid for by subscriptions. These publishers have expanded their offerings to include online publications via subscription (toll-access). As they have come to realize that open access publishing models appeal to the researchers on whom they rely for content, for-profit open access publishers seek to cover the related costs of their corporate infrastructures by charging fees to authors. Hence, the emergence of the “article processing fee.”

Humanities and arts print journals have traditionally been fairly low budget to produce and low cost to subscribe to, in comparison with those in the sciences. These journals have generally relied heavily on the volunteer effort of scholars to manage the content and the referee process through advisory boards and editorial staff. Usually academics, these “volunteers” provide this service to their disciplines, which was and is recognized and supported by their home universities.

Most of the peer-reviewed journals in the arts and humanities produced by profit or non-profit corporate publishers (usually in collaboration with scholarly societies) now offer both print and online subscriptions (toll-access). These enterprises have signaled resistance to movement toward an author-pays OA model because few humanities authors would likely pay such a fee. The collegial nature of humanities scholarship, its tradition of volunteerism, and the relatively low cost of digital publishing have made possible the emergence of hundreds of born-digital, open access journals, including many of high reputation and clearly demonstrated sustainability.

The majority of refereed OA journals in the arts and humanities do not charge an author fee. A fee to publish is the rare exception rather than the rule, unlike the STM disciplines. However, the technical infrastructure for these freely available arts and humanities journals is most often financially supported by a host university or scholarly organization as part of its academic and professional mission.

Typical characteristics of disciplines

Physical & Life Sciences

  • Urban
    • Many people working on same topic
    • Can have current collaborators from all across the world
  • Fast publishing
    • Highly competitive
    • Need quick ways to getting the work out there
      • Conference papers
      • Sharing work online

Arts & Humanities

  • Rural
    • Few people working on same topic
    • May be the only person working on this topic
  • Slow publishing
    • Pressure to publish not as time sensitive as physical & life sciences
    • Have opportunity to develop ideas and concepts into the longer-form monograph
        • Turn over time from writing/editing to publishing can be five years

Outline excerpted from: Kingsley, Daniel. “The changing nature of scholarly communciation.” Digital Humanities Australia 2012 – Building Mapping Connecting. PowerPoint. 2012. 28-30 March 2012. Accessed via http://hdl.handle.net/1885/8958


More About Scholarly Communication

  • ACRL Scholarly Communication Tool Kit – Its primary purpose is to assist librarians in (1) integrating a scholarly communication perspective into library operations and programs and (2) preparing presentations on scholarly communication issues for administrators, faculty, staff, students, or other librarians.
  • Association of Research Libraries (ARL): Reshaping Scholarly Communication – The ARL Scholarly Communication program articulates the dynamic system of scholarly communication, encourages the creation and implementation of new models for scholarly exchange that build on the widespread adoption of digital technologies, advocates for improved terms and conditions under which content is made available, and establishes alliances and develops relationships that promote open collaboration among stakeholders in the scholarly communication system.
  • Open Access Directory (OAD) – A wiki maintained by the Open Access community that provides information on topics related to Open Access.
  • Open Access Scholarly Information Sourcebook (OASIS) – Aims to provide an authoritative ‘sourcebook’ on Open Access, covering the concept, principles, advantages, approaches and means to achieving it. The site highlights developments and initiatives from around the world, with links to diverse additional resources and case studies.
  • OpenDOAR – A directory of academic open access repositories that allows users to search for repositories and repository contents.
  • Scholarly Communication Column in C&RL News – Designed to highlight issues related to scholarly communication and publishing to stimulate conversation and exchange of information across campuses and among colleagues.
  • ROARMAP – (The Registry of Open Access Repositories Mandatory Archiving Policies) an international registry that charts the growth of open-access mandates adopted by universities, research institutions, and research funders that require their researchers to provide open access to their peer-reviewed research articles by depositing them in an open access repository.