Columbia University to Evaluate the Viability of Online Scholarly Publications

Article excerpt

Columbia University has announced a study to evaluate the viability of online scholarly publications that its proponents hope will answer the following questions:

* Will online publications replace print?

* Do scholars need or want instant access to scholarly information?

* Can online publications be financially viable?

According to the announcement, the answers to these questions may now be revealed through the evaluation of current and future projects of Columbia University's Electronic Publishing Initiative at Columbia (EPIC), considered to be the first university center devoted to fostering the development and creation of a new generation of online scholarly publications.

Thanks to a $530,000 grant from The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, EPIC will track and evaluate the use and costs of projects over the next 3 years and in doing so may create a model for evaluation of online publications that may prove helpful to others developing similar projects. For online publishing, an emerging field, EPIC project evaluation will help the creators of online publications to better understand how the use of digital publication affects both qualitatively and quantitatively the research and teaching patterns of scholars and students. It will also help them better understand the financial viability of projects and assist in developing long-term financial models for completed projects.

The evaluation of new projects is pivotal but often gets dropped as project funds are depleted. The Andrew W. Mellon grant will ensure that evaluation is built into the EPIC process.

In addition to future projects, the $530,000 award will be used to fund the evaluation of three EPIC projects, each in different phases of development: Columbia International Affairs Online (CIAO), an interdisciplinary publication devoted to the field of international affairs; Columbia Earthscape, a resource in the earth sciences; and the Guttenberg-e, the American Historical Association Electronic Book Prize Project, a publication of award-winning dissertations in history and EPIC's first production in the humanities.

"EPIC offers the perfect test bed to evaluate digital publications," said Kate Wittenberg, director for EPIC. "We made a bold move to found a center dedicated to digital publishing and are in effect now creating products that were tailor-made to be evaluated. With projects at key moments in their development, we can now make the most of evaluation, for the benefit of our peers in online scholarly publishing."

Columbia's venture into digital publishing was a response to the unfavorable economic climate for traditional scholarly publications, a climate that plagues not-for-profit publishers and libraries and reduces publishing options for authors, thus limiting the availability and threatening the dissemination of important scholarly work. …