Electronic Publishing in Canada

By Peek, Robin | Information Today, May 1997 | Go to article overview

Electronic Publishing in Canada


Peek, Robin, Information Today


The future of scholarly communication, or more specifically, scholarly publishing, is being debated within the academic disciplines and across international borders. Although the Internet is a worldwide publishing revolution, the migration to an electronic means of disseminating scholarly works will probably take place on a country-by-country basis. Resources, copyright issues, and infrastructure will all influence which countries will take leadership positions and which countries will follow. A recent national conference held in Vancouver, BC, called "Scholarly Communication in the Next Millennium " illustrated the issues faced by Canada as it charts its future in electronic publishing. This conference took place March 5 through 8 at Simon Fraser University.

The conference had a single-track series of presentations for three days, and on the last day the conference attendees broke into working groups. Before the conference, all attendees were sent a copy of the final report of a task force on academic libraries and scholarly communication, jointly sponsored by the Association of Universities and Colleges of Canada/ Canadian Association of Research Libraries (AUCC/CARL). The report, "The Changing World of Scholarly Communication: Challenges and Choices for Canada" (ftp://homer.aucc.ca/pub/ carl/aucccarl.htm), was published in November 1996.

This document was not only mentioned throughout the conference, the task of the working groups was to respond to the implementation of the 28 recommendations for both local and national actions included in the report. Important Themes

I found that there were several general themes mentioned throughout the conference, as well as in the report, which demonstrate how Canada could take a leadership role in electronic publishing. One factor that differentiates Canada from the United States lies in the nature of its college and university infrastructure. Canada's higher education system is primarily public (funded by federal and provincial governments) and has few private institutions. Such a funding and governance structure could allow Canada to more easily create more centralized functions, such as creating a university-controlled common site for the formatting and dissemination of scholarly works, one of the recommendations of the report. Canada also has fewer institutions of higher education than the U.S., which could facilitate coordination activities.

Another factor that is contributing to Canada's interest in exploring electronic publishing of its journals is the condition of the country's devalued dollar, which makes the rising costs of print publications purchased from the U.S. and Europe even more pronounced. An issue frequently discussed by the presenters was the relationship of Canadian scholars and publishers. For example, David Beattie, director of SchoolNet, Industry Canada, and David McCallum, consultant, Industry Canada, argued that declining government support was imperiling paper-based Canadian journals and that researchers were increasingly forced to publish outside of the country. In other words, Canadian scholars are exporting their scholarship for free, which the Canadian government has frequently paid for, and in turn Canada has to pay to import it back. While it could be argued that this is a similar fate to scholarship in the U.S. or certain countries in Europe, the difference lies in that this model of export/import does not return publishing and/or tax revenues to the government of Canada. …

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