The library’s role in scholarly communication

Over the last several months I’ve become increasingly interested in the role that libraries and librarians play in scholarly communications. Scholarly communication is, according to Wikipedia, “the process by which academics, scholars, and researchers share and publish their research findings so that they are available to the wider academic community and beyond.” In short, scholarly communication is, as the name suggests, the communication of scholarship.

If we think about the research lifecycle from the outside, the communication of scholarship seems fairly simple and straightforward. Scholars conduct their research, write up their results, and submit a draft to a journal. The journal, run by a publisher, manages peer review, page layouts, and the printing and distribution of the journal issue. Finally, libraries purchase journals and make them available to their patrons.

While this description of the research process probably gets some things right, the contemporary scholarly communications ecosystem is far more complicated than it suggests. One of the most exciting things about this complexity is that it offers all sorts of ways for libraries and librarians to support and participate in the dissemination of research. Many libraries are capitalizing on these opportunities by developing units dedicated to the support of scholarly communications and publishing. Below are a few ways in libraries and scholarly communications librarians are getting involved.

Author’s Rights

Often scholarly journals ask authors to sign agreements that have a major effect on what sorts or rights, if any, authors’ retain to their work after the agreement is put in place. While these agreements can vary from publisher to publisher, sometimes authors, by signing these, effectively relinquish all rights to their articles to journals or publishers. In light of this, some libraries are engaged in author’s rights campaigns, to help researchers better understand what rights they have to their works, and how they can effectively exercise these rights in deciding where, and how, to publish. Sara Benson, Copyright Librarian at the University of Illinois, has put together a wonderful libguide with lots of information on this topic.

Research Data Management

Traditionally, scholarly communication occurred through the media of journal articles, monographs, and conference papers and posters. While these forms of communication are still the gold standard, recently research data has begun to be viewed as a central product of research. While various factors have contributed to this, perhaps the most notable is the 2013 White House Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP) memo that directed federal agencies to create policies to make both the publications and data that result from federally funded research publicly available. Many libraries are now providing different levels of support for research data management, from providing consulting services to developing repositories where data can be make available and preserved. The Michigan State University Library has a page listing resources for research data management.


Publishing has traditionally been in the purview of, well, publishers. While I don’t expect this to change any time soon, some libraries have started publishing programs and services to fill some gaps left by commercial publishers. What these services amount to can vary a lot across different institutions, as they generally aim to support local needs. They can range from support for starting a digital journal to print on demand services for rare or out of print materials. To learn more about library publishing efforts, I’d recommend visiting the Library Publishing Coalition’s website.

These are just a few examples of how libraries and librarians are participating in the world of scholarly communication. Does your program offer any courses in this area?

Ian Harmon, Consulting Editor, is an MSLIS student at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign and a Graduate Assistant in the Scholarly Commons, the University Library’s digital scholarship center. Prior to entering library school, he earned a PhD in Philosophy at Illinois and taught philosophy at Rice University. Ian is interested in digital humanities and scholarly communication, specifically the ways in which technology impacts research and the dissemination of scholarship. He enjoys teaching, and hopes to work in an academic setting that will allow him to work directly with students and other researchers. Ian is also passionate about the role that libraries serve as central institutions of the public sphere and supporters of the common good. Follow him on twitter @harmoniant.

3 replies

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