FYI: Canada's Scholarly Journals

From: Stevan Harnad <>
Date: Tue, 18 Jul 2000 18:27:15 +0100

> A single window on Canada's scholarly journals
> Ottawa, June 21, 2000) -- The National Research Council of Canada's
> NRC Research Press, le Centre Érudit de l'Université de Montréal and
> the University of New Brunswick Electronic Text Centre have formed a
> partnership to make available through a single Web site every
> peer-reviewed scholarly journal in Canada that has an electronic
> version.

Bravo Canada! Online and available is better than offline and unavailable.

But alas this is still just a portal to toll-gates...

> "The aim is to create a 'Canadian portal to scholarly publishing,' a
> central point on the Internet where one can have access to all the
> scholarly journals published electronically in Canada," says Aldyth
> Holmes, Director of NRC Research Press. "The goal is to promote
> accessibility to Canadian research and to increase the visibility of
> Canadian scholarship to the rest of the world," says Holmes.

One can have access if one's institution can and does pay for access.

> All publishers of scholarly electronic publications in Canada will
> be invited to participate. Several major universities and scientific
> societies have already indicated an interest in participating, says
> Holmes. There are currently about 200 journals available
> electronically in Canada.

What does participating mean? Paying for access, presumably (for users) and
being paid (for publishers). That is all well and good, but it simply
entrenches further a system of access barriers that is no longer necessary
or justified.

This is a give-away literature, from its authors' point of view, unlike
other literatures such as books. Canada should ask itself whether it wishes
to collaborate with the access-barrier system or to help eliminate it.

> "This initiative will allow Canada's scholarly journals to leave
> their isolation, to gain access to professional means of publishing
> and distribution, and to join a national and international network,"
> says Gerard Boismenu, Scientific Director of Les Presses de
> l'Université de Montréal and le Centre Érudit.

Online accessibility is always beneficial, but most of the important
journals are already available online (for a fee) and they are indeed
already being aggregated in portals. Hence this new online aggregator
at most keeps Canadian journals on a par with them in that respect. As
long as the access is still toll-gated, there will be no differential
advantage to Canadian journals.

[Are Canadian journals "isolated"? How? Why? A high quality scholarly
journal is presumably dedicated to a subject matter, not to a
geographic region (unless its subject matter happens to be a geographic
region); the quality comes from the editorial board, referees, and
authorship; their composition is based on scholarly merit, not
citizenship. Knowledge has no borders.]

> John Teskey, director of libraries at the University of New
> Brunswick, adds that the portal to Canadian scholarly publishing
> will allow for electronic citation-linking - each reference in an
> electronic journal will have a direct link to the original article,
> where applicable. "This project will put Canada at the forefront of
> scholarly electronic publishing," says Teskey.

Yes, but this will only be useful for the parochial citations that go only
from one Canadian journal in this collection to another Canadian journal in
this collection: Is that a natural scholarly border of some sort?

> "Our intention is to have a prototype site up and running by the end
> of this year," says Teskey. "We will be looking for partners
> throughout 2001, and we hope to engage in joint marketing of all the
> electronic journals on the site by 2002."

There are plenty of online, for-fee aggregators materializing currently
all over the world, and they will no doubt be happy to interlink with
this one: Their goal, though unstated, is a "Click-Through Monopoly,"
whereby the only way to access the online journal literature will be by
e-commerce-based fee agreements
(Subscription/Site-License/Pay-Per-View, S/L/P), much as it always has

In my opinion, this form of online access is a Trojan Horse. Caveat

> The Canadian portal to scholarly publishing is an outgrowth of the
> Virtuoso project, which brought together not-for-profit publishers
> to share information, solve common problems and work on joint
> development. Funding for the preliminary work on the Canadian portal
> to scholarly publishing is being supplied by the Social Sciences and
> Humanities Research Council, a federal granting agency; and Quebec's
> Fonds FCAR (Fonds pour la Formation de Chercheurs et l'Aide à la
> Recherche).

Nonprofit publishers are always more attuned to scholarship's real
interests than commercial publishers, but as long as they rely on the
S/L/P toll-booth model, their interests will remain in conflict with those
of those of their authors.

The conflict of interest can only be resolved if S/L/P toll-booths are
eliminated entirely, and publishers downsize to providing only their
essential Quality-Control and Certification (QC/C) SERVICE, paid for
out of the institutional S/L/P savings, rather than providing the
now-redundant PRODUCT, online papers, currently paid for out of
institutional S/L/P.

The papers should instead be self-archived by their authors in their
institutional eprint archives <>, which can then
be aggregated through their compliance with the Santa-Fe Convention
<> into global, barrier-free, borderless
Open Archives, accessible free for everyone, everywhere, forever.

> NRC Research Press is Canada's foremost publisher of peer-reviewed
> scientific information and is one of the most advanced electronic
> publishers in the world. All 14 of its scientific journals are
> published in an electronic format.

Along with countless other publishers whose journals are now also available
in an electronic format! The advanced step now is not merely going online,
but liberating the literature from the redundant and counterproductive
access barriers that are still in place.

> Le Centre Érudit de l'Université de Montréal is a major electronic
> publisher, with 10 journals in a wide range of fields particularly
> in the social sciences and humanities, published in both a printed
> version and an electronic version based on XML (eXtensible Markup
> Language), a format for organizing, retrieving and archiving data
> on the Web.

Again, admirable. XML is grand. But not new. And not liberating in and of

> The University of New Brunswick is a leader in electronic collection
> development and is active in researching metadata, the categorizing
> and arranging of large amounts of electronic information.

Commendable: But why is it making common cause with the maintenance of
needless access-barriers to give-away papers, instead of working to
eliminate them?

> For more information, contact:

> Elizabeth Katz, NRC Research Press
> (613) 993-3854

> Guylaine Beaudry, le Centre Érudit de l'Université de Montréal
> (514) 343-6111 #4711

> Alan Burk, University of New Brunswick Electronic Text Centre
> (506) 453-4740


For more information on how to free the refereed literature, see the
archive of the ongoing discussion on freeing access to the refereed
journal literature at the American Scientist September Forum (98 & 99 &

Stevan Harnad
Professor of Cognitive Science
Department of Electronics and phone: +44 23-80 592-582
             Computer Science fax: +44 23-80 592-865
University of Southampton
Highfield, Southampton
Received on Mon Jan 24 2000 - 19:17:43 GMT

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