Conference on Scholarly Communication

Report on Proceedings

April 30, 1997

Return to Scholars' Forum


Caltech has taken an important leadership role in advancing the progress of scholarly communication. On March 25, 1997, it convened a 2 day conference of university leaders to open a dialogue around key issues, to initiate planning for scholarly communication in the 21st century, and to consider what joint undertakings might be feasible or beneficial.

The future of open, effective scientific discourse is being widely debated. And while projects exists in "digital libraries" and "electronic publishing", little, if anything, has been done to consider the fundamentals of how scholars communicate research results or how new network technology may be applied to enhance this process. The Caltech conference, co-sponsored by the Engineering Information Foundation, endeavored to move the research community from debate to action.

Until recently the process of scholarly communication among research universities has been so fundamental as to be taken for granted. Now, the emergence of powerful electronic technology, coupled with the explosion of new knowledge has stimulated concern for the future exchange of research information. Conferees actively worked towards devising effective, forward-looking solutions.


Conference Outline

The challenge put before the scholars and university decision makers who gathered at Caltech was to define the basic elements of research communication, and to devise strategies leading to a new model. Selected leaders in the debate about the future of scholarly communication from research universities and scholarly societies restated the central issues listed below in the opening presentations. The four speakers were invited from among those who are actively contributing to the published discussion of scholarly communication. Panels comprised university provosts and representatives from scholarly societies. Then the 55 conferees representing 29 universities participated in facilitated work groups to consider options for networked scholarly communication that would exploit emerging technologies beyond the print paradigm and current work on the digital library and at the same time could be broadly-based among research universities or within specific disciplines. Closing general discussions involved presenting proposals and reaching consensus on implementation strategies.

Topics included:

  1. Enhancing the communication of scholarly results.
  2. Maintaining the integrity of digital information.
  3. Providing robust archives of the scholarly record.
  4. The challenge to university libraries.
  5. How departments and fields evaluate scholars.
  6. The role of the scholarly societies.

The featured speakers were:

Stevan Harnad, Professor of Psychology and Director of the Cognitive Sciences Centre at University of Southampton, UK: "Subversive Proposal: A New paradigm for Scholarly Communication."

Cliff Lynch, Director of the University of California, Office of the President, Division of Library Automation: "Technical Considerations in Maintaining the Integrity of the Scholarly Record."

Anne Okerson, Assistant, University Librarian at Yale University: "Intellectual Property Issues in the Electronic Age."

Larry Hurtado, Professor, New Testament Language, Literature and Theology, in the University of Edinburgh: "Building Academic Consortia for Networked Scholarly Communication."

The panel of university provosts included:

David Aston, Rice University

Stanley Chodorow, University of Pennsylvania

Nelson Markley, University of Maryland

Jeremiah Ostriker, Princeton University

Charles Phelps, University of Rochester

Robert Ringel, Purdue University

Steven Koonin, Caltech, Moderator

The panel representing the professional societies included:

Martin Blume, American Physical Society

Mark Daskin, Northwestern University

Harry Gilmer, Scholar’s Press

Charles Phelps, University of Rochester

Richard Flagan, Caltech, Moderator

The following notes were compiled from comments made during panel discussions and the issues and solutions addressed by the three work groups. Overheads prepared by work groups for the wrap-up general session are included.


Future Plans

During the final session, attendees attained an informal consensus around the following strategic objectives.

1) The AAU would play a central role in leading member universities towards forming a multi-national consortium focused on key issues such as certification and reliable electronic access to scholarly results

2) Attendees would stimulate further discussion of key issues on their campuses and among themselves.

3) Academic administrators would encourage and support promising initiatives and share outcomes with attendees.


Anne M. Buck
University Librarian
Conference Co-Chair


Additional summary of conference:  Phelps, C. (1997). The Future of Scholarly Communication: A Proposal for Change. Retrieved October 18, 2004 from