Recently a colleague was searching for an earthquake engineering journal article not in our library. The research reported in the journal article was survey results conducted under federal government sponsorship. The citation and link to the scientific article, published in Nuclear Technology in 2011, could be found but without a personal or institutional journal subscription, acquisition represented an expensive one-time purchase for an article of possibly marginal additional value to the research enterprise at hand. What to do? Is buying articles individually cost-effective over time?
For scholarly journals, measures of real value are often hard to ascertain. The Thomson Reuters Web of Knowledge “Impact Factor” (a ratio of citations received to the number of articles published during a selected time period) and related measures are frequently used to rank journal importance but access costs, price per article, scholarly heft and reputation, readership, Google Scholar citation counts, local faculty involvement in the journal, etc. can all provide other indicators of a journal’s value. The “Impact Factor” rankings may encourage self-citation in some large journals and not all journals [notably some non-English journals published outside North America and Western Europe] are included in impact assessments. Do journals really matter for research anymore?
Homepage for ANS journal Nuclear Technology
Today’s availability of instant, low-cost electronic publication; large and generally low-cost or open-access electronic back files of journals; open public-access scholarly publication repositories (such as the University of California e-scholarship or NISEE’s e-library; growing data libraries (for example in earthquake engineering research - NEEShub); increased online education with inclusive learning resources (Coursera and EdX for example); make the economy of scholarly journals hard to understand. Why do scholarly journals in earthquake engineering persist and multiply? Are these journals of enduring value?
Part of the answer to journal persistence must be that a major function of research universities is to create knowledge and to disseminate this knowledge through teaching and publication. Research productivity and academic reputation are frequently measured by publication accomplishment, – i.e., peer-reviewed journal publications. Scholarly journals must provide an effective research communication function for those who generate and consume research. But these journals are adapting new technologies to this purpose and can act as for-profit, scholarly article e-repositories rather than traditional journals. Do the journals persist for more than simple economic gain?
Looking more closely at some scholarly journal homepages suggests another measure of journal value. The previously-mentioned Nuclear Technology journal homepage is simple, principally offering membership access and social network presence for the American Nuclear Society (ANS) knowledge base. Only the abstracts for the journal are available to the uninitiated and to search engines. The journal homepage offers select access to content beyond the homepage through membership and subscription. This homepage even advertises possible careers in the “#1 ranked federal employer, U.S-NRC”.
Homepage of Earthquake Engineering & Structural Dynamics
Compare this selected-access oriented page from the ANS with a leading, commercially-published, journal focused exclusively on earthquake engineering: Earthquake Engineering and Structural Dynamics
. This journal homepage also provides intellectual social membership opportunities in the form of quick access to “most-accessed” articles, “most-cited” articles, “latest” articles; a “new issues and article alerting service”; a “career” search. The names of the journal’s three distinguished co-editors are provided. The journal’s Impact Factor is given; a membership or subscriber login for further access is presented. Visitors are provided notification of the journal’s standing as the publication of the International Association of Earthquake Engineering
Scholarly journals (in earthquake engineering at least) may persist despite lower-cost research communication alternatives because these journals offer a publication platform that boasts an exclusive confederacy of scholarship as a vehicle for research accomplishment. Readers and writers are members of the confederacy. This is like a social media model of knowledge dissemination. Scholarly journals seem to address successfully the quest for belonging to a knowledge network as clearly as communicating knowledge and research insight.