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Scholarly Communication: About


What is Scholarly Communication?

Scholarly communication is the process by which scholars create, evaluate, and share the results of their research and creative work. In recent years, traditional forms of scholarly communication have become less economically sustainable as access restrictions and the high price of journals present barriers to maintaining an open and cost-effective system. Today, with common acceptance of digital publishing, scholarly communication concerns have broadened beyond journal costs to include issues affecting content creation and disseminaton. Below, we introduce some of the most prominent issues in scholarly communication today.



The United States Copyright Office defines copyright as "a form of protection provided by the laws of the United States (title 17, U. S. Code) to the authors of 'original works of authorship,' including literary, dramatic, musical, artistic, and certain other intellectual works. This protection is available to both published and unpublished works."  Understanding copyright is not easy, and it is even more complicated in the digital age. In scholarly communication, copyright is further complicated by issues such as the state of corporate scholarly publishing, tenure promotion and review process, and the alternatives to traditional copyright afforded by the internet and digital technology.


Author Rights

Provided it meets basic thresholds for originality, as soon as you begin creating a work in any fixed medium (including an electronic medium), the work is copyrighted and no other actions are necessary for it to be protected. But, when you sign a contract to publish that work, you may be asked to transfer your copyright. Many academic publishers require that authors sign away the rights to their work, although this doesn't always have to be the case. Authors can retain the rights to their work in several ways: by using Creative Commons license, by publishing in open access journals, or by negotiating an author's addendum to the traditional scholarly publishing contract.


Open Access

Open access to scholarly literature and research, as defined by the Budapest Open Access Initiative, means "its free availability on the public internet, permitting any users to read, download, copy, distribute, print, search, or link to the full texts of these articles, crawl them for indexing, pass them as data to software, or use them for any other lawful purpose, without financial, legal, or technical barriers other than those inseparable from gaining access to the internet itself. The only constraint on reproduction and distribution, and the only role for copyright in this domain, should be to give authors control over the integrity of their work and the right to be properly acknowledged and cited."


OA Fund

The Northwestern Open Access Fund is a pilot program to support Northwestern Scholars who wish to make their journal articles openly available immediately upon publication, and to support Gold open access publishers around the world. This pilot fund will also be used to assess the need for such a fund at Northwestern.



Self-archiving is a strategy used by authors to make their scholarly works available on the open web--to provide open access. In this context, the contents are usually journal articles, conference or technical reports, theses and dissertations, or data sets. A scholarly work is self-archived if it is posted to a personal or professional web site, deposited in an institutional repository, or contributed by the author to a disciplinary archive such as the Social Science Research Network (SSRN), arXiv, or PubMed Central.


Data Management

The National Science Foundation (NSF) requires that all grant proposals include a supplementary Data Management Plan (DMP) of no more than two pages. Additionally, the National Institutes of Health (NIH) requires researchers to share their data and many granting organizations are considering adopting DMP requirements similar to the NSF. Increasingly, more funding agencies, including the National Endowment for the Humanities, are requiring data management plans.

Digital Scholarship Services

Northwestern University Libraries


John Dorr
Head, Digital Scholarship Services

Cunera Buys
Data Management Librarian

Josh Honn
Digital Humanities Librarian

Liz Hamilton
Copyright Librarian