The Pragmatics of Publishing a Scholarly Electronic Journal

R.G. Siemens
Department of English
University of Alberta
3221 W 11th Ave
Vancouver, BC V6K 2M9

The computer -- specifically, the recent advance in methods of electronic dissemination brought forth by recent computing technologies -- has been seen by some as a saviour to the scholarly publishing world. We need only consider the intellectual milieu that spawned the collection Scholarly Journals at the Crossroads: A Subversive Proposal for Electronic Publishing (O'Donnell and Okerson, eds.) some years ago, in 1995, to recognize this. The idea of the "subversive proposal" around which that collection was constructed was put forward several years earlier by Stevan Harnad, editor of the electronic journal Psycholoquy; given voice by many since its presentation, the subversive proposal is essentially this: instead of sending articles and book manuscripts to traditional academic journals and publishers, scholars should distribute their work free via the internet through electronic journals and scholar-managed archives.

Combined with advances in computing technology and infrastructure, as well as what we might refer to as the ongoing "technologising of the reader," such thinking has caused a fundamental shift in focus of discussions surrounding scholarly publishing in the electronic medium. On the whole, discussion on this topic is no longer concerned with questioning if such publication will, can, or should exist, nor does it today look to the future for such publication to arrive; rather, debate now concerns itself with issues that take for granted both the existence and the potentially positive role of electronic publications in the scholarly community. That said, discussion and debate rarely includes a treatment of the pragmatic necessities involved in establishing and maintaining those electronic publications.

My intention in this paper is, thus, not to map out the history of thoughts and ideas surrounding electronic publication, nor to provide a statement of its relevance. Rather, my paper focuses on something that is less often addressed: the more basic, but absolutely essential, activities necessary for one to publish electronically.

Drawing on my experience as founder (1994) and editor of the electronic journal Early Modern Literary Studies (EMLS), my talk will outline a number of pragmatic concerns and some specific difficulties inherent in the production of a scholarly electronic journal. Topics to be covered in my paper include the establishment of the journal; the editorial efforts involved; distribution of work, and working with a widely-dispersed editorial group; submissions, peer-review, and publication preparations; the evolution of our publication and data-management techniques over a 5 year period; markup; how EMLS monitors readership; how we respond to readership patterns and reader feedback on the site; the ability to sustain such an electronic journal, long-term; some impediments to electronic publication, at the local level and beyond; economic and funding considerations; issues of indexing and copyright; and others. More generally, I will also address several concerns that become apparent when one explicitly considers the pragmatic needs of the scholarly community that such publication seeks, ideally, to serve.

The journal, EMLS, has as its focus the literature in English of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. Entering its fifth year of publication in 1999, it has served well in excess of half a million 'documents' -- papers, reviews, notes, announcements, and so forth -- to a group consisting of some 3,500 regular readers and ten times that number in occasional browsers; readers access the journal via the internet, at , as well as its mirror site at Oxford U and its archive at the National Library of Canada. EMLS is indexed by the MLA International Bibliography, the Modern Humanities Research Association's Annual Bibliography of English Language and Literature, and a number of other services and databases.


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