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Forum to explore scholarship in the digital age

Conference organizers Sarah Forbes, left, and Leslie Chan.

The revolution in digital communications has opened new opportunities for researchers, educators and students to communicate and learn. But it’s also introduced technical and legal challenges that have to be overcome if the digital promise is to be kept.

These issues will be discussed at an April 4 forum at UTSC called Knowledge Dissemination and Production in the Digital Age. Organized by Leslie Chan, senior lecturer in the department of social sciences, and Sarah Forbes, scholarly communication librarian, the forum will consider how new technology is changing both the production and dissemination of scholarly knowledge.

 “As a public institution of learning, our goal is to create knowledge and to share knowledge. If our abilities to do that are being hampered by unreasonable cost and permission barriers, what can we do about it?” asks Chan. “The purpose of the conference is to say that we need to have a conversation about these issues and to take actions to ensure that our collective knowledge is accessible to all.”

Digital technology promises to lower the costs and increase the ease of scholarly communications. But it also raises questions about copyright holders’ rights, and about who, if anyone, should control the dissemination of scholarly literature.

Some scientific publishers have been criticized for charging too much for electronic access to their journals, or for insisting that libraries buy entire packages of journals rather than merely the journals they want. Librarians are also worried about digital “locks” that would control who can access the information even after it’s been acquired by the library.

Other publishers face boycotts from academics who feel that some journals are enjoying excessive profits from their volunteer labor as researchers, editors and reviewers.

The keynote speaker for the conference is Heather Joseph, executive director of the Scholarly Publishing and Academic Resources Coalition (SPARC), a coalition of research libraries whose goal is to correct what they see as imbalances in the scholarly publishing system.

Other speakers will include Malcolm Campbell, UTSC vice-principal, research; Rick Halpern, dean and vice-principal, academic; and William Bowen, chair of UTSC’s department of humanities.

The symposium is generously supported by the Dean’s Office and by the Digital Scholarship Unit at the UTSC Library.

You can read Leslie Chan’s commentary about scholarly access issues here.

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