Policy Recommendations IV

Virginia Tech Cyberschool

"Developing a VT Digital Press for the University"

Len Hatfield and Timothy W. Luke
Coordinators, Cyberschool
August 6, 1997

During the Spring 1997 semester, the Cyberschool faculty discussed the issues surrounding the mandatory requirement in the Graduate School of submitting theses and dissertations electronically for digital archiving and distribution. In addition, the Cyberschool I and II Coordinators--Tim Luke and Len Hatfield--participated in the campus forum on electronics theses and dissertations (ETD), which was staged by the Center for Science and Technology Studies on April 5, 1997. As a result of these discussions, we want to recommend the University establish a new kind of academic publishing operation, a peer-reviewed, web-based digital press, to support Information Age scholarship.

At this juncture, most master's and doctoral candidates are anxious about the ETD process because many print publishers now regard any electronic publishing of graduate research projects as a prior publication. Therefore, they will not accept ETDs for professional review at their print journals, monograph series or book publishing houses. This response adversely affects Virginia Tech's graduate students as academic professionals who want to begin accumulating refereed publications, and as scholarly researchers who wish to circulate their research findings as quickly and widely as possible among their peers. While the decision to impose this mandatory requirement was necessary from the perspective of the Graduate School, this necessity is proving harmful to graduate students in several of the University's master's and doctoral programs. Adoption of new, flexible rules for releasing ETDs to the larger world at staggered times and with greater or less scope have helped, but these policies only respond to the dictates of print publishing practices, and don't begin building the foundation for the new forms of publishing that are emerging in the digital domain.

Consequently, the Cyberschool faculty believe that the University should leverage its innovative ETD practices in another set of creative moves, namely, establishing a completely digital, web-based press. Eventually encompassing the existing Scholarly Publications Project, this operation could provide fully refereed, rigorously edited, and professionally legitimated publishing outlets for Virginia Tech graduate students as well as the graduates of other institutions in the larger ETD consortium around the nation. This would require a series of periodical publications in several disciplines as well as a sample of book-length studies in any discipline the press chooses to highlight. Existing on-line journals now published at Virginia Tech could be brought under the wing of the digital press, and the University also could begin contracting with various print publications to issue digital web-based versions of their journals.

Implementing these recommendations as soon as possible requires some definite decisions to be made soon. The editorial focus, staffing, and policies of the digital press would need to be resolved in fairly short order. In turn, the technical support capabilities, financial basis, and physical location of the digital press staff also would need to be determined. Once these questions were answered, however, this move should produce many useful benefits for the University. These would include:

1) Scholarly and Scientific Prestige: Creating the first all digital web-based university press in the nation, if not the world, will once again demonstrate the University's leading place in the Information Age. While some university presses are making a few journals and archives available on-line, none have resolved to offer their material entirely in web-based or machine-readable forms. Virginia Tech could set the standards for future forms of scholarly publishing by creating this digital press.

2) Transforming Publication Practices: Providing digital publication outlets on a permanent basis with internationally respected editors and high production values could help change the academic publishing industry and scholarly career paths. Unless and until some well-known university makes this move, things will remain stuck where they are. Here Virginia Tech could use its leading position in computer-mediated instruction to change how on-line publication is viewed and, in turn, thereby alter how academics publish their work, how society stores scientific information, and how publishers vend their products.

3) Transforming Publication Possibilities: Not only would digital publication help to change faculty assessment practices, but it also offers faculty new genres (such as hypertext) and new media (multi-media combinations of graphics, audio, and sound materials) in which to present their scholarly work. These changes have the potential to fundamentally change the practices of scholarly communication itself across the disciplines. If we hope to affect the general quality of material being published digitally, we must take the lead in this vital area.

4) Economic Development: Building a digital press could be a tremendously productive new industrial initiative for the local University community. Editors, production staff, computer support technicians as well as designers, marketing personnel, and software application experts all will be needed to make a VT Digital Press a working reality. This operation could be located at first in the ACITC or later at the CRC as its operations grow in scope and number. These products also could provide a considerable source of revenue to the University or some new closely held corporation responsible for the VT digital press.

5) Recruiting Benefits: Positioning a digital press at the heart of the University's new strategic planning for becoming an international leader in the use of information technology for university instruction, research and administration should greatly assist graduate student and faculty recruitment. As digital web-based publishing comes to dominate many scientific, humanistic, and professional disciplines, Virginia Tech's faculty and students will be the most conversant and familiar with these modes of academic communication. Anyone who wants to be a leader in these forms of academic publishing and scholarly communication, therefore, would want to begin at Virginia Tech.

These are, of course, only some of the potential benefits of establishing a VT Digital Press. We recognize that this initiative is a major undertaking; still, with the ETD policies of the Graduate School, the University already is taking bold steps in this direction. This move would add to the University's prestige, assist our graduate students in their professional development, change existing markets for academic publication, provide a potential for economic growth, and boost our graduate and faculty recruitment capabilities. We would be happy to discuss this proposal further with anyone, and we hope that the University could begin planning and preparation for a VT Digital Press to be fully up and running by the time the ACITC opens in 1999.