Columbia University receives a Half Million from The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation to Evaluate the Viability of Online Scholarly Publications


by Lauren Marshall

July 2000 With the advent of online publishing have come hard questions: Will online publications replace print? Do scholars need or want instant access to scholarly information? Can online publications be financially viable?

Now the answers to these questions may be revealed through the evaluation of current and future projects of Columbia University's Electronic Publishing Initiative at Columbia (EPIC), considered to be the first university center devoted to fostering the development and creation of a new generation of online scholarly publications.

Thanks to a grant from The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, EPIC will track and evaluate the use and costs of projects over the next three years and in doing so may create a model for evaluation of online publications that may prove helpful to others developing similar projects. For online publishing, an emerging field, EPIC project evaluation will help the creators of online publications to better understand how the use of digital publication affects both qualitatively and quantitatively the research and teaching patterns of scholars and students. It will also help them better understand the financial viability of projects and assist in developing long-term financial models for completed projects.

The evaluation of new projects is pivotal but often gets dropped as project funds are depleted. The Andrew W. Mellon grant will ensure that evaluation is built into the EPIC process.

The $530,000 award will be used to fund the evaluation of three EPIC projects, each in different phase of development--Columbia International Affairs Online (CIAO), an interdisciplinary publication devoted to the field of international affairs; Columbia Earthscape, a resource in the earth sciences and the Guttenberg-e, the American Historical Association Electronic Book Prize Project, a publication of award-winning dissertations in history and EPIC's first production in the humanities--in addition to future projects.

"EPIC offers the perfect test bed to evaluate digital publications," said Kate Wittenberg, director for EPIC. "We made a bold move to found a center dedicated to digital publishing and are in effect now creating products that were tailor-made to be evaluated. With projects at key moments in their development, we can now make the most of evaluation, for the benefit of our peers in online scholarly publishing."

Columbia's venture into digital publishing was a response to the unfavorable economic climate for traditional scholarly publications, a climate that plagues not-for-profit publishers and libraries and reduces publishing options for authors, thus limiting the availability and threatening the dissemination of important scholarly work. By employing the Web, a medium with endless breadth, EPIC products can put scholarly work immediately in the hands of peers and students.

More than three years ago Columbia University informally began the novel partnership between the libraries, the Academic Information Systems (AcIS) technicians and the Columbia University Press, which later became EPIC.

"By formalizing the partnership that has already created successful digital products, we have guaranteed excellence in what we believe will become the future of scholarly publishing without compromising the traditional quality and purpose of university-based research," said Elaine Sloan, vice president for Information Services and University librarian.

Three projects are managed or developed under the EPIC umbrella. At the time of its launch in 1997, CIAO became the first digital publishing venture to put online the most current scholarly information in the field of international affairs. Searchable by title subject, date, keyword or sponsoring institution, CIAO includes full-text online books, journals, seminars and research projects, working papers, reports and conference proceedings. CIAO, now financially self-sustaining, was begun with a grant from The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation.

Columbia Earthscape, another interdisciplinary, interactive online resource in the field of earth system science, became available for subscription this year. Earthscape takes the CIAO model one step further by adding information on science education curriculum development. It is expected that Earthscape will be self-sustaining in three years.

The American Historical Association Electronic Book Prize Project, known as Guttenberg-e will soon be launched making electronic monographs of several "endangered" fields in history available to subscribers. Through EPIC's evaluation of the project, scholars' reactions to the publication will be recorded and the viability of establishing self-sustaining electronic publications in the field will be assessed. Guttenberg-e was made possible by a $300,000 start-up grant from The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation.

For more information on EPIC or digital projects at Columbia, contact Kate Wittenberg at (212) 854-0167 or kw49@columbia.edu. Or consult the EPIC homepage at http://www.epic.columbia.edu/. To access CIAO or Columbia Earthscape, consult http://www.ciaonet.org and http://www.earthscape.org.

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07/2000