Access to Scientific Knowledge: A Historical Perspective

  • Pali U. K. De SilvaEmail author
  • Candace K. Vance
Part of the Fascinating Life Sciences book series (FLS)


The scientific communication system familiar to us today has evolved over several centuries. Journal articles became the conventional means for publishing ideas, theories, and research findings and journals became the formal “dissemination carriers.” Although learned societies played a dominant role in journal publishing at the beginning, toward the end of the twentieth century, both societies and commercial publishers controlled journal publishing, but commercial publishers became dominant players in the twenty-first century. While the subscription-based journal access model persisted overtime, issues related to restrictions imposed upon accessing scientific knowledge which is essential to the progress of science and the sustainability of this system gained attention toward the end of the twentieth century and continued to the twenty-first century. Continuously increasing scientific journal subscription rates , publishers offering package deals reducing journal selection options, and publisher merges increasing oligopolistic control of journal publishing created the “serial crisis” in which university libraries struggle to provide access of scientific journals to their academic communities. These developments, how the university communities and academic libraries reacted to the situation, and how advances in the computer and communication technologies started reshaping the entire scholarly communication landscape, opening up new horizons in the quest for seeking alternative journal publishing models are discussed.


Electronic journals Electronic publishing Scientific scholarly communication Scientific societies Commercial journal publishers Scholarly journals Subscription-based journal access model 


  1. Archibald, G., & Line, M. B. (1991). The size and growth of serial literature 1950–1987, in terms of the number of articles per serial. Scientometrics, 20(1), 173–196. doi: 10.1007/bf02018154.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  2. Bosch, S., & Henderson, K. (2012). Coping with the terrible twins: Periodicals price survey 2012. Library Journal, 137(8), 31.Google Scholar
  3. Craig, I. D., Plume, A. M., McVeigh, M. E., Pringle, J., & Amin, M. (2007). Do open access articles have greater citation impact? A critical review of the literature. Journal of Informetrics, 1(3), 239–248. doi: 10.1016/j.joi.2007.04.001.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  4. Cummings, A. M., Witte, M. L., Bowen, W. G., Lazarus, L. O., & Ekman, R. H. (1992). University libraries and scholarly communication: A study prepared for the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation: Association of Research Libraries.Google Scholar
  5. de Solla Price, D. J., & Page, T. (1961). Science since babylon. American Journal of Physics, 29(12), 863–864.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  6. Ketcham, L., & Born, K. (1997). Unsettled times, unsettled prices: Periodical price survey 1997. Library Journal, 122(7), 4247.Google Scholar
  7. Larivière, V., Haustein, S., & Mongeon, P. (2015). The oligopoly of academic publishers in the digital era. PLoS ONE, 10(6), e0127502.CrossRefPubMedPubMedCentralGoogle Scholar
  8. Mabe, M., & Amin, M. (2001). Growth dynamics of scholarly and scientific journals. Scientometrics, 51(1), 147–162.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  9. Mayor, S. (2004). US universities review subscriptions to journal “package deals” as costs rise. BMJ. British Medical Journal, 328(7431), 68.CrossRefPubMedPubMedCentralGoogle Scholar
  10. McClellan, J. E. (1985). Science reorganized: Scientific societies in the eighteenth century. Columbia University Press.Google Scholar
  11. Odlyzko, A. M. (1995). Tragic loss or good riddance? The impending demise of traditional scholarly journals. International Journal of Human-Computer Studies, 42(1), 71–122.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  12. Oldenburg, H. (1673). Epistle dedicatory. Philosophical Transactions, 8(92–100).Google Scholar
  13. Paisley, W. (1972). The role of invisible colleges in scientific information transfer. Educational Researcher, 1(4), 5–19.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  14. Singleton, A. (1981). Learned societies and journal publishing. Journal of Information Science, 3(5), 211–226.Google Scholar
  15. Van Orsdel, L. C., & Born, K. (1999). Periodical price survey 1999: Serials publishing in flux. Library Journal, 124(7), 48–53.Google Scholar
  16. Van Orsdel, L. C., & Born, K. (1996). Periodical price survey 1996: Projecting the electronic revolution. Library Journal, 121(7).Google Scholar
  17. Van Orsdel, L. C., & Born, K. (1997). Periodical price survey 1997: Unsettled times, unsettled prices; the state of the periodicals marketplace mid-revolution. Library Journal, 122(7).Google Scholar
  18. Van Orsdel, L. C., & Born, K. (2000). Periodical price survey 2000: Pushing toward more affordable acccess. Library Journal, 125(7).Google Scholar
  19. Van Orsdel, L. C., & Born, K. (2007). Periodicals price survey 2007: Serial wars. Library Journal, 4, 15.Google Scholar
  20. Ziman, J. M. (1969). Information, communication, knowledge. Nature, 224(5217), 318–324. doi: 10.1038/224318a0.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer International Publishing AG 2017

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Murray State UniversityMurrayUSA

Personalised recommendations