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Vol.25, No. 02 Sept. 10, 1999

Columbia Takes Leading Role in Online Scholarly Publishing

By Lauren Marshall

As the unfavorable economics of traditional scholarly publishing have reduced options for authors and threatened the dissemination of research and scholarly thought, Columbia has launched an electronic publishing initiative intended to rival academic book publishing in quality and prestige.

The newly established Electronic Publishing Initiative at Columbia (EPIC) will link the expertise of the Columbia University Press (CU Press), the Libraries and the University's Academic Information Systems (AcIS) in a joint effort.

The center's founders believe EPIC may remedy an increasing crisis in academe: publish or perish—with few options to publish. In response, Columbia is offering a solution via a medium with endless breadth: the Web. Not only will scholars have a new venue for publication, their work will be instantly available to both students and peers.

EPIC is an integrated research and production environment for the development, dissemination and evaluation of new kinds of scholarly and educational digital publications, which was made possible with funding from Columbia's Office of the Provost. EPIC projects will be produced in collaboration with faculty and researchers of Columbia and other leading academic institutions, and will represent the highest standards in the development of content, the use of technology, the development of business and marketing plans and the evaluation of digital product use.

"Columbia intends to take a leadership role in developing new forms of scholarly communication and enhancing the ability of scholars to access materials needed for teaching and research," said Provost Jonathan R. Cole. "EPIC represents one important effort along these lines. We look forward to more of such collaborations with other great research universities."

According to Elaine Sloan, vice president for information services and university librarian, Columbia was seen as an innovator years ago when the Concise Columbia Encyclopedia published by the CU Press was put online.

"Columbia's publishers, information technologists and librarians have already been working together informally for years, even before the creation of the Web," Sloan said. "With EPIC, we are formalizing a partnership that can guarantee excellence in what has become the future of scholarly publishing."

In 1997 the Online Books Evaluation Project, funded largely by The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, confirmed the viability of using online text in a digital medium for scholarly purposes. Columbia then made history with Columbia International Affairs Online (CIAO), an online scholarly publication produced in 1997 in collaboration with the CU Press, libraries and AcIS. For the first time in publishing, the most current scholarly information in a specific field was digitally available under one roof. Today, CIAO grows at a rate of 2,000 pages a month, and with 190 subscriptions ranging from $595 to $1,200 per year, is within budget.

Projects that originated before EPIC, such as CIAO, will now fall under the EPIC umbrella and will help evaluate future projects.

"EPIC is based on concrete projects, not an imaginary blueprint," said Kate Wittenberg, editor-in-chief of CU Press. "Because of CIAO's success, we now know that scholars are interested in exploring the potential of online publication and research, and that enough librarians and end-users find this material sufficiently valuable to purchase it at a price that will permit cost-recovery over the long term."

Kate Wittenberg has been named director of EPIC and David Millman, manager of research and development of AcIS will head up EPIC's information technology team.

"The further development of our internal capacity for academic interactive publishing will hopefully enhance the overall flexibility of our academic community as it moves forward into a technologically uncertain future," said Executive Vice Provost Michael Crow. "It is important for us to continue to innovate and to provide innovative opportunities and capabilities for our faculty to express their ideas and discoveries."