In response to Ken Rouse's think piece, I am wondering if user demand for electronic access is largely due to the absence of a locally available online database (such as SciSearch or Current Contents) and an efficient document delivery service.
Perhaps Caltech is not a representative example but, in chemistry at least, interest in electronic access seems to be limited to a few inquisitive graduate students. I also talked with a younger faculty member who did not see electronic access as a particularly important benefit, since you would want a photocopy of any article you were interested in anyway.
Am I missing the 'second coming' or is it really an illusion, primarily based on convenience, that could be met in other ways? Given the inconvenience of trying to access a variety of publishers over the net compared with searching SciSearch or CARL online and using a document delivery service, this seems like a no-brainer.
While Elsevier is guaranteeing a moderate price increase in the short term, can you imagine the increase a few years hence, when the dollar deflates and subscriptions to the online product do not strongly correlate with the print cancellations?
As an aside, does Elsevier make any provision for continuing access to the years you 'pay' for, if you decide to terminate the plan?
180.2 OUTSOURCING COLLECTION DEVELOPMENT
Scott Piepenburg, Dallas Public Schools, firstname.lastname@example.org
I read with interest Ken Rouse's article on the Serials Crisis. He makes many interesting points, but one thing bothers me, or rather, gnaws at the back of my neck. He suggests that we "must give them (the departments) the money." Last time I checked, the decision of what to purchase and how to develop a library's collection was a fundamental part of the librarian's job. Next, we could give the department an entire budget which they have to manage to purchase their serials, monographs, AV items. We then could "build in" to each item a processing fee for "cataloging services rendered." Who knows, perhaps we could charge them back for "access time," thereby making the library a paying, cash-generating entity. Of course, our collections would not be balanced, but we wouldn't have to worry about what to buy.
Of course, I'm being sarcastic, but what is suggested literally is outsourcing of collection development policies. For those of us in school libraries, which buy a large VOLUME of periodicals (in our district alone, we have over 300 subscriptions to US News) the solution would be unworkable and political suicide. Granted, our titles are very different and work in a different environment than those in academia, but serials are serials. For our point, we have far more clout by working through the sales reps and services. The cancellation of one or two magazines by a school will not make a difference, nor will cancelling a periodical in an entire district. Publishers' reps, however, do see VOLUME, as in "I can get this district to buy 300 of something." That kind of clout is useful.
Perhaps a compromise. Give the department a budget and work to educate them; have a library staff member on their collection group. Isn't "user education" part of our function?
180.3 AROUSED BY ROUSE!
Tony Stankus, College of the Holy Cross, email@example.com
Ken Rouse of the University of Wisconsin's Chemistry Library makes some important points about the acceptance of "kitchen sink thrown in" package plans for electronic journals, particularly from for-profit publishers. He is right in that too broad a plan undercuts our efforts to tailor our collections, both for quality and for local needs, by having us take too many poor quality or inappropriate titles. There is a case to be made, however, for somewhat more focused plans, particularly when the assortment is strong and represents real value.
Rouse's feelings that librarians have failed in serving scientists because our cancellations may not have had much impact on for-profit publishers is not entirely true. It is clear that major for-profit players like Elsevier have curtailed the introduction of as many new titles as they would have ventured in the past because of library market resistance. Moreover, cancellations of some "mega journals with giga prices" have forced subsectioning. Before, you had to buy all of BBA or Brain Research to have anything of it, now you buy the sections your clientele particularly favors.
Rouse's dream of giving science journal money drawn from many individual university library budgets back to scientists seems imaginative, but I can see some nightmares in it, both short and long-term.
First, such a move would confirm what some scientists have long suspected of the largely non-science-background library profession: that its science librarians and serials librarians represent the interests of the academic administration (the suits) rather than the scientists (the lab coats) rather than being even-handed professional information managers, representing both in dealings with publishers. Rouse's idea of giving up librarians as negotiators with the publishing industry would undercut those science librarians who had long been trying to be honest brokers of the process over these many years, and who have been channeling and retaining in organized fashion, a surprisingly effective reservoir of worthwhile information, even if at high cost. (Consider, for example, what the cost might be if we put our campus computing administrators in charge: they throw out what they buy every three years, because by the time they negotiate to get the prices cut, no one wants the product any more.)
Rouse's memory of the days when the scientists ran their own libraries is also falsely rosy in the sense that the most likely staff of those "libraries" were not active faculty scientists but rather grad students, departmental secretaries, retired faculty, and the like. These facilities quickly outgrew amateur efforts owing to the size and complexity of the information, creating an opportunity for our profession to make a contribution out of the chaos that has enhanced the progress of science despite our often lack of qualification in specialized scientific knowledge. The idea that letting scientists self-organize not only the production of individual articles (which they are good at) but also production of whole journals including their dissemination and organized backfile retention (which they have often failed at, at least when without dedicated assistance from publishers and librarians) is a strategy of acceptable risk, because any failure would affect only the scientific community, is short-sighted. I believe that what scientists, engineers, and clinicians do is important not only to the whole campus community, but to the whole of the developed world. If the scientific information enterprise screws up for any length of time, we're all screwed for a good long time.
Moreover, the precedent of parceling out library money to scientists would not long remain limited to scientists. The "Social Soft Sciences" have long suffered from "Hard Science Envy," and would want their cut too...perhaps before it had become apparent to all that the scientists were not doing any too well out on their own.
Assuming that the real complaint is not with the librarian's role as a negotiator with the science publishers, or even more limitedly as a negotiator with for-profit science publishers... this still leaves us with the dilemma of where that Rouse-scheme money ought to go. I would suggest that it definitely should not go to a university press! This is not because any university press of which I am aware is corrupt or inept, so much as I am aware of what happens to any campus agency that suddenly gets a large sum of money. What happens is that the agency goes from being considered a "Cost-Center" that is starved to being a "Revenue Center" that can be subject to stylized administrative looting. Rouse mentions $30 million as if this is a rare windfall for scientists on campus. I'd suggest that his own Chemistry Department brings in that much money every year or two...only to have at least $10 million of it get assigned to "Administrative Overhead." Part of the reason that librarians struggle is because the library's tiny cut of the overhead is not something that gets challenged often enough, largely because "the suits" in the higher administration can fire "the sweaters," (we librarians) unless our relations with the "lab coats," who bring in the money in the first place, are exceptionally strong.
Well, maybe in Rouse's scheme, the money destined for purchases from the for-profits could go to the matching not-for-profits to take up the publishing slack. This sounds simple. For Chemistry in the US, this might mean the American Chemical Society...but then maybe you'd also have the chemical engineers, the biochemists, physicists, etc., with a different take on this, and with sometimes differing or overlapping societies. What about money for the foreign not-for-profits in chemistry and cognate disciplines? While it is clear that American Chemical Society journals are world leaders, and that up to 40% of the papers in them are from foreign sources, American chemists would still need papers in journals in chemistry and cognate fields that would appear elsewhere. If the money were used to create a multi-national, multi-specialty non-profit society we would end up with something as efficient and effective as the UN. Given that as a prospect for handling the foreigners who did not wish to contribute to US or other society presses, it might appear that the for-profits were not doing such a bad job after all...and maybe they really aren't in their special role as international information outlets, in some specific fields.
My own inclination is that we as librarians flip the strategy of a for-profit single publisher selling a good-mixed-with-bad journal package to a single given library or library system, to one where Rouse's ARL libraries (maybe joined by some Oberlin types like my library) continue to support the major domestic and foreign not-for-profits but make each of the major for-profit players compete for a single package in each of several given fields, guaranteed to be taken by all the libraries for several years to the exclusion of its for-profit competitors in those fields. Librarians would join their scientists and carefully examine what's really worthwhile in each package from each bidder...along with the prices. We'd make Elsevier, Springer, Wiley-VCH, etc. be careful in what they'd include and how they'd price it, because they would lose the whole account when the contract ended if the scientists and librarians determined that the package underperformed or overpriced or provided anything less than the best papers that migrated for whatever reason to the for-profit press. Since this would be done over several major fields, each separately bid, and since it is unlikely that the same for-profit publisher would win the bid in every field, we need not kill off any publisher, so that we'd end up facing a monopoly at the end of the contracts. (Moreover, as Rouse notes, some of these publishers would survive based on European and Asian sales to live to bid another day,..and yet the amount of money to fight for would still be worth their biding interest in the next round.)
Rouse is to be congratulated for his energy and his insights. His suggestions revitalize the tired strugglers in this area.
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