Response from the Consortium of
University Research Libraries (CURL) and the Society of College,
National and University Libraries (SCONUL)
1. CURL and SCONUL welcome the publication of the
Science and Technology Committee Report and strongly support the
general thrust of its recommendations. We believe the recommendations
have the potential to make a significant contribution to the development
of the UK knowledge economy by improving research communication,
enhancing knowledge transfer and increasing public access to scientific
information. The joint CURL/SCONUL Communications Group and
member institutions of CURL and SCONUL are keen to work with Government
and other key stakeholders over the coming months to implement
the Report's recommendations.
The joint CURL/SCONUL position
2. This response to the Select Committee Report on
scientific publications (Scientific publications: free for all?
HC399-1) is issued jointly by the Consortium of University Research
Libraries (CURL) and the Society of College, National and University
3. We have summarised our comments below under a
number of key headings. We have concentrated on the recommendations
which we believe are most likely to lead to major improvements
in the impact and effective dissemination of scientific research
Access to information
4. We believe that publicly-funded research should
be publicly available. We see our role within our organisations,
nationally and internationally, as encouraging and facilitating
the widest possible access to relevant information for research,
learning and teaching in UK universities and elsewhere. We therefore
support general recommendations in the Report that relate to the
aim of making scientific information more easily accessible (for
example 2, 7, 8, 10, 11). We also endorse the view that this is
an international concern, noting that the Committee's Report has
generated great interest worldwide, and that there is an opportunity,
if recommendations are implemented quickly, for the UK to exercise
a leadership role, and at the same time increase the impact of
UK research (3, 53).
The scientific journals market
5. We share the Committee's unease at the current
workings of the journals market, and support recommendations on
profit margins (17, 26), bundling of subscriptions (20-22), and
transparency of costs (27-28). In particular, we support the recommendation
(33) that the Office of Fair Trading conduct a biennial review
of the state of this idiosyncratic market, with special reference
to the impact of mergers and acquisitions, and of bundling deals.
We agree that it may be necessary to look again at the available
methodologies and statistics for measuring trends in journal prices
(16). We are keen to work with the OFT and other stakeholders
on this issue.
6. Self-archiving in institutional, or subject, repositories
is one important route towards opening up access to the UK research
output (42-58). Recommendation 44 (making the deposit of articles
resulting from Government-funded research mandatory) is particularly
important and welcome. We believe this recommendation would cost
very little to implement and it would transform the availability
of scientific literature in the UK. Universities and research
institutions would quickly see the benefits, and the minority
of publishers that do not permit this at present would find it
prudent to change their policy, given the international spread
of similar arrangements (for example, current discussions involving
the National Institutes for Health in the USA).
7. We welcome the recommendations relating to institutional
repository initiatives such as SHERPA. In particular, we welcome
the recognition of the requirement for further funding (43, 55)
and the need for co-ordination and standardisation (56). The exact
form to be taken by a repository co-ordinating body will require
detailed discussion among relevant stakeholders (including JISC
and the Research Libraries Network). We believe that the expanded
digital repositories programme being sponsored by JISC in the
coming months could provide a basis for such co-ordination. Many
CURL and SCONUL member institutions have already set up institutional
repositories or are committed to doing so, and would welcome further
co-ordinated initiatives of this sort to help ensure that local
developments move forward in line with a coherent national strategy.
Intellectual property rights (including copyright)
8. Universities are taking a greater interest in
the broad question of intellectual property rights (including
copyright), and we welcome the Committee's contribution to this
issue (49-51). Restrictions on copyright should not be allowed
to inhibit researchers from self-archiving their research papers
and other research output. Exclusive rights do not need to be
transferred to publishers in order for them to publish a paper.
We support the recommendation (50) that Government funders should
mandate their funded researchers to retain copyright (or, we suggest,
should at least not allow them to transfer exclusive rights to
publishers). Some publishers already do not require exclusive
rights to be transferred to them and operate like this without
any practical problems. We therefore recommend that Government
should implement such a policy without delay.
9. Another additional and important route towards
increased availability of research output lies in open-access
journals funded by publication charges. We recognise that these
cannot be promoted in the same way as institutional repositories.
It is not feasible or sensible for funders to require researchers
to publish only in open-access journals. There would need to be
a massive rise in the number of open-access journals before such
a move could be envisaged. Nevertheless, we believe that the development
of open-access publishing should be encouraged. We, like the Committee,
support initiatives from organisations such as JISC to pump-prime
open-access journals (70) whilst recognising that this must be
a transitional stage. We welcome recommendation 64 in particular,
encouraging the Research Councils and other research sponsors
to set up funds that can be drawn on for publication charges.
As publishers change their business models, such charges should
come to be seen as a normal part of the costs of carrying out
and disseminating research. In this context, we support the commissioning
of independent research on publication costs (60). We also support
the Committee's view that peer-review is an essential feature
of scientific publishing and should not be compromised as business
models change (66).
10. We recognise the importance of the role played
by learned societies within the scholarly communication process,
and understand that some societies have concerns relating to open-access
publishing (69). Others are already pushing forward in this direction
and should be encouraged to share good practice. We would welcome
continuing open dialogue with society publishers, as well as increased
resources from JISC to enable transition funding, as mentioned
in the previous paragraph. We also recommend that a study be undertaken
to map and evaluate the options for learned societies in an open-access
Free rider issue
11. CURL and SCONUL note the "free rider"
issue (68) and suggest that a study be undertaken to ascertain
the significance of commercial and industrial subscriptions to
the turnover of commercial publishers. CURL and SCONUL also note
that the DTI has established an Academic Publications Forum in
the wake of the publication of the Report and suggest that this
new body could be tasked with undertaking this activity. The results
of the work should then be fed into the ongoing debate about the
viability of open-access publishing models.
12. We welcome the Committee's recognition of the
anomaly resulting from differential VAT rates (30-31). We strongly
support the exemption of educational institutions, including their
libraries, from liability to VAT on digital publications (31).
Like the Committee, we see no obstacle in principle-nor indeed
in law-to applying the zero rate in the UK to digital publications,
since the VAT Act refers in Group 3 to "newspapers, journals
and periodicals" without reference to their format. We agree
that a change in the way VAT is applied is an urgent need, and
we favour exemption for educational institutions as the solution
most likely to be quickly implemented.
13. We welcome the recommendation that the Funding
Councils commission a study on library funding (35), and establish
a code of good practice (36). However, we would observe that although
budget increases are important, and indeed necessary in order
to provide the level of information service required within our
universities, we do not believe that the level of library budgets
is the root cause of the present scientific publications crisis.
US university libraries, for example, are on average very much
better funded than their UK equivalents, but still strongly advocate
the implementation of major changes in scientific publishing.
Addressing the issue of inadequate library budgets should not
be seen as an alternative to addressing the fundamental structural
problems in scientific publishing dealt with in this Report.
British Library (and other legal deposit libraries)
14. We strongly endorse the Report's recognition
of the importance of the role of the British Library, and of the
other legal deposit libraries, relating to document delivery (5),
repository provision (46), and particularly digital preservation
Research Libraries Network
15. We look forward to the launch of the Research
Libraries Network as a stimulus towards increasing co-ordination
and provision in the area of scholarly communication and publishing.
Research Assessment Exercise
16. The Report's final recommendation relates to
the RAE (should be 83, but omitted from the list of recommendations).
We share the Committee's view that it would be very helpful for
the Funding Councils to remind panels that it is the quality of
the individual article that is important in assessment, not the
impact factor of the journal where it is published. Even more
importantly, documentation and publicity should make this clear
at the 'research grass-roots' level, as the perception is widespread
that the journal's impact factor is what counts in determining
RAE outcomes, even when panels may in fact be correctly carrying
out current RAE policy.
17. CURL and SCONUL welcome the publication of the
Science and Technology Committee Report and are keen to work with
Government and other stakeholders to implement the Report's recommendations.
We look forward to building on work already carried out by CURL,
SCONUL, and their member institutions (as well as other agencies)
in order to enhance this important component of the developing
UK Information Society.
11 October 2004