Select Committee on Science and Technology Written Evidence


APPENDIX 82

Memorandum from the Scottish Confederation of University and Research Libraries (SCURL)

1.  INTRODUCTION

  1.1  SCURL[302] is the principal association of Higher Education and Research libraries in Scotland and is a sub-committee of the Board of Trustees of the National Library of Scotland.

Membership comprises the National Library of Scotland, all University and Higher Education Institution libraries and the major public libraries of Edinburgh and Glasgow.

  1.2.  SCURL has been concerned for some time that the present system of scholarly communication is increasingly coming under strain and is unable to adequately serve the research community as it has done in the past and fully exploit the technological developments of recent years.

  1.3  SCURL has been working collaboratively with others such as the Scottish Library & Information Council and the NHSiS to address these issues. SCURL is a key player in the Scottish Science Information Strategy Working Group (SSISWG). Recognising the key role scientists play in the knowledge economy and the need for accurate, up-to-date and readily accessible scientific information not only for the academic and research community but for lifelong learners and others, this group aims to make science information more easily accessible to all users. In particular it is exploring the potential and benefits of national licensing for science information within Scotland. This is in line with UK Government and Scottish Executive policy but has come about as a direct result of the current crisis facing libraries in respect of provision of science information.

  The Confederation therefore warmly welcomes this timely inquiry into scientific publications.

2.  WHAT IMPACT DO PUBLISHERS' CURRENT POLICIES ON PRICING AND PROVISION OF SCIENTIFIC JOURNALS, PARTICULARLY "BIG DEAL SCHEMES", HAVE ON LIBRARIES AND THE TEACHING AND RESEARCH COMMUNITIES THEY SERVE?

  2.1  We are in a situation where much research carried out within the universities is paid for from the public purse, however the cost of buying back the commercially published output of this research is proving prohibitive.

  2.2  In recent years STM journals subscriptions have risen much higher than the UK Retail Price Index. In 2001, the average increase was 4.3%; in 2002 this rose to 7%.

  2.3  The requirement to continue access to the "best" journals for academic community means that budgets are squeezed. Less money is available for the purchase of monographs vital to Humanities and Social Sciences in particular and to undergraduates in general.

  2.4  The application of VAT to electronic publications has added an additional burden and is a disincentive to move to electronic only access. We would strongly urge that this be reviewed with a view to removing VAT in line with print publications. Whilst this matter requires resolution at a European level, we would urge the government in the interim to consider the application of VAT-exempt or VAT-reduced status to electronic publications for universities, higher education institutions and other non-commercial educational and research bodies.

  2.5  The "Big Deal" has been made possible by the advent of electronic publishing. This has allowed publishers to exert market pressure on libraries to accept this model at marginally increased costs to themselves.

  2.6  The multi-year nature of many of these deals provides income stability for publishers. Many deals are tied to non-cancellation of corresponding print versions. In a period of decreasing budgets and rapid change in terms of support for teaching, learning and research, this inflexible approach from publishers is both unrealistic and unsustainable.

  2.7  The nature of the "Big Deal" means that some libraries are being forced away from an access policy to a holdings policy. This means that budgets committed to document delivery (the `just in time' scenario) are being reassigned to serial budgets.

  2.8  There is concern that the ongoing costs of subscription to the "Big Deal" model has led to cancellation of titles from smaller publishers. Whilst access to a wider range of titles through a package deal is regarded as generally beneficial although it is noted that many non-core titles may receive little use (recent research from one "Big Deal" study showed that 87 per cent of users viewed less than 5 per cent of the titles[303]) this should not be at the expense of output from the smaller publishers which may be of more academic value.

  2.9  There is a danger that the success of the e-journal in terms of desktop delivery and ease of access and use may adversely affect the use and availability of material that is not yet available in electronic format. This is a particular threat to smaller publishers (who may already face reduction in subscription income) and one that is being addressed through projects such as the SHEFC-funded SAPIENS project. [304]

  2.10  There is concern that the number of recent mergers and takeovers in the commercial publishing field is leading towards a position of monopoly or near-monopoly. In particular, we are concerned at the difficulties experienced in the recent UK contract renewal negotiations with Reed Elsevier.

3.  WHAT ACTION SHOULD GOVERNMENT, ACADEMIC INSTITUTIONS AND PUBLISHERS BE TAKING TO PROMOTE A COMPETITIVE MARKET IN SCIENTIFIC PUBLICATIONS?

  3.1  It would be unrealistic to expect to achieve a competitive market in scientific publications. Many journals have built up such a reputation and prominence in particular subject areas that competition would be near impossible. In any case, it can take many years for new journals to achieve any position in the field let alone a position of prominence.

  Further, if an academic or researcher requires a specific article, then only that article will suffice.

  3.2  In view of this, SCURL believes there is an overwhelming case for the close monitoring of proposed mergers and takeovers by the official authorities and action taken as required to avoid further concentration of the market.

  3.3  The current model is one whereby much research output in the form of journal articles is provided to publishers free of charge. These articles are then peer reviewed at no additional cost to publishers.

  3.4  Whilst there may be little action the government might take in respect of promoting a competitive market, there may be more value in promoting open access initiatives and extending the provisions of legal deposit as outlined in sections 4 and 5 below.

4.  WHAT ARE THE CONSEQUENCES OF INCREASING NUMBERS OF OPEN-ACCESS JOURNALS, FOR EXAMPLE FOR THE OPERATION OF THE RESEARCH ASSESSMENT EXERCISE AND OTHER SELECTION PROCESSES? SHOULD THE GOVERNMENT SUPPORT SUCH A TREND AND, IF SO, HOW?

  4.1  The number of Open Access journals (OAJs) is currently relatively low[305] and their eventual impact is unknown at this stage. However, their potential impact on a number of fronts is sufficiently significant to suggest that there would be value in a dual approach to the issue—an approach that couples support for current and new initiatives in the short term with an investigation into whether it is feasible to work with publishers to ensure that the full impact of the approach is realised in the medium to long-term.

  4.2  Although some OAJs are supported "free" within institutional costs, most are financed through the author paying to have papers that have successfully passed through the peer review process published. The advantages of this approach are that access to the materials published is then made freely available to the community—a potentially attractive model if its full benefits could be realised.

  If all of the significant journals in a particular field were OAJs:

    —  All researchers, teachers and students in the field would have free access to all relevant materials free of charge, regardless of whether or not their institution could pay for a subscription;

    —  Such access could also be made freely available to the general public and the private sector;

    —  Since all research output would be freely available throughout the field, new work would be less likely to duplicate earlier work and researchers would be generally better informed;

    —  Any author published in the journals could be assured of maximum research impact—an impact that would not be "skewed" by barriers to access; and

    —  Because of this, it would be possible to obtain accurate automated measurements of research impact from the access logs of the OAJs themselves for use in the RAE

  Whether or not it is possible to achieve this degree of coverage will depend on whether the model can be made attractive to publishers. Given its potential, it is worth opening discussions with large and small publishers in a particular field with a view to determining whether it is possible to come up with a financial package based on the OAJ model that would be attractive to all parties.

  4.3  In the meantime, SCURL believes there is value in continuing to support the model by supporting the efforts of JISC and others in this respect. In particular, since the assumption behind the model is that authors' costs will be paid from research funding, research funders should be encouraged to follow the lead of the Wellcome Trust in allowing such charges to be included in research bid costs. In addition, some mechanism should be considered to support authors who wish to publish in an OAJ but do not have research funds (or, perhaps, even a research grant) to do so.

  4.4  In addition, more authors are now depositing their papers in an institutional electronic archive (Scottish examples include the Universities of Edinburgh, Glasgow and St Andrews), where they are available to all, and searchable via appropriate software. Publishers' restrictions relating to copyright sometimes inhibit this, but this process could be hastened if funding bodies were to mandate that research resulting from their grants should be "open access", either via publication in OAJs or by means of `self-archiving' in institutional archives.

  4.5  There is an extent to which the current model limits deep resource sharing and inhibits cross-institutional collaborative activity such as the Scottish Centres of Excellence.

  4.6  A clear indication of support from appropriate UK bodies, similar to the Berlin Declaration[306] and others, would also be a welcome development.

  4.7  On the question of the relationship of publishing in OAJs to RAE assessments, it is clearly important that authors publishing in OAJs be treated exactly the same as authors publishing elsewhere—the quality of the work should be the deciding factor, not the mode of publication.

5.  HOW EFFECTIVELY ARE THE LEGAL DEPOSIT LIBRARIES MAKING AVAILABLE NON-PRINT SCIENTIFIC PUBLICATIONS TO THE RESEARCH COMMUNITY, AND WHAT STEPS SHOULD THEY BE TAKING IN THIS RESPECT?

  5.1  SCURL welcomed the Legal Deposit Libraries Act 2003 and supports its aims and provisions.

  5.2  We would strongly encourage that resources be made available to ensure the early and effective implementation of the provisions in the Act for the legal deposit of non-print media in general and electronic publications in particular.

  5.3  It is noted however that implementation of the Act will not in itself provide the totality of scientific information required by users as the information acquired through legal deposit is limited to United Kingdom output. This information will have to be purchased by the Legal Deposit Libraries at significant cost. The Legal Deposit Libraries are unable to benefit from nationally negotiated deals available to Higher Education through agents such as NESLI2.

  5.4  Further, licensing restrictions as they currently stand do not permit delivery direct to the scientists' desktop. This is very much the preferred delivery mechanism for users of this type of information.

  5.5  We support the work of the National Library of Scotland and the other Legal Deposit Libraries in working towards the stable and sustainable preservation of and access to digital materials for future research needs. Sufficient additional resource will be required to ensure this.

  5.6  SCURL understands the National Library of Scotland will respond directly to this inquiry and we warmly endorse this.

6.  WHAT IMPACT WILL TRENDS IN ACADEMIC JOURNAL PUBLISHING HAVE ON THE RISKS OF SCIENTIFIC FRAUD AND MALPRACTICE?

  6.1  Developments in academic journal publishing are unlikely to have any significant effect on fraud and malpractice. There are two reasons for this:

    —  Firstly, there has been fraud and malpractice in print journals. Whilst it might be argued that any online text may be more susceptible to fraud, the development of tools to counteract this such as plagiarism detection software make detection easier.

  6.2  And secondly, the present system of peer review, and possibly other methods that could be developed in the electronic environment, should ensure the continuation of quality control.

February 2004




302   http://scurl.ac.uk/ Back

303    Nicholas, D and Huntington, P "Big deals: results and analysis from a pilot analysis of web log data", in The Consortium site licence: is it a sustainable model?" Oxford: Ingenta, 2002 pp 121-150 Back

304    http://sapiens.cdlr.strath.ac.uk/ Back

305    ALPSP http://www.alpsp.org/htp-openacc.htm Back

306    http://www.zim.mpg.de/openaccess-berlin/berlindeclaration.html Back


 
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