Select Committee on Science and Technology Written Evidence


APPENDIX 83

Memorandum from Aslib

EXECUTIVE SUMMARY

  1.0  Aslib—The Association for Information Management is the leading global corporate membership organisation in its field, with members in some 70 countries. Aslib actively promotes best practice in the management of information resources. It lobbies on all aspects of the management of, and the legislation concerning, information at local, national and international levels.

  1.1  Many of Aslib's members are at the forefront of providing access to the results of scientific research. Our corporate membership includes the British Library, the National Library of Scotland, many universities and other academic institutions, government departments and agencies, representatives from the health sector, as well as those commercial operations which rely heavily on research to maintain their competitive edge.

  1.2  Aslib has consulted with its constituency of members, and produced this document as a result of that process, in response to the call for submissions by the Science and Technology Committee. The structure of special interest groups and regional branches, the meetings of these groups, as well as Aslib's award winning magazine Managing Information, and its electronic newsletters, have been used to facilitate the consultation process. A working group of relevant senior and experienced key group and branch committee members has guided the development of this submission.

  1.3  The UK research community cannot operate in isolation from the global research environment. Although its output is significant, the UK research activity is not dominant in the global context, and the UK on its own cannot control such aspects as the business models for journal publishing. The dominant force is the USA.

  1.4  Publishing the results of research contributes greatly to the quality of the overall research activity. It also benefits the UK as an enterprise, and the quality of life of its citizens.

  1.5  The publishing activity also incurs significant costs. These must be recovered one way or another, and there are a number of models for doing this. Hitherto, the most popular model has been that of the commercial publisher, although there has also been a significant output from the not-for-profit sector. The income from publishing research must recover costs, accrue sufficient income to invest in improvements, and in the case of commercial publishers, also yield a profit to pay dividends to shareholders, a legitimate function of a business.

  1.6  The peer review process is a significant benefit of the traditional publishing model, which ensures the quality and integrity of the research. The peer review systems however incur significant costs.

  1.7  The full benefits of research results cannot be realised unless those who need to know are aware of the existence of the research, and can easily access the results. This is where librarians and information managers add significant value to the research activity through their expertise in souring, organising, storing, conserving, and providing access to, information.

  1.8  An impression of the benefits that libraries and information management services deliver can be gained from recent research carried out by the British Library which showed that this library alone contributes £363 million annually to the UK economy.

  1.9  There is growing concern that our younger researchers place undue emphasis on internet search engines and web-based sources, overlooking the fact that search engines only scratch at the surface of the information available, and that the sources which may come up using a search engine may be of very poor quality, and are unlikely to be peer reviewed.

  1.10  The acquisitions budgets of libraries and information services in the UK, and elsewhere, have been under considerable pressure for many years. They have not been keeping pace with the rapid changes which have been taking place in journal publishing, the increased costs, and the significant growth in output of research material. The effects of this have been exacerbated by the fact that in the UK, print journals are zero rated for VAT, whereas VAT is payable on the electronic versions.

  1.11  The Open Access business model is a product of the frustration that the academic world, and libraries in particular, has been feeling at the spiralling costs of journal publishing, combined with the stagnant or falling purchasing budgets. As yet there is insufficient experience of this model, or empirical evidence available to ascertain whether it has a stable and sustainable long-term future in disseminating scientific, technical and medical research.

  1.12  Aslib makes the following recommendations to the Committee:

    1.12.1  Library acquisitions funding should be increased to keep pace with increased costs (which are not merely inflationary, but also costs associated with increasing output and improved functionality), see references12.2 and 12.3 for figures.

    1.12.2  In the immediate future, non-commercial educational and research establishments should be exempt from paying VAT on electronic information. In the longer term, the UK should lobby the EU for parity on the VAT applicable to paper and electronic formats.

    1.12.3  Duties are laid upon the legal deposit libraries, including the storage, organisation, accessibility and functionality, as well as conservation, of legal deposit material. Funding must be sufficient for those obligations to be met, to maximise access and therefore the benefits to those who need them, and to assure their long-term existence in the best possible condition.

    1.12.4  Licensing schemes for journals and content should be investigated, to ensure that they are fair to all parties and sustainable in the long-term.

    1.12.5  The government should neither support nor oppose open access journals, but should support research into their long-term future including an assessment of the positive and negative results they will have. Research should also be undertaken into the effectiveness of peer review in the open access model, and the best ways of ensuring the quality and integrity of research.

    1.12.6  The Office of Fair Trading's Research (which found evidence that the Scientific Technical and Medical journals market in the UK may not be working) should be followed up by further thorough investigations. See 12.4 for references.

    1.12.7  The Committee should endorse the role of librarians and information managers in selecting, evaluating, procuring, organising, disseminating and conserving information sources in all formats.

    1.12.8  The Committee should also devote attention to the ways of best archiving, conserving, facilitating access to, and exploiting the considerable body of grey literature (material which is not formally published) to the benefit of the scientific, technical and medical research community, and the UK as a whole. Grey literature plays a significant role in the research activity, and its importance should not be overlooked.

2.  ABOUT ASLIB

    2.1.1  Aslib—The Association for Information Management is the leading global corporate membership organisation in its field, with members in some 70 countries. It was established in 1924. Aslib actively promotes best practice in the management of information resources. A vibrant publishing activity has increasingly been developed in cooperation with Aslib's partners. The variety of perspectives and expertise provided by its international membership is further enhanced by it providing the secretariat for ECIA—the European Council for Information Associations.

  2.2  It lobbies on all aspects of the management of, and the legislation concerning, information at local, national and international levels. Among its most recent lobbying activity has been an extensive consultation exercise on the draft SI for the implementation of EU Directive 29/2001 on the harmonisation of certain aspects of copyright law in the European Union. It has also lobbied on the extension of legal deposit to cover non-print materials. The variety of perspectives and expertise provided by its international membership is further enhanced by it providing the secretariat for ECIA—the European Council for Information Associations.

  2.3  Many of Aslib's members are at the forefront of providing access to the results of scientific research. Our corporate membership includes the British Library, the National Library of Scotland, many universities and other academic institutions, government departments and agencies, representatives from the health sector, as well as those commercial operations which rely heavily on research to maintain their competitive edge. The members range from solo practitioners, through to multinational corporations with many thousands of employees. All corporate members are entitled to join two of our special interest groups focussing on best practice in one field (eg Biosciences, Information Technology and Computing, or Engineering).

  2.4  Aslib has consulted with its constituency of members, and produced this document as a result of that process, in response to the call for submissions by the Science and Technology Committee. The structure of special interest groups and regional branches, the meetings of these groups, as well as Aslib's award winning magazine Managing Information, and its electronic newsletters, have been used to facilitate the consultation process. A working group of relevant senior and experienced key group and branch committee members has guided the development of this submission.

3.  THE RESEARCH COMMUNITY

  3.1  The UK research community cannot operate in isolation from that of the rest of the world. It is not practical for the UK Government to set a policy for journal publishing which operates at variance to, and separate from, the business models operating in the wider global community. The UK has a significant output, particularly in the context of the population of the country, and the numbers active in the research community. Although the UK has influence, it is not able to exercise control over the global research activity. The dominant player is the USA, and it is significant that the impetus for open access emanates from the USA. Trends in the dominant marketplace cannot but impact on the UK scientific and technical journal publishing sphere.

4.  RESEARCH AND THE PUBLISHING OF RESULTS

  4.1  Publishing the results of research contributes greatly to the quality of the overall research activity. It also benefits the UK as an enterprise, and the quality of life of its citizens.

  4.2  Research is carried out, and is then written up. Those carrying out the research wish to gain wider recognition, and thus enhance their authority by maximising access to the results of their work.

  4.3  The traditional method of maximising access is the academic journal. The predominant business model for publishing such journals is the commercial publisher, although learned societies, professional bodies and other not-for-profit organisations have also made important contributions.

  4.4  A process of peer review has been developed. This ensures the quality and integrity of the research. Falsification of research results is not completely eliminated, but there are considerable disincentives to falsify because of the negative reactions of the rest of the research community. The peer review process is a significant benefit of the traditional publishing model, but significant costs are involved, usually born by the publisher. These costs are increased by the need for speedy peer review, and require investment in IT and the staff to run the systems.

  4.5  The publishing activity also incurs other significant costs. These must be recovered one way or another, and there are a number of models for doing this. Hitherto, the most popular model has been that of the commercial publisher, although there has also been a significant output from the not-for-profit sector. The income from publishing research must recover costs, accrue sufficient income to invest in improvements, and in the case of commercial publishers, also yield a profit to pay dividends to shareholders, a legitimate function of a business.

  4.6  The advent of electronic publication has not on the whole reduced costs, because of the need to invest in, and maintain, IT infrastructure, functionality for users, and publish materials in both print and electronic formats. Digital archives (including retrospective conversion of print materials to digital format) also bring considerable costs, as well as the benefits of enhanced searchability and accessibility.

5.  THE ROLE OF LIBRARIES & INFORMATION RESOURCE CENTRES AND THE EXPERTISE OF THOSE WHO WORK IN THEM

  5.1  Libraries have traditionally been storehouses for information, with that information accommodated in a variety of print-based containers—books, journals, maps, pamphlets, files etc. Libraries store information in the optimum conditions deterioration for as long as is necessary, and the sources of information are organised to make them as accessible as possible. That role is rapidly changing, and the core skills of the librarian are even more important given the exponential growth in information brought about by the internet. The skills which have been applied to the exploitation of print materials, are even more vital to the effective exploitation of electronic digital information sources. Librarians and information resource managers create gateways to the sum total of human knowledge.

  5.2  The librarian's expertise in procuring, managing and exploiting information sources adds significant value, and can be categorised under a number of headings.

    5.2.1  Identification, evaluation and procurement. It may be that there are a large number of sources of information, and that space, acquisitions budget, or the time of the reader is limited, so that only the highest quality, most authoritative, or best value-for-money sources are selected. On the other hand, the parent organisation might set the aim of being a centre of excellence or expertise, in which case the librarian will work to identify all the relevant sources of information. An important role is also securing the best deals for purchase, so that the parent body gets the best value-for-money.

    5.2.2  Organisation of information—creating metadata. If information is not organised, and made accessible, it simply disappears into a black hole. Metadata (information about information) ensures that information is accessible and identifiable by those who need it. If a scientist in the UK is not aware that research has already been undertaken in another part of the country, or overseas, to develop non-fattening chips, or a new non-polluting sustainable fuel for the internal combustion engine, then there will be wasted research effort, and money. Scientific and Technical journal articles are a very effective way of communicating what is being, or has been developed, throughout the scientific community. Storing and organising the materials (through classification—a discipline now increasingly known by the natural sciences term "taxonomy"), applying indexing terms so that the relevant articles can be identified and located.

    5.2.3  Awareness raising. Bulletins (increasingly distributed by email) showing the latest acquisitions, and the contents of the most recent journals, are created and disseminated by librarians and information managers. These enable the scientists and inventors, for whom time is precious, to quickly and conveniently identify the information sources they need to consult, so that they can concentrate on deploying their own skills and expertise without wasting time laboriously searching for material.

    5.2.4  Digital formats, and the ease of distribution offered by internet technologies has brought about a massive growth in the quantity of information available.

    5.2.5  Particularly among younger people who have grown up with internet technologies, there is a worrying assumption that the use of an internet search engine will yield all the information necessary. A White Paper by Bright Web published in 2000, said that the "invisible web" or "deep web" is more than 500 times larger than the "surface web", ie that part of the web which the search engines provide access (see 12.1 for reference on this subject). Again the skills of identifying, locating and evaluating are very important. Excessive reliance on the materials accessible through search engines, much of which is of poor quality and lacking in authority, gives access to only a small proportion of the electronic material potentially available (not to mention material which is not available on the web). Not tackling this issue will have very serious implications for the quality of research in the future.

6.  THE ACQUISITIONS AND STAFF BUDGETS OF LIBRARIES AND INFORMATION RESOURCE CENTRES

  6.1  Although digital formats have the potential to reduce costs, in actual fact they have greatly increased the amount of information available. The increased quantities of research information are incorporated into the journal literature, and the greater volumes push up costs. Also, the infrastructure and technology necessary to take full advantage of the potential that the new technologies offer require investment, and maintenance, again tending to increase costs.

  6.2  Frequently journal titles have been made available in both print and digital formats, in some cases with no choice or price advantage for taking one format only.

  6.3  Journal acquisitions budgets have not kept pace with increased costs (see 12.2 for reference to statistics from LISU). Price increases are not merely inflationary, as indicated above.

  6.4  The result of acquisitions budgets not keeping pace with real cost increases is that cuts in purchasing have had to be made, particularly for those journal titles not seen as core to the organisation's business. This in turn means that the publisher cuts print runs, losing out on economies of scale, and has to raise the price of journals to those who are still subscribing. This puts further pressure on budgets, more cuts are made, and a vicious circle is thus perpetuated. Furthermore, VAT is due on electronic information, bot not on print formats, which again pushes costs up.

  6.5  Acquisitions are not the only element of library budgets which are under pressure. The budgets for staff are also not keeping pace with the increased demands, placed upon those staff with the necessary information management skills, caused by the exponential growth in information to be processed and managed. Time spent searching for relevant documents is not the best use of the academics' and researchers' time. Again this poses dangers for the research function, and thus the competitiveness of the UK economy.

7.  OPEN ACCESS BUSINESS MODELS

  7.1  In this paper, we will not provide in-depth explorations of what open access is about, since other relevant bodies will submit evidence. However, we do provide a further reading guide should the Committee wish to learn more, (see 13 for references).

  7.2  Open Access models are a direct response to frustrations brought about by the cost and budgetary pressures outlined above.

  7.3  There are two main ways in which open access operates.

    7.3.1  One is where authors make their papers freely available online—either in prepublication format (not peer-reviewed) known as pre-prints; or as postprints, ie the form of the article after it has undergone peer-review, editing etc. This form of open access greatly increases the body of grey literature (ie material which is not formally published and therefore difficult to identify).

    7.3.2  In the other main form of open access, traditional peer-reviewed journals are made freely available online. Because this does not generate subscription information, and the costs have to be recouped somehow, the cost of publication is born by the author, or the author's employer.

  7.4  There are three main points we wish to make regarding open access.

    7.4.1  There is insufficient experience of, or empirical evidence about, the stability and viability of open access publishing long term.

    7.4.2  It could potentially undermine the current business models for journal publications, and therefore we would lose the investment in accessibility and functionality which these models bring.

    7.4.3  We do not know that the open access model will be able to generate an income which will provide the necessary authority, accessibility and functionality.

    7.4.4  There is a strong case for arguing that open access would not have come about if it had not been for the severe budgetary constraints which have affected libraries supporting the research function, and academic institutions as a whole.

8.  GREY LITERATURE

  8.1  Grey literature plays a significant role in the research activity, and its importance should not be overlooked.

  8.2  The body of grey literature is significantly increasing due to the open access business models.

  8.3  The Committee should also devote attention to the ways of best archiving, conserving, facilitating access to, and exploiting the considerable body of grey literature (material which is not formally published) to the benefit of the scientific, technical and medical research community, and the UK as a whole.

9.  SPECIFIC QUESTIONS

  We summarise the comments made above, under the headings of the questions which the Committee set out in its call for evidence.

  9.1  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?

    9.1.1  Publishers' policies do not operate in isolation; they are a response to market, technical, legislative frameworks and government policy issues.

    9.1.2  The lack of parity between the VAT charged on print (zero) and electronic (where VAT is levied) means that any economies through subscribing to electronic sources are effectively negated by additional VAT charges.

    9.1.3  The publishers need to earn a living, and in the case of commercial firms are legitimately entitled to have profit as an objective and to pay dividends to shareholders. They need to make significant investment in new infrastructure and functionality, as well as meeting the costs of maintenance.

    9.1.4  The fact that academic and commercial firms' library and information resource centre budgets are not keeping pace with the increasing costs, (due not least to the increased quantities of information available brought about by internet technologies), means that subscriptions are being cut. This in turn means reduced revenues to publishers, who lose the economies of scale, and thus further increase subscriptions, which creates a vicious circle. The government could help considerably with this by increasing budgets available to the libraries and information resource centres of academic and research institutions, and by emphasising in the information it itself publishes (eg DTI guidance for business) the importance of library and information management skills, and budgets.

    9.1.5  The so-called `big deals' benefit large organisations with major purchasing power. Smaller operations, which are none the less still important to the economy, are not able to take advantage of these offers, and therefore lose out.

    9.1.6  Licensing schemes are a particular area of concern. There are heavy premiums for multi-site licences. Also, in the case of print journals, the librarian is able to select the number of copies of a journal title which they require, according to use. In the case of licences for electronic publications, there are blanket licences according to total number of employees, students etc, regardless of the use of that particular title. This reduces the librarian's control over their purchases.

    9.1.7  The Office of Fair Trading has conducted an investigation into the scientific technical and medical journals market (see 12.4 for the reference), which found evidence that this market is not working as it should, particularly because of mergers and acquisitions reducing competition in the marketplace. This requires further, thorough, investigation.

  9.2  What action should government, academic institutions and publishers be taking to promote a competitive market in scientific publications?

    9.2.1  Again we point to the Office of Fair Trading's report. On the scientific technical and medical journals market (see appendix xx). The effects of mergers and acquisitions on competition in the marketplace need further investigation.

  9.3  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?

    9.3.1  There is insufficient experience of, or empirical evidence about, the stability and viability of open access publishing long term.

    9.3.2  It could potentially undermine the current business models for journal publications, and therefore we would lose the investment in accessibility and functionality which these models bring.

    9.3.3  We do not know that the open access model will be able to generate an income which will provide the necessary accessibility and functionality.

    9.3.4  There is a strong case for arguing that open access would not have come about if it had not been for the severe budgetary constraints which have affected libraries supporting the research function, and academic institutions as a whole.

    9.3.5  The Government should neither support nor oppose open access journals, but should support research into their long-term future including an assessment of the positive and negative results they will have. Research should also be undertaken into the effectiveness of peer review in the open access model, and the best ways of ensuring the quality and integrity of research.

  9.4  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?

    9.4.1  The key Legal Deposit Library in the UK is the British Library, the only one fulfilling a document supply role to the UK as a whole.

    9.4.2  Up until the Royal Assent for the Bill to extend Legal Deposit to cover non-print materials in November 2003, there was no requirement to deposit digital material with the legal deposit libraries. Although Royal Assent has been granted, the systems and processes for Legal Deposit of digital materials are not yet in operation.

    9.4.3  This means there is a serious danger that important aspects of the national record, held only in digital format, have been lost.

    9.4.4  That said, a great deal of good work has been done to preserve digital material already through voluntary schemes developed by the British Library and Publishers. Given that no legislative framework placed any obligations for the Legal Deposit prior to the Royal Assent for the new in November 2003, and that the BL had to resource it out of existing budgets, this has worked very well.

    9.4.5  The effectiveness of the Legal Deposit system depends in very large measure upon funding being adequate to keep pace with the demands of both the material being published, and those needing to access it.

  9.5  What impact will trends in academic journal publishing have on the risks of scientific fraud and malpractice?

    9.5.1  Existing systems for reducing fraud and malpractice, namely peer-review and peer-pressure, have provided a very effective protection against fraud and malpractice. We believe, with certain qualifications, that they will continue to do so.

    9.5.2  We do have particular concerns about the potential effects of non-peer reviewed open access.

    9.5.3  We also believe that there are dangers that Open Access will not be able to support the costs of the peer review system. If charges to authors are imposed to cover the cost of peer review, it will merely transfer the costs from one part of the academic system to another.

    9.5.4  We believe that there is an urgent need for training and awareness raising among the younger researchers, those who have grown up in the internet age, of the dangers of over reliance on material available on the web, which may be of very dubious quality, and which has been obtained through the use of well-know search engines without any effort to delve deeper into the body of material available.

10.  SUMMARY OF RECOMMENDATIONS

  10.1  Aslib makes the following recommendations to the Committee:

    10.1.1  Library acquisitions funding should be increased to keep pace with increased costs (which are not merely inflationary, but also costs associated with increasing output and improved functionality). See 12.2 and 12.3 for references to statistics.

    10.1.2  In the immediate future, non-commercial educational and research establishments should be exempt from paying VAT on electronic information. In the longer term, the UK should lobby the EU for parity on the VAT applicable to paper and electronic formats.

    10.1.3  Duties are laid upon the legal deposit libraries, including the storage, organisation, accessibility and functionality, as well as conservation, of legal deposit material. Funding must be sufficient for those obligations to be met, to maximise access and therefore the benefits to those who need them, and to assure their long-term existence in the best possible condition.

    10.1.4  Licensing schemes for journals and content should be investigated.

    10.1.5  The government should neither support nor oppose open access journals, but should support research into their long-term future including an assessment of the positive and negative results they will have. Research should also be undertaken into the effectiveness of peer review in the open access model, and the best ways of ensuring the quality and integrity of research.

    10.1.6  The Office of Fair Trading's Research (which found evidence that the Scientific Technical and Medical journals market in the UK may not be working) should be followed up by further thorough investigations. See 12.4 for the reference.

    10.1.7  The Committee should endorse the role of librarians and information managers in selecting, evaluating, procuring, organising, disseminating and conserving information sources in all formats.

    10.1.8  The Committee should also devote attention to the ways of best archiving, conserving, facilitating access to, and exploiting the considerable body of grey literature (material which is not formally published) to the benefit of the scientific, technical and medical research community, and the UK as a whole. Grey literature plays a significant role in the research activity, and its importance should not be overlooked.

February 2004



 
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