Select Committee on Science and Technology Written Evidence


Memorandum from the Museums, Libraries and Archives Council (MLA)


  The Museums, Libraries and Archives Council (MLA), formerly known as Resource, is the key strategic agency working with and on behalf of museums, libraries and archives, advising the Government of policy priorities for all aspects of this sector. It is funded from the vote of the Department for Culture, Media and Sport.

  MLA's Strategic Plan for 2004-7, "Investing in Knowledge", sets out a vision that will enable every citizen to become directly involved in exploring the past and inventing the future, with new routes to museum, library and archive collections, and universal access to the knowledge and information that people need.

  Our commitment to access to knowledge and information means we are able and willing to input to the Science and Technology Committee's enquiry into scientific publications and to help ensure that researchers, teachers and students have easy and fair access to scientific publications. This response is heavily influenced by a recent and extensive consultation process which we carried out (the Wider Information and Library Issues Project) and has been consulted on with the Advisory Council on Libraries, which advises the Minister for Media and Heritage at the Department for Culture, Media and Sport on library policy and development.


  In November of 2003 we published a report of a consultation process across the whole of the library world. The report is available on our website,

  The consultation was managed by MLA in partnership with the British Library (BL) and the Chartered Institute of Library and Information Practitioners (CILIP), the professional body for librarians and information workers. The project was overseen by a group composed of the Chief Executives of all three bodies and is known as WILIP (the Wider Information and Library Issues Project).

  During the consultation process, we spoke to representatives of 77 organisations (200 people were involved in all) right across the library world. We identified thirteen types of library and information service as follows:

    1.  Higher Education libraries;

    2.  Further Education libraries;

    3.  School libraries;

    4.  Public libraries;

    5.  National libraries eg the British Library;

    6.  Corporate library and information services;

    7.  Health libraries;

    8.  Research institution libraries;

    9.  Government libraries;

    10.  Voluntary sector libraries;

    11.  Cultural and heritage libraries;

    12.  Prison libraries; and

    13.  Other information services eg tourist information centres

  (We estimate there are between 20,000 to 30,000 libraries in all in the UK.)

  Significantly from the point of view of this Enquiry, we also spoke to representatives of the "content providers", who were taken to include:

    —  Print publishers;

    —  Digital and other media publishers; and

    —  Distributors and other intermediaries (booksellers, wholesalers, library book suppliers, subscription agents, aggregators, etc.)

  The consultation interviews focussed on the issues confronting the respondents, their vision for the future and how this might be achieved. In the case of content providers, it was beyond the scope of the project to attempt an analysis of the whole of this large and complex sector—instead we concentrated on those issues that arise at the interface between content providers and libraries.

  The WILIP report provides a rich and reliable picture of the issues affecting libraries at the present time and our response to the questions posed by the Enquiry draws on the views expressed to us during the consultation.

  Given our perspective (ie that of the librarian and of the publisher/librarian interface), we are restricting our comments to responses to two of the questions posed (see 4 and 5 below).


  Our consultation showed that for the overwhelming majority of librarians interviewed, whatever type of library they came from, improved access to information was at the heart of their vision for the future—as the report puts it, their vision for their users was "seamless and unfettered access to information resources at the time and place of their choosing and in the form that they want, no matter where the resources were located". Also, they wanted every library, whatever its type, to be a "gateway" to information held in any other library—or, indeed, any archive, museum or other repository of knowledge.

  However, the existing reality leaves much to be desired and the case of scholarly material in general and scientific publications in particular was mentioned often by respondents. As one would expect, such concerns were expressed most frequently by representatives of the HE community and national librarians, but health librarians and research institutions were close behind and related issues were raised by FE and Government libraries.

4.   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?

  Given our perspective, we are not qualified to discuss the impact of publishers' current policies on teaching and research communities, but we certainly heard a great deal during the WILIP consultation about librarians' perceptions of the impact of publishers' policies and we heard the publishers' side too.


  According to the WILIP report, "The major bone of contention between libraries and publishers is the increasing cost of information, and this is most keenly felt with regard to academic journals". For HE libraries, journal price inflation and the cost of e-materials are eroding budgets for other materials, such as learning texts and scholarly monographs. HE libraries have formed purchasing consortia to negotiate better terms. However, the benefits are being eroded by increasing user demand for high cost digital collections of research and learning materials and by publishers' practice of aggregating less popular journals into the subscription packages to maintain income.

  The 2002 Office of Fair Trading report, The Market for scientific, technical and medical journals concluded that, "There is evidence to suggest the market for STM journals may not be not working well. Many commercial journal prices appear high, at the expense of education and research institutions". However, they concluded that it was not appropriate to intervene in the market at this stage but instead to keep it under review to see if technology and market forces, including initiatives like SPARC (the Scholarly Publishing & Academic Resources Coalition) would bring the market more into balance.

  But the prospect offered in the OFT report that digital publishing might enable publishers cut costs and so meet purchasers' demand for lower prices shows no sign of being fulfilled. Publishers attribute this partly to ICT investment costs and partly to operating costs that are higher than expected. What's more, long-term accessibility concerns—centred around issues of ownership and digital preservation—are leading libraries to acquire both print and digital formats. VAT on digital formats has also made it too expensive for libraries to contemplate going over entirely to electronic storage and delivery.

  According to the WILIP report, publishers see the fundamental problem stemming from the increasing mismatch between the growth of research output and the funds available to libraries to acquire it. They are receiving more and more good papers for publication, which leaves them with the options of either increasing the size of journals—which makes them more expensive—or publishing new journals—which again adds to libraries' costs. This view is controversial. While librarians accept there is an element of truth in these assertions, they do not believe they justify what they perceive as the large margins on journal publishing, especially for scientific, technical and medical journals where the prices are much higher than in other subjects and far outweigh the higher costs of colour printing and complex mathematical character sets.

  The perceived threat is that publishers and the library community could end up in competition. Publishers believe the value they add is underrated and that librarians do not recognise that publishing is not just about aggregating content but also involves editing, distribution, marketing and branding, as well as the systems to support these functions. This is another contested viewpoint. Librarians for their part would say that they do recognise the functions of publishers, but that they believe the value added by publishers is overrated. They would point to the fact that publishers get the articles free of charge and are then paid in advance for publishing them in the form of journal subscriptions.

  It is recognised that continuing journal price inflation is pushing these issues higher and higher up a number of agendas, particularly up the higher education agenda (viz the Research Support Libraries Group report), which has led to initiatives like SPARC. So far prestige titles have held their own, because of their cachet for academic authors and the peer review system, but there are concerns that the impact of "disintermediation" could be considerable, if these initiatives take off and begin to take business from academic journals. On the other hand publishers believe that self-publishing schemes will prove expensive, and academia may well find that they do not achieve the better value they seek.


  The various models now being tried or suggested are many and complex. The WILIP report refers in particular to two.

  The SPARC initiative (Scholarly Publishing & Academic Resources Coalition) is gathering momentum. It is seeking to create competitive alternatives to current high-priced commercial journals and digital aggregations. This is being achieved through partnerships with smaller publishers, developing new business models and setting up portals to research information. In the initial stages considerable effort is going into advocacy campaigns aimed at stakeholder groups such as librarians, academic staff and editorial boards. SPARC originated in North America through the auspices of the Association of Research Libraries, but it is expanding across the world largely through affiliate consortia such as SPARC Europe. A number of new titles have already appeared, and SPARC claims that it is having a knock-on effect on journal pricing and is giving a stronger voice to the academics on editorial boards in the running of the existing journals they oversee.

  BioMed Central, launched in 2002, is another example of an alternative approach to publishing. The business model of this independent publishing house cum membership organisation is based on charging authors to publish and then making the content quickly and permanently available online to readers without charge. NHS England has a membership agreement with BioMed Central.

  The WILIP respondents from HE, health libraries and the research institutions frequently referred to their hopes for variants on the open-access model, but there were mixed views on success so far.


  It is important to remember that it is not just pricing that is an issue between publishers and libraries. Other challenges posed by digital publication include:

    —  Archiving;

    —  Preservation;

    —  Need for standardisation of licensing terms;

    —  Continued access to issues of e-journals already acquired after libraries cease subscribing to a title; and

    —  Digital rights management

  Publishers do not see it as their role to be digital archivists, but they do recognise that any archiving and preservation solution developed by libraries is likely to be costly, which raises the question of how it will be paid for.

  More standardisation of licensing terms for e-materials is sought, especially where libraries serve different groups of licensees. In HE libraries, managing licences often requires a dedicated member of staff. A country-wide licence, such as that negotiated for Canadian universities, is seen as desirable by WILIP respondents and work on this is underway, particularly in the health sector.

  Finding an answer to providing continuing access to already acquired issues of e-journals to which libraries have ceased subscribing could also be difficult, since the upgrading of publishers' and aggregators' systems would raise technical barriers.

  A digital rights management system is needed in both the publishing media sector and in the library and information domain. For instance it would help libraries keep track of what rights they have to the use of digital material, thus overcoming the problem many health libraries have in managing different licensing agreements for different classes of users (eg academic or NHS).


  While parts of the content provider sector might appear to be in conflict with libraries, there are also flourishing examples of collaboration.

    —  Name numbering is a prime example of where the trade and libraries are working fruitfully together, pooling expertise and developing schemes that can span both communities. Being able to uniquely identify authors, editors, illustrators, publishers etc is a necessary component of rights management systems and will be especially important in digital rights management (for which a standard is currently being developed by ISO's MPEG group). Authority control in libraries will be made easier, and the user will benefit from the more accurate retrieval of works by the authors in whom s/he is interested.

    —  The question of standard measures for user statistics in the electronic environment is another area where collaboration is happening. Common standards of measurement will inform the negotiations between publishers and libraries over the pricing of licences. The Counter Group that brings together organisations representing publishers and academic libraries is looking at the feasibility of an international standard on user statistics.

    —  A further area of collaboration is the joint lobbying work by the Publishers Association, the Association of Learned and Professional Society Publishers (ALPSP), CILIP, EBLIDA, authors and others on the VAT on e-publications. Publishers believe more articulate and co-ordinated lobbying is needed at national and European level.

    —  On the issue of maintaining continuing access to previous issues when libraries have ceased subscribing to e-journals some strides are being made. For instance OCLC Inc is working towards a system to manage access rights via a central service. In other cases publishers are making their older archive material available free of charge.


  The way forward that publishers favour is to maintain and develop the dialogue and joint activity between themselves and libraries. Given the tension over journal pricing, e-journals and self-publishing by the academic community, publishers think it will be a challenge to keep working together with libraries, but it is thought essential to maintain a constructive dialogue in order to seek a balanced solution where users get what they need at a price that the community can afford. For instance the publishing arms of the learned societies believe there is a fundamental mismatch over funding, and alternative economic models for the publishing of research are needed urgently.

  Some respondents saw the need for some organisation to assume the role of catalyst, bringing bodies together on a range of issues under an umbrella that has clout with government—with the proviso that any such coalition must be for action, not just talking. One of the key aims would be to persuade the government to invest more in libraries—with rather more emphasis on content than infrastructure—thought to be the underlying factor in so many of the issues affecting the relationship between content providers and libraries. Respondents thought Resource (now MLA) might take on that role.

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?

  Four of the Legal Deposit Libraries were involved in WILIP and it was clear that they were facing real challenges in providing access to non-print scientific publications. At a general level, the problems that higher education libraries are encountering over the volume of digital publishing, and the fact that it is not replacing but supplementing print publication, are even greater for the national libraries given their legal deposit roles. First of all what should one aim to collect? Many websites are a rich source of information across a very broad field of human endeavour, but their often rapidly changing content and ephemeral nature make it difficult to decide what is important and what can be ignored. Again the sheer volume of data forces difficult choices. On the one hand the national libraries want to obtain as much material as they can to fulfil their collecting responsibilities, but on the other hand they are having to cope with the technical and resource issues largely unaided.

  The two specific challenges mentioned most frequently were restrictive licensing schemes that were creating significant barriers to access and preservation of digital publications—a pressing problem that needs speedy resolution so that long-term access is assured. Trying to address these issues is especially difficult given the level cash funding by government and pressure on sales income caused by competition.

   Probably the fundamental issue here is the need for further and more focussed and coordinated investment in the digital content and infrastructure of this country in order to provide better access to the UK's national published archive of scientific (and indeed all types of) publication. MLA is currently working with The Joint Information Systems Committee (JISC), the British Library, The National Archives, the National Health Service and other major institutions to improve user access to diverse digital resources in what is being termed "a common information environment". This work is based on a system already used by the JISC and known as the JISC Information Environment. It is essential that any new thinking about access to scientific publications in electronic form "joins up" with this work on this bigger picture of access to electronic material.


  As we pointed out in 3 above, part of the WILIP vision is that any library, whatever its type, should be a "gateway" to information held in any other library—or, indeed, any archive, museum or other repository of knowledge. Although it is undoubtedly true that the primary audiences for scientific publications are in higher education, research institutions and organisations in the health sector, we in MLA are concerned that access to this material is available to the informal student—the "lifelong learner"—who may well not be affiliated to any such institution and whose main gateway to the world of scientific research is via the public library. We would urge that this aspect of the problem is not ignored.

  MLA is investigating the framework that might be appropriate to facilitate licensing agreements for all public libraries in England, but in terms of access to scientific publications for public library users the real issue is that of their access to the collections of HE and other libraries. MLA is currently implementing a three-year Action Plan which will help public libraries achieve the vision set out for them in the report "Framework for the Future", produced in February 2003 by the Department for Culture, Media and Sport. An important strand of the Action Plan is about improving access to learning opportunities and, specifically, improving access to the collections of HE and other libraries. The WILIP report indicated that, although shared access schemes between HE libraries have burgeoned in recent years, university research libraries are cautious about allowing physical access to their collections by users from other types of library because of space and other resource problems. They see virtual access as the potential way forward, but here again we come up against the fact that licensing issues present considerable barriers.

  Current experience with UK Computing Plus, a pilot scheme to allow students from one institution to use e-resources, either from their home institution while physically based at another, or from the host institution's own electronic portfolio, has revealed how complex it is, for legal and licensing reasons, to allow outsiders to use an institution's private computer network. Everything depends, when paying for software and e-resources, on the network being `secure', that is to say, impervious to use by outsiders. This represents a major barrier to the use of a higher education library by users of any kind who are not members of the institution in question. This barrier may need to be explained to users, and to some extent politicians and planners, who have an expectation that if something is available electronically it is the same as its being on the web and freely available to anyone.


  The WILIP consultation resulted in over 200 recommended actions for what was at that time MLA and is now Resource and we have been discussing their possible implementation with relevant partner such as the BL and CILIP. Some of them are straightforward and practical and are being implemented where appropriate—in fact, some of the recommendations made by consultees had already been actioned by Resource or other bodies at the time of the consultation. Other recommended actions require more information, more negotiation, more strategic thinking before action is possible. Many of the 200 recommended actions which fall into this latter category relate to matters relevant to this Enquiry eg one respondent said it was Resource that should "facilitate joint approaches involving universities, university libraries and publishers on better ways of paying for research"—hardly a minor task!

  The next stage of WILIP is called "Routes to Knowledge". It will begin in April 2004 and will tackle the actions requiring these further insights. It will have two main thrusts. One will be about capacity-building across the whole library world to improve access and the second will be about advocacy on behalf of the library world and, in particular, about lobbying the government to invest more in digital content and infrastructure in general and in libraries in particular—a theme that has arisen a number of times in this response.

  We look forward to learning more about this Enquiry and its findings so that they can feed into the work that will be undertaken under the banner of Routes to Knowledge—and, indeed, conversely, so that they might benefit from it. Other initiatives eg work on the establishment of the Research Libraries Network (RLN) will also be crucial.


  Access to information for all is key to MLA's purpose and so we are pleased to provide these comments.

February 2004

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