Memorandum from the National Electronic
Library for Health (NELH)
The National electronic Library for Health (http://www.nelh.nhs.uk)
is a large scale digital library serving the NHS, including staff,
patients and public. It has around 200,000 unique visitors per
month. The Library manages a wide range of content, both licensed
and open-access. It works in partnership with NHS libraries, including
the National Core Content Group, who have also responded to the
Committee's call for views.
NeLH is funded by the NHS Information Authority.
In the NHS it works closely with the National Programme for IT
and NHSU. It is also a member of the Common Information Environment
Group, which includes the British Library, JISC, and Resource.
The NeLH works with a wide range of suppliers
and agents, including: small, medium and large traditional publishers;
charities and other voluntary bodies; pure digital publishers;
In response to the Committee's call for views
we would like to make 3 main points:
(1) There is a strong casein terms
of efficiency, effectiveness and public interestfor making
the findings of publicly funded research freely available;
(2) We don't feel there is a single best
way to achieve this. The role of government and funding agencies
should be to set a clear vision and a challenging timetable; and
(3) Specifically to the health and social
care sector, we believe that the unique nature of the Cochrane
Library means that it should be available on an Open Access basis,
in a similar way to PubMed.
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?
Publishers' current policies on pricing and
provision reflect the fact that academic journals are akin to
monopolies. Publishers' are therefore able to dictate price and
licensing arrangements. "Big deal schemes" from these
publishers have a tendency to adopt the same approach.
Publisher monopoly affects libraries and their
users in a number of ways:
There is little price competition and therefore
University and NHS libraries cannot afford to provide access to
publicly funded research findings. It seems in principle unfair
that libraries should have to meet the charges levied by suppliers
for goods that have been already paid for to a large extent from
the public purse (through the education of scientists; university
and other research support; specific research grants; unpaid peer-review;
and in the case of medical research, the time of research subjects)
In the digital realm, publishers are competing
with libraries to create suites of content. Publishers' main interest
is in realising value from their assets. Increasingly, they are
creating `value-added products' whose main aim is not primarily
to meet the needs of librarians and users but to inter-link their
As a result digital libraries are more difficult
to create than they should be. Publishers have limited interest
in creating interoperability between their products and those
of other publishers, and standards work progresses slowly. Libraries
have to implement passwords and other devices to restrict access.
This is both time consuming and confusing to users and librarians.
With more and more information becoming readily
available via the Web availability may take precedence over quality
when deciding which information to use. There is some evidence
that freely available information resourcesfor example
those found via Googleare used in preference to resources
that may be of better quality but are more difficult to obtain.
What action should Government, academic institutions
and publishers be taking to promote a competitive market in scientific
A market for primary research findings in the
true sense does not exist. Government activities in this area
should support strategic goals including: public trust in science;
the visibility of UK research; and the growth of broadband Britain.
We believe the role of HMG should be to set a clear vision for
open access to publicly funded research, and set a challenging
timetable for achieving that vision.
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?
As a Government activity, the RAE has a role
to play in the transition to open access to primary research,
Confirming the acceptability of research
published in OA journals;
Considering the place of an Open
Archive of RAE submitted papers; and
Engaging in the debate about open
access and research quality.
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?
The British Library is prevented from playing
as full a role as it might because it needs to raise income by
providing a document delivery servicea service which is
predicated on the limited availability of primary research findings.
What impact will trends in academic journal publishing
have on the risks of scientific fraud and malpractice?
If scientific ghost writing, `salami publishing'
(publishing as many papers out of one study as possible), publication
bias, abstract bias and poor quality reporting of the results
of clinical trials are included as types of malpractice, the overall
quality of papers in peer-reviewed academic journals is often
much lower than would be assumed.
There is nothing unique to the current approach
to academic journal publishing to prevent fraud and malpractice.
Equally, there is nothing inherent to the open access approach
to publishing that increases the risk of scientific fraud and
The Cochrane Library is a database of systematic
reviews of the effectiveness of health and social care interventions.
Originally conceived in the UK by Professor Sir Iain Chalmers,
Cochrane Reviews provide unique and vital information, with the
potential to improve care and make more effective use of scarce
The production of Cochrane Reviews is largely
funded by Governments around the world, but the Reviews themselves
are only available on a subscription basis from a commercial publisher.
We feel that the aims of the Cochrane Collaboration
would be more effectively met through an open access approach