Select Committee on Science and Technology Written Evidence


APPENDIX 100

Memorandum from the Cambridge University Library

1.  INTRODUCTION

  Cambridge University Library (CUL) welcomes the opportunity to respond to the inquiry into scientific publications. CUL is committed to promoting the dissemination and long-term availability of scientific research output, whether created within the University of Cambridge or elsewhere. In furtherance of this principle it has become an institutional member of SPARC Europe[329]; is a signatory to the Budapest Open Access Initiative[330]; and contributes to the work of the UK Digital Preservation Coalition[331]. Furthermore, as a legal deposit library CUL has taken a leading role in the storage, management and preservation processes for printed materials and has recognised that these processes must now be developed for electronic assets. As a member of both SCONUL (Society for College, National and University Libraries) and CURL (Consortium of University Research Libraries), CUL endorses the submission made on our behalf by those bodies and will not repeat here the points made in that submission.

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

  2.1  The current economics of scholarly journal publishing are unsustainable. Unless the model is changed, academic libraries and universities will be unable to continue to provide access to the world's scholarship and knowledge. The SCONUL/CURL response indicates clearly how journal costs have risen far in excess of the RPI in the last 10-15 years. This has taken place over a period when university library budgets have, at best, increased at the level of the RPI, but in many years libraries, including CUL, have been faced with a budget that was either static or even lower than that of the previous year. This has created a vicious circle, in which cuts in journal subscriptions have led to further price increases which, in turn, have led to further cuts.

  2.2  A small number of commercial publishers are exercising increasing control over the publication and distribution of scientific scholarship and research, and their business models and marketing strategies threaten to undermine the core academic values of promoting broad and rapid dissemination of new knowledge and wide access to the results of scholarship and research. The licensing commitments associated with "big deal schemes" or "bundling" are squeezing budgets by requiring libraries to maintain large, fixed levels of expenditure with certain publishers without the ability to cancel unneeded subscriptions. In the past, one was that a library could accommodate increases in serials prices was by cancelling some titles. This possibility is now much more restricted, as current licensing agreements, as practised for example by Elsevier Science, mean that if a library cancels any significant number of the journals it subscribes to, the pricing of the other journals that the library chooses to keep increases substantially. This means that libraries have to make cancellations elsewhere to finance the "big deal scheme", thus putting the smaller journal publishers (learned societies and university presses) and the publishers of monographs at a more disadvantageous situation in the publishing market.

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

  3.1  The three players each have a role to play. It is an ironic situation that has developed whereby many academics have been willing to pass copyright control over their articles to the publishers. They give the results of their research, which has often been funded either by their institution or through grants from public sources, to the commercial publisher, who then "sells" it back to the academic's institution through the library.

  3.2  The open-access model, whereby researchers can publish the results of their work either through institutional or subject-based repositories, provides an alternative to the current model. There is an increasing range of business models for open-access, and opportunities for publishing in peer-reviewed open-access "journals", so that it is no longer possible to argue that open-access is necessarily less prestigious than publishing with a major commercial journal. The encouragement of open-access, in the interests of creating greater competition and promoting the wider availability of scientific research, could be achieved without placing at risk the legitimate expectations of publishers such as the university presses and scientific societies, who depend on income from their publications but who do not, on the whole, exploit their market position in the way that some commercial publishers do.

  3.3  Open-access would gain significantly in status if the output from government-supported research were to be made freely available in the public domain, either instead of, or in addition to, publication through traditional journals. The Max Planck Gesellschaft in Germany and the Wellcome Trust in the UK have already stated publicly that they will meet the costs of publishing in such journals or repositories. A similar statement from the UK research councils and other funding agencies would be a welcome development.

  3.4  With the OAI (Open Archives Initiative) the consideration of a network of repositories is now a possibility, whereby all researchers can be encouraged to "self-archive" their articles, which will then be accessible by all without charge. CUL has initiated a project, Dspace@Cambridge[332], whose primary purpose is to develop a digital repository for the University of Cambridge. It utilises an open-source digital-repository system, and, by making research publicly available via such a repository, will ensure that both the teaching and research communities will have access to the publications they require both now and in the future, as Dspace aims to ensure the long-term preservation of items deposited.

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 A TREND AND, IF SO, HOW?

  4.1  From an RAE point of view, the important factor ought to be the intellectual merit of the article, regardless of where it is published. The problem to-date has been that the impact factor of a particular journal has been regarded as a key merit in this exercise. Provided that open-access "publishing" is peer reviewed, then there is no apparent reason why publishing in an open-access journal should be regarded as any less acceptable for the RAE ratings than publishing with an expensive commercial journal.

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  In common with the other legal deposit libraries, CUL is heavily used by the scientific community, both from within Cambridge and elsewhere. Over 50% of the Library's 35,000 currently registered users are neither staff nor students from the University of Cambridge. As a matter of course, the Library makes the electronic journals to which it subscribes (over 4,000 titles) available to the desktops of researchers anywhere in the University. Wherever possible (subject to licensing restrictions) users from outside the University may also make use of these journals on a walk-in basis in the University Library buildings. The main restrictions on this are the requirements by some publishers that access is on a password-only basis, which means that some journals are not available to library users coming from outside the University.

  5.2  Most scientists now prefer to have access to journal articles in electronic form rather than from paper journals. A complete switch to paper-only journals is, however, constrained by two factors:

    —  The first is the uncertainty about access to earlier issues. If a library has subscribed to a paper journal, the issues of that journal are archived and available for users. Subscriptions to electronic journals are for access only and the library owns noting tangible from previous years. Some publishers make their back runs available freely after a certain number of years. Others charge an additional fee for long-term access, and there are several models in between. It should be a requirement that, having once paid for access to a particular year's issues, the subscriber should then have indefinite access without being required to pay an additional fee for this or to be required to continue the subscription.

    —  The second constraint is the continuing uncertainty about long-term access to electronic files. Journals of the seventeenth century can still be read without difficulty. How sure are we that electronic journals of 2004 will be accessible in 300 years' time? This is a matter which is being addressed by many organisations around the world but it has not yet been solved, and the solution will undoubtedly mean that whatever electronic archives are established (whether in the legal deposit libraries or elsewhere) will need to be adequately funded.

  5.3  The Legal Deposit Libraries Act 2003 is a major step towards resolving one aspect of this problem of securing that electronic future. We await the establishment by the government of the Advisory Panel that will regulate this matter, but once the secondary legislation covering electronic journals is enacted, it should be possible to ensure that such journals are placed in an appropriate archive. As already indicated, this cannot be done except at a price, and the libraries are currently exploring the most cost-effective model of providing a secure repository for electronic materials received under legal deposit.

  5.4  It should not, however, be taken for granted that the enactment of legal deposit legislation will do more than ensure the long-term preservation of electronic information, as the restrictions likely to be imposed by publishers to protect what they see as their legitimate business interests will restrict access to the legal deposit versions of electronic journals, probably to just one workstation within each legal deposit library building. This means that, in this respect at least, for Oxford and Cambridge, where campus-wide access to journals will be required, the legal deposit provisions will have little effect, as the libraries will have to continue to subscribe to those journals that they can afford, as they do at present.

  5.5  The scientific publishing business is a global one, and many of the major publishers operate either entirely outside the UK or partially so. There is a growing international concern with the issues dealt with in this inquiry, and the UK government should seek support from the European Union and other governments in the investigation of these matters.

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

  6.1  This is a matter better addressed in the responses from the scientists rather than the libraries. Plagiarism is a problem, be it in the print or electronic world. However, if more research becomes available in an open access environment, detection can be easier. There is a risk that scientific papers can appear on the web without peer review, and indeed they already do so. There is no perfect solution, but the opportunity to withdraw or correct a mistake that has appeared in an electronic environment is far more easily facilitated. The web has already allowed the publication of many non-reviewed articles on a variety of subjects and only through the education of users in critical appraisal skills can be the risks be decreased.

February 2004



329   The Academic Resources and Scholarly Publishing Coalition: http://www.sparceurope.org/ Back

330   http://wwwl.soros.org/openaccess/read.shtml Back

331   http://www.dpconline.org/graphics/about/ Back

332   http://www.lib.cam.ac.uk/dspace/ Back


 
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