Memorandum from Sir Brian Follett
For the last two years I have chaired (for the
Funding Councils plus the British Library (plus those in Wales
and Scotland)) a so-called Research Libraries Support Group (RSLG)
who have looked at the issues "in the round". One product
was the recommendationnow accepted by the Funding Councils
plus British Libraryto create a Research Libraries Network
which will be based within the BL will focus upon strategic issues.
Its life will begin on April 1, 2004 and I genuinely believe it
should introduce a step change in the level of library cooperation
and collaboration within UK higher education. Its most important
role, however, will be to develop national strategic solutions
to the many issues facing libraries in the coming decades.
I emphasise strategic because the field of librarianship/information
resources is replete with experts on the technical aspects but
what is missing is any kind of national overview in the electronic
era and without those then I do believe all the power and influence
will flow to publisherswhether they be "for profit"
or so-called "not for profit".
Overall, the issues are not that simple although
if one listens to a one side of the coin they are said to be crystal
clear! Rather than submit our rather lengthy RSLG Report our report
(which is available of course in both printed and electronic versions)
I enclose copies of two speeches which I have given over the last
twelve months in Italy at the LIBER conference and in Spain (to
the annual meeting of Spanish University Rectors/Librarians).
They try to summanse -particularly in the Introductions and Conclusions
the views of my committee and the context:
Might I make the following personal observations
to your Committee:
(1) Peer review is absolutely critical
for the world scientific enterprise. We have watched (and are
watching) professions "destroy themselves" by undermining
their credibility. For good or ill, peer review guarantees truth.
Short cutting this process could be lethal in the medium-term
to science and, despite the apparent attractiveness of cheaper
publishing, could turn out as highly cost ineffective. Please
also see point 4.
(2) Publishing remains at the core of
the scholar's esteenilpromotion structure and is likely to
remain there. Most of us realise high salaries do not come from
academe but status and self-respect still do. The vital thing
is where academics publish. I am certainly not against changing
the arrangements but it is scholars worldwide who must
make these decisions.
(3) The UK is a small player and
nothing can be done without the Americans. That is a fact -palatable
or unpalatable. The US undertakes and publishes 50% of the world's
research. Over the years I and others have talked at length to
the Americans about these issues: their views coincide and the
conundrum of ensuring quality of the science against cost is identical.
(4) Publishing is a minor cost of the
research enterprise. Already scientiststhrough their
grantsor their institutions pay for virtually all aspects
of their scholarly research: salaries, consumables, equipment,
laboratory space and travel. Virtually none pay for publication
costs and even reprints have disappeared. Since the overall cost
of research publication (but significant) I favour shifting its
cost onto the researcher and away from a third partythe
librarian. This is likely to change the culture more markedly
and faster than just about anything else. Then the researcher
will begin to concern himself or herself in the other points (costs,
status etc.). Ironically it would also be cost neutral since one
is in effect shifting cost inside a higher education institution
(though some would lose, some would win). The current arrangements
in which the user does not pay leads inevitably to all the obvious
(5) Libraries are a minor headache for
vice-chancellors. Costs on periodicals rarely run above 1 per
cent of turnover and so increased costs above the norm can be
lived with just as they are in other areas (eg annual purchasing
bill for IT equipment). I have made many presentations to VCs
and tried to beat them around the head but it is not perceived
as a major issue.
(6) For the UK research publishing is
a major industry. We need to be careful because it is an industry
where the UK is very well placed. Put bluntly the profit to the
UK (and its rapid rise) may outweigh the losses within the UK.
This is a view articulated in different language by the DTI.
(7) The cost base is not all it appears.
I also find aspects of the for profit companies open to serious
questionespecially when they try to force distortions upon
the market. But I doubt if that necessitates a revolution: the
surpluses of UK not for profit learned societies are also large.
(8) Some of the solutions are not properly
costed. Many e-print solutions appear cheap because many costs
are paid by the university.
None of the above argues for inaction and the
RSLG report makes that very plain. Some strong negative feedback
loop onto the publishers is required. I think much might come
from shifting the costs from the library/central university to
the researcher and their grant. One suspects "open access",
"university repositories" etc can play a role but the
market is a strong one. Access issues matter but we can handle
these in the UK by methods already tested and working (eg the
Document Supply Centre at the BL, the access grants given to universities
to open up their libraries). I would like to hope that "my"
report and the creation of RLN will focus upon these issues as
one of its first ventures.