Memorandum from the British Trust for
This submission concentrates on the problems
that recent trends in publishing have caused for amateur researchers
and those working in small, independent institutes, who make a
disproportionate contribution to the knowledge-base required (by
government and others) for addressing environmental policy issues.
For the benefit of those unfamiliar with the
field, we have included an annex that summarises the importance
for that environmentally-related knowledge-base of small, independent
institutes and amateurs (often focussing their attentions on particular
The BTO is a membership-based charity whose
aim is to undertake high quality research into bird populations
and their habitats, through the collaborative fieldwork of large
numbers of volunteers and the professional input of its staff;
its work focuses particularly on issues of current environmental
concern. It has a staff of 91 (29 PhDs), 12,500 members, and an
annual budget of £3.1 million. Its income comes from a variety
of sources, mainly contracts (especially from government departments
and agencies), membership donations, and grants from charitable
The Trust publishes two scientific journals
and has published a number of major books. We have recently spent
some time in investigating the issue of open access, on-line publication,
which we have just started for one of our own journals. However,
it is mainly as readers and authors of the literature that our
interest in current debates over scientific publishing arises.
The increasing availability of journals on-line
is making them generally easier for academics and those working
in large institutes to access. Paradoxically, the opposite is
the case for those who work in small, independent institutes (with
more limited funds available for library subscriptions) and for
amateurs. The problem is that, while such people can readily become
external readers at university libraries by paying a subscription,
this does not allow them access to electronic holdings. This means
that they have no access to journals that are available only electronically,
either because print versions are not produced or because (for
space reasons) they are not kept by the libraries to which they
subscribe. In earlier times, such extra-mural scholars had access
to everything available to the members of the university.
1. Access through an academic friend
This is probably the most widely used method
at present. Its drawbacks are:
In most cases it represents breach
It is not conducive to browsing.
Unless the friend is a very good
one, it is not a possible route when large numbers of papers need
to be consulted.
2. Paying to access individual articles
This is an expensive way of accessing the literature,
which makes it particularly unsuitable for small institutes and
3. Publishers changing their rules
The number of external readers at university
libraries is small in relation to the number of internal readers.
The proportion of them who can afford individual subscriptions
to a wide range of journals is also small.
It seems to us, therefore, that it would cost
the publishers very little to allow libraries to extend access
to e-journals to external readers, so long as the number to whom
that was extended did not exceed some (small) percentage of the
total readership of the library.
4. Open access publication
This solves this problem completely. It does,
however, bring other problems in its wake for those who work in
small institutions and amateurs (see below).
The introduction of the Web of Knowledge has
provided researchers with their most powerful tool to date to
search for and access information, revolutionising the way in
which they work. Access to the Web of Knowledge is restricted
in the same way as access to e-journals and thus small independent
institutions and academics are at a disadvantage. A similar solution
Scientific publishing has become concentrated
in a few hands. This disadvantages many taxon-based publications
because they are generally not of interest to the major publishers,
as a result of their small circulations and the restricted potential
for increasing their subscription rates (because they cover poorly-funded
fields and a significant proportion of their subscribers are often
amateurs or from small institutes). Thus they are left in the
hands of small publishers who are often incapable of protecting
their market against aggressive marketing by the large publishers.
"Bundling" of numbers of e-subscriptions by the larger
publishers has severely exacerbated this competition.
These are a major break-through in accessibility
for all readers, though most on-line journals still need to produce
designs that make it as easy to scan and browse their content
as with print journals.
Open access publication creates problems for
authors in terms of paying the publication fee that most such
journals have to charge. Should there be official support for
the development of open access publication, it is important that
it is comprehensive. That is to say, all government departments
and agencies should routinely provide funding to meet publication
costs in the grants and contracts they issue. For such funding
to be provided only through research councils (for example) would
disadvantage those whose main sources of funding are elsewhere.
(The small, independent institutes undertaking so much of the
taxon-based and environmental research that is fundamental for
national policies on the environment get most of their funding
from sources other than the research councils).
Systems of support that minimize the need for
authors to be charged need to be strongly encouraged. (One easy
step, which would meet a small proportion of the costs of open
access publishing, would be for the British Library to maintain
a national archiving system that could be used without charge
by any publisher of an open access journal. This is the modern
equivalent to the traditional system of copyright libraries for
Down-side for the amateurs
Amateur authors will be unable to publish in
open access journals that do not operate waivers of charges for
those without funds. We would therefore suggest that those promoting
open access publishing strongly support the establishment of waiver