Select Committee on Science and Technology Written Evidence


Memorandum from the Knowledge Management Committee, West Dorset General Hospitals NHS Trust

  1.  The NHS has emphasised national efforts to assist NHS researchers, teachers, students, and practitioners in carrying out their work effectively. Much of this effort is being made at an electronic level. Cost, access, marketability, and quality of information/research are addressed in this brief commentary.

2.  COST

  Big deal schemes, such as the NHS's National Core Content, may help to respond to the high cost of journals through the negotiation of discounts for mass purchase. Core content is best suited to core areas common to all NHS Trusts, rather than specialty areas within the NHS. The Core Content scheme comes at too great a price, however. Selection policies for individual titles and content have not been made clear. Simply stating that the decisions were made by a committee, based on value for money, is too vague. Local libraries have little or no influence over the chosen vendors and content or terms of any licensing agreements. Consequently, quality of library services to communities of users tends to suffer.

  3.  Libraries are more reluctant to cancel local subscriptions in favour of relying on nationally funded journals, in the case of the Core Content, because the collection has not stabilised. Continuity of local collections may suffer if a national subscription to a locally desired journal is cancelled. The Core Content, including software design, appears to still be under development. This issue is probably the most damaging to the use of libraries in the NHS. The vendors do not seem to be held accountable for providing a finished product. Users have difficulty navigating some of the databases and grow frustrated when software features fail to function. Free or subsidised content may be little better than no content when it is difficult to access or does not provide quick, efficient access to useful information.


  Licensing agreements and institutional subscriptions, regardless of whether they are specific to an individual organisation or to a consortium, tend to imply access for a particular audience. NHS initiatives; such as reaching out to the public, supporting prison health services, and considering subcontracting GP work to private practices, may hamper effective reinforcement of license agreements and copyright laws. Alternatively, libraries may require additional funding to support expanding user groups.

  5.  The use of passwords may help protect copyrighted materials and gather user statistics. This comes at too great a sacrifice as passwords and user IDs set up barriers for busy clinicians, researchers, and NHS staff. IP address-limited, proxy server, or network-specific access is a better solution to protect copyrighted or licensed materials.

  6.  It can be very frustrating to researchers to search for articles in databases and journal sets that have not been integrated. For example, journal titles for communities of users should be in one searchable database. This may best be accomplished at a local level because efforts at national or regional integration interfere with integration of locally held resources, especially in organisations where knowledge management (integration of local documents and resources) is an issue. Alternatively, a national integration mechanism would need to accommodate local library holdings.

  7.  Archiving will become increasingly important as web-based literature becomes the norm. Electronic information is less stable than information published in hard copy. Dellavalle et al (Science Vol 302, 31 October 2003: 787-788) suggests that publishers refuse to accept articles for publication that cite Internet-only references. This solves archival problems only at one level. Access to electronic journals; previously, but no longer subscribed; represents a sticky issue in licensing agreements. When establishing licensing agreements, libraries should always negotiate for continued access to issues of electronic journals for which they have already paid. This may come in the form of a CD.


  Open access literature may someday drive down the cost of journal subscriptions if open access journals or other publishing mechanisms are recognised as having a high readership compared to journals that charge for access. Maintaining a competitive market will require greater status being given to publication in a limited selection (eg, high readership or most frequently cited in a discipline) of journals/publishing mechanisms. BioMedCentral encourages competition by keeping track of how often particular articles, rather than journals, are cited. Whilst this is helpful to the reputations of individual authors, it may also be useful to offer lists of most-cited journals to encourage open access journals to compete with each other for readership, As most open access literature appears to be funded by institutions, it will be important to maintain a healthy supply of funding for research.


  If the open access publisher states the criteria reviewers have used and the criteria meets acceptable standards, the quality of the information is more likely to be trustworthy than peer-reviewed literature where review standards have not been stated. This is true for more traditionally published literature as well as open access. Some concern has been expressed regarding the potential for drug companies to bias readers by funding research and publication. Quality journals should routinely include statements regarding any conflict of interest when publishing articles.

February 2004

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