Memorandum from the Mammal Society
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.
The Mammal Society is a membership-based charity
whose aim is to investigate the status and conservation of all
mammal species in Britain, through the collaborative fieldwork
of members and volunteers, who may be amateur or professional
mammalogists. It has a small staff, but relies upon the academic
members for much of the analytical work. It has about 2,500 members,
and rather more participants in its surveys. Its income comes
from a variety of sources, mainly contracts (especially from government
departments and agencies), membership donations, and grants from
The Society publishes a scientific journal,
Mammal Review, in collaboration with Blackwell's, and has
published a number of booklets, guides and some major books. We
thus have some experience of both sides of the scientific publishing
world. Our journal is available on-line, thanks to Blackwell's,
but most members take a printed copy, which for amateurs and isolated
professionals (eg in Environmental Consultancies) remains the
most useful format. It is mainly as readers and authors of the
literature that our interest in current debates over scientific
publishing arises: essentially, we are reiterating and supporting
the arguments already put to you by the BTO.
The increasing availability of journals on-line
makes them more available to professional academics in large institutes.
Paradoxically, the opposite applies to those who work in small,
independent institutes (with more limited funds available for
library subscriptions) and to amateurs, especially. 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.
This is increasingly frequent, either because print versions are
not produced or because (for space reasons) they are no longer
kept by the libraries which subscribe to them. This is particularly
a problem with the historical archives, which tend to be more
important to those working on environmental matters, who are less
obsessed with the latest research results, but more concerned
with archival material 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
amateurs. It is only practicable when the precise research paper
is already known, but again of little help for browsing.
3. Publishers changing their rules
The number of external readers at university
libraries is very 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 to external
readers their access to e-journals, 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). Most local societies and research
groups publish their own journals, but these are increasingly
likely to be overlooked (ignored) by major publishers and libraries.
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 have failed so far
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. We strongly
support the suggestion, made by the BTO, that Copyright Libraries
be given similar access to on-line as to printed works.
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