Select Committee on Science and Technology Written Evidence


Memorandum from the George Green Library, University of Nottingham

What impact do publishers' current policies on pricing and provision of scientific journals, particularly "big deal schemes", have on libraries and the teaching and research communities they serve?

  Price increases have been well above average inflation and have put severe pressure on library budgets. This has forced a transfer of funds from spending on other areas eg books in order to sustain essential periodical subscriptions.

  Big deal schemes had advantages in the early days of electronic journals, because they quickly created a substantial body of electronic titles to "kick-start" the acceptance of the new technology. However, libraries now wish to be more selective in the titles they take and in their commitments to certain publishers. The ability to change or cancel the titles purchased and to move from print to electronic format is not always possible under the terms of publishers' licences.

  New pricing models are tending to place a greater emphasis on the electronic component which, being subject to VAT also pushes up costs. Government should consider removing VAT liability from electronic information.

  The effects are a lack of freedom for libraries and a loss of control over their spending. Funds have been tied to supporting journal packages under licence terms of varying degrees of restriction. This has had the effect of stifling the full exploitation of other new electronic information resources, such as e-books, because there are insufficient funds to invest in these areas. It has limited our ability to respond to changing research interests because libraries are not easily able to cancel unwanted titles in order to take new subscriptions or to save funds by cancelling print and relying on electronic formats. Money committed to the support of journals has been at the expense of other materials and services, eg. book purchasing, thereby affecting students' access to materials to support learning.

What action should Government, academic institutions and publishers be taking to promote a competitive market in scientific publications?

  Large publishing houses are developing powerful monopolies which can impose unrealistic price increases and licence restrictions on libraries. Government should investigate proposed mergers and support smaller publishers in retaining their independence. These may often be learned societies, educational establishments or not-for-profit organisations. Large publishing houses have been praised for generating high profits but this should be seen in the context of where the money has come from (often the public purse) and how it is used (invested or distributed to shareholders).

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 such a trend and, if so, how?

  Traditional journals publish research results and charge individuals and libraries for access and this may severely restrict the transfer of information, much of which has been generated by public funding. In some cases the author may even be unable to provide copies of his research articles to his students because of the transfer of copyright to the publishers and their inflexibility on waiving restrictions. Open access journals typically charge the researcher to publish their work and then distribute it freely, thereby widening access for other researchers and students to the results of research.

  Researchers are under pressure to publish in established, prestigious journals and are wary of new open-access journals unless they can see that these are accepted equally by the scientific community. The RAE could give equal weight to publication in such journals and this may help them gain recognition.

  Researchers could be entitled to receive funding to pay for publication in open-access journals. Government could provide financial support to open-access initiatives.

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?

  Open access journals, and other alternative publishing initiatives, have the potential to open up information to the benefit of researchers and students. However, they need to be integrated into established scientific publishing practices such as inclusion in the major bibliographic indexes, catalogues etc., rather than relying on simple Internet search engines for information retrieval. This is especially important in science where searching needs to be possible by data as well as text.

  There must also be a reliable archiving policy to ensure continued access to the information in perpetuity.

  These tasks may well be beyond the scope of legal deposit libraries, though their involvement should help.

What impact will trends in academic journal publishing have on the risks of scientific fraud and malpractice?

  Mechanisms need to be set up to ensure the continuation of peer-review. This is not without its failures in traditional journals and could work as well in electronic models. Secure archives and mechanisms for tracking publication-sequences are important in this context.

February 2004

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