Memorandum from the University Library,
University of Abertay, Dundee
1. "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?"
On a superficial level it might be thought that
the development of electronic publications has been of great benefit
to libraries and the communities they serve. Provision of "big
deal schemes" by publishers like Elsevier, and aggregators
like Ebsco, mean that library users have access to hundreds of
electronic journals which would not readily be available to them
in print form.
Electronic publications can be accessed 24 hours
A widely accepted authentication system such
as Athens means electronic publications can be accessed by authorised
users from wherever they are in the world.
Sophisticated search engines mean users can
find relevant journal articles or chapters in books much more
quickly than in print format.
Library staff time is saved by not having to
check in, shelve, re-shelve and replace lost issues of journals.
Fines for overdue items are eliminated.
Lecturers can make links to specific items in
reading lists and other teaching materials.
Libraries accept that all this has made a positive
impact on the service they provide.
There is a lack of any common policy among publishers
and their provision of electronic journals. The drawbacks can
be roughly classified as inflexibility, lack of consultation,
financial planning, licensing, and user support.
Some publishers or aggregators provide "big
deal" packages with access to all or most of their journals
regardless of whether the titles are relevant to the readership
of the Library concerned. A better model is operated by other
publishers which require a minimum purchase of say 20 titles at
a flat rate per title, sometimes a substantial reduction on the
Deals are restrictive in that they do not usually
permit any cancellation of print spend in order to benefit from
an increased spend on electronic packages.
Publishers and aggregators are not generally
pro-active in communicating information about their pricing and
access policies. They change the rules at their discretion with
little or no notice or consultation, eg
change from print with optional online
access to a choice of three levels of subscription, with the cheapest
level being online only and no option for print only;
change archival access from "all
available issues" (as initially signed up for) to "build
your own archive" over the years as paid to have a "rolling
archive" eg access to the current year plus one previous
year. This makes it difficult for lecturers using reading lists
from year to year, where the lists contain references to electronic
"bundle" titles so that
in order to have access to the individual title already subscribed
to libraries must also purchase (at greater cost) unwanted titles;
require libraries to purchase a site
charge an institutional subscription
(significantly more expensive than a personal one), but provide
full archival access only to one named individual within the organisation;
withdraw 34 titles and add three
over a two-three year period; and
transfer titles to other publishers
whose policy on pricing and provision is usually different eg
off-campus access may not be permitted.
Deals often take a long time to negotiate or
re-negotiate meaning financial planning is difficult and access
can be interrupted. Long term deals eg five years make financial
planning easier but may cause problems if the teaching profile
changes in that time and libraries need to purchase new titles
in a different subject area.
Users become accustomed to access to a large
variety of electronic journals. If a "big deal" package
becomes too expensive for the Library to maintain a subscription,
users do not necessarily understand the economic argument. Most
publishers currently operate on an "all or nothing"
basis whereas most libraries would prefer the option to have a
personalised package to suit their users.
VAT is added to electronic publication costs
and cannot be reclaimed by universities. A significant and growing
proportion of our materials budget is lost in this way each year.
SCONUL (Society of College, National and University Libraries)
and the Publishers Association lobbied the European Commission
on this issue in 2003, but were unsuccessful.
Publishers are less than transparent about the
proportion of a joint print/online subscription on which VAT is
Currently a substantial amount of money is top
sliced and given to agents such as CHEST to negotiate deals on
behalf of higher education. Frequently these negotiations take
a long time and deals then have to be signed up to at short notice.
Sometimes there is a requirement for a minimum number of HEIs
to sign up. As a result HEIs may resort to doing their own negotiations,
sometimes achieving better deals, but creating the wrong sort
of competition, and using valuable staff time in duplication of
Off campus access is not universal. Some publishers
permit this, others do not. Some publishers permit access outwith
the UK; others do not.
Some publishers embargo recent issues of journals
for sometimes up to a year. This can vary among aggregators, so
that some do provide access to current issues and others do not.
Licensing conditions vary among publishers,
and often do not make provision for the specific uses of electronic
publications made by academic institutions eg making multiple
copies of individual articles for classroom use. Some publishers
permit this; others permit a specified number of copies; others
charge large fees for permission.
Government are encouraging increased participation
in and expansion of higher education so resources must be available
to authorised users however, whenever and wherever they choose
to use them.
The lack of consistency in provision among publishers
and aggregators means a considerable amount of staff time is required
to ascertain and communicate accurately to library users what
titles are available electronically and what the level of access
is to them.
Management tools have been developed which will
help to a certain extent. However, additional staff time is required
for user education, as there is little consistency of interface,
search syntax etc in electronic publication, and in most cases
it is less than intuitive for the unskilled or inexperienced user.
24 hour access depends on a robust infrastructure.
Users working off campus may be dependent on a slower internet
connection than on-campus users and this can cause frustration
Some electronic publications require specialist
software to be downloaded to the user's PC.
Library staff may spend further time diagnosing
whether the fault lies with the network, the hardware, the software,
or at the publisher's server. If the last, is it a temporary fault,
or one which requires notification.
2. "What action should Government, academic
institutions and publishers be taking to promote a competitive
market in scientific publications?"
We would like to see publishers
adopt a minimum standard for pricing,
provision and licensing of electronic journals, with freedom to
grant additional benefits if they wish;
state clearly what options are available
maintain access without change for
the period of the subscription;
state clearly what archival access
state clearly who may have access
and from where;
offer a site licence as standard
with common authentication eg Athens; not single user or restricted
numbers or individual passwords unless there is obvious financial
state clearly what use is permitted
eg inter-library loan, reserve collections, course packs, virtual
learning environments, multiple copies;
allow flexibility of choice of titles
from publisher portfolio, not "all or nothing"; and
negotiate quickly and fairly with
agents to achieve the best deals for HE.
We would like to see the government remove or
reduce VAT for electronic publications.
3. 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?
As librarians we would welcome this development.
However there would need to be procedures in place to ensure the
same rigorous review as exists in peer-reviewed print journals.
There must be increased recognition that these are quality journals.
The RAE must recognise and encourage this, and not penalise researchers
for publishing in open access journals.
4. "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
Traditionally access to legal deposit libraries
by researchers has not been easy, and has not been actively encouraged.
The Legal Deposit Libraries Act 2003 gives these libraries the
right to claim electronic publications as well as print. It will
be interesting to see how the National Library of Scotland is
able to implement its plans to negotiate licensing agreements
with publishers and make remote access to electronic resources
available through partnerships with other libraries.
5. "What impact will trends in academic
journal publishing have on the risks of scientific fraud and malpractice?"
It could be argued that there is less chance
of fraud as electronic publications are more accessible to more
people and therefore subject to more scrutiny. On the other hand,
electronic publications are easier to copy from and amend, thus
increasing the risk of plagiarism and other illegal use.