Select Committee on Science and Technology Written Evidence


Memorandum from the Institution of Civil Engineers


  The Institution of Civil Engineers (ICE) is a UK-based international organisation with over 75,000 members ranging from professional civil engineers to students. It is an educational and qualifying body and has charitable status under UK law. Founded in 1818, ICE has become recognised worldwide for its excellence as a centre of learning, as a qualifying body and as a public voice for the profession.


  The Institution of Civil Engineers (ICE) was founded in 1818 "for the purpose of mutual instruction in that knowledge requisite for the profession". In 1828 it was granted a Royal Charter "`for the advancement of Mechanical Science, and more particularly for promoting that species of knowledge which constitutes the profession of a Civil Engineer, being the art of directing the great sources of power in nature for the use and convenience of man". These purposes remain at the core of the Institution's activity.

  Today ICE seeks to advance the knowledge, practice and business of civil engineering, to promote the breadth and value of the civil engineer's global contribution to sustainable, economic growth, and ethical standards, and to include in membership all those involved in the profession.

  In order to fulfil its objectives the Institution maintains a Library, organises meetings and publishes scientific journals and books.

  The Institution of Civil Engineers Library was the first engineering Library in the British Isles and is one of the oldest in the world. It has been subscribing to scientific and technical journals since 1819 and today subscribes to over 1,000 titles, and has backfiles of a further 2,000. The objective of the collections policy, in furtherance of the Institution's core purpose, is to reflect the progress of civil engineering all over the world; to, as far as is possible, collect all civil engineering periodicals in the English language, with a representative collection from elsewhere. Given the multi-disciplinary nature of civil engineering, the library collects not only engineering journals, but those in related sciences such as geology, hydrology and physics. With an international membership foreign language material is important. It is believed that the Library, in terms of its breadth of coverage, is second only to the national libraries in its importance in its field.

  Since 1836 ICE have been a learned society publisher, its Transactions being the world's first specialist engineering journal to be published in English. Today its commercial arm, Thomas Telford, publish 16 specialist journal titles for the ICE and other specialist civil engineering societies. The Institution's proceedings are published in nine parts, with most of the circulation being subscribed to by individual ICE members.

  The Institution and its membership have always placed great importance on the inter-relationship between research and practice. In the early 1830s the first President, Thomas Telford, organised research into the resistance of canal boats, and since then the Institution has organised research into a range of subjects as varied as steam boilers, deterioration of concrete, metals and timber in marine structures, design of piled foundations etc, etc. It played a leading role in the establishment of research facilities such as the National Physical Laboratory, Hydraulics Research Wallingford etc. Its Research Committee established what is now known as CIRIA (Construction Industry Research and Information Association), and continues to offer research funding. A constant theme of its reports on civil engineering research are the need for long term research, the importance of dissemination of research results, and the need for research to be linked to industry needs.

  Since the mid 1980s the ICE have been developing a range of electronic services for its stakeholders including an online library catalogue, an online index to all ICE publications, and a "virtual" library of downloadable papers from ICE proceedings. All these developments have been financed through the Institution's own resources.

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

  The Government should recognise that investment in electronic publishing is expensive and likely to undermine the role of smaller scientific publishers who are not privy to the e-subscription deals being negotiated between academic consortia and publishers. It should also recognise that this is not simply an issue for the academic community. For society to fully benefit from academic research it is important that it is effectively disseminated to all who might benefit. Premium prices for e-journals are making it very difficult for specialist libraries such as ourselves to maintain our subject coverage. In our attempts to maintain our subscriptions our book purchases have halved over the past five years. Permitting learned societies to accede to academic networks which are essentially publicly funded would help us to continue to fulfil our role as laid out in our charter to promote engineering science.

What is the impact of the current trend towards e-publishing on the integrity of journals and the scientific process?

  Developments in publishing generally associated with IT have made it easier to produce specialist journals and newsletters. These developments are making it more difficult for traditional bibliographic controls to cope, and for researchers to keep up to date.

  Major publishers like Elsevier may be able to provide directly downloadable pdfs of papers from their own databases, but generally specialist publishers will not be able to afford to invest in the infrastructure to disseminate themselves and this trend is likely to lead to increasing volumes of material being supplied via aggregators as fragmented titles.

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?

  The Institution of Civil Engineers has a membership of c 73,000. Of these perhaps 5,500 are students, and perhaps 1,000 are academics; however the overwhelming majority are practising engineers without direct access to the big deal schemes being formulated by major publishers for an academic audience. The pricing structure of these schemes is beyond the budget of a relatively small Institution such as ours, and discussions with most publishers to negotiate a realistic budget figure have largely been unsuccessful. The range of titles we are interested in is too small and the general demand for civil engineering titles too low to encourage publishers to take an interest in our sector. Discussions have focussed on absolute membership numbers rather than the numbers of likely users of the journals on a daily basis. These figures may be realistic in an academic environment, but not where many of the potential audience are out on site or involved in management rather than project research. The pricing structure takes no account of the fact much of the research in the journals is generated out of public funds. The Institution of Civil Engineers manages to make its business work charging significantly less than purely commercial publishers.

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?

  There are very few e-journals in the civil engineering sector. ICE believes that the refereed journals the Institution publish are fairly priced, and are not the target of the movement for open-access journals and will remain a reasonable benchmark in RAEs.

  It is evident however that many academics resent the way in which commercial publishers exploit their work, and fail to disseminate it effectively. It is the refereeing process that gives the commercial academic journals credibility, encouraging a refereeing system that matches RAE expectations for open access e-journals would be of general benefit. Those publishers investing heavily in electronic dissemination such as Elsevier may well be able to keep academics on side, but those who are making large mark ups for electronic products with little added value, are likely to lose subscribers and should be penalised by RAEs accordingly.

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?

  It would appear that recent attempts by the British Library to satisfy copyright concerns of rights holders in e-publications have been reasonably successful. Smaller organisations such as ourselves are however experiencing problems with e-delivery due to the structuring of our firewalls.

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

  E-publishing and scanning and web-publishing make it all but impossible to prevent pirating of intellectual copyright. However the recent changes to copyright law, which mean that libraries such as ours have to both pay a premium for e-subscriptions but also levy an additional commercial copying charge on our members are likely to encourage breaches of the law. Most researchers are keen to have their ideas propagated, but unrealistic charging policies by publishers are likely to mean they will lose both credit and income.


  Some commercial publishers are devoting considerable resources in digitising our "literary" heritage, and selling it at considerable cost, beyond the resources of most libraries outside consortia. These publishers are likely to dictate what is to be made available, and its price.

  While civil engineering is a small sector in terms of its "literary" heritage, and thus unlikely to command the attention of these major digitisation initiatives, it is an important sector in the UK economy. More than 40% of construction expenditure is in maintenance and renewal; there is thus a strong case for digitising relevant older civil engineering publications. The ICE have digitised their own publications, and offer these collections at considerably lower prices than purely commercial publishers (the Institution's regular journal prices are also <50% of comparable journal published by the larger non-institutional commercial sector).

  A national strategy for the nation's electronic library of the future should be developed as soon as possible to ensure that the only gateway to our nation's heritage is not through profit-motivated multi-nationals, but rather more freely available through "libraries".

February 2004

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