Select Committee on Science and Technology Written Evidence

Annex 2

Memorandum from the Council for the Central Laboratory of the Research Councils (CCLRC) on the House of Commons Science and Technology Select Committee Inquiry into scientific publications

  A.   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?

  1.  Scientific journals are a highly specialised resource: a particular title is only available from its publisher and they are not interchangeable. An important part of journal production is the peer-review system which ensures the quality of the article and the publisher recoups the costs of this by the cover price. Researchers use these journals to publish their findings, discover and challenge other people's findings and to further the development of their science. They are an important and necessary part of scholarly communication.

  2.  This process forms a monopoly with no market to restrict price rises. Scientific journals have a year-on-year inflation rate of 7%-10% without taking currency fluctuations into account. CCLRC Library and Information Service (CCLRC LIS) has a budget of one million pounds of which 45% is spent on academic journals. The average price for 2003 journals was £780 per title, but the price of title ranges from £27 pa to £16,932 pa. Although the Library and Information Services are an important facility to CCLRC, they are an overhead, and as such, the budget does not increase at the rate that the journals portfolio does. This situation has led to cuts in journal titles that the Library professionals know are actively used.

  3.  There are several reasons for this higher rate of inflation. Firstly, the amount of material published increases significantly—partly through the "pressure to publish" and partly because there is just much more scientific research. Secondly, the trend to reduce the subscriptions to print journals in favour of electronic subscriptions (or joint print-electronic subscriptions) reduces the income without reducing significantly the costs of publishing (the print costs are a relatively small proportion of the total costs of publication). Many libraries that used to take multiple print copies now take only one print copy (and may not even place that on open display) and electronic access. However, electronic publications attract 17.5% VAT, whereas print publications are zero rated. This distinction has a considerable impact on budgets. Every effort should be made to bring about zero rating for electronic publications.

  4.  CCLRC LIS has signed up for two multi-year and multi-journal deals: one with Elsevier and one with the American Chemical Society. Both provide electronic access to more titles than CCLRC subscribes to in print, but both have a no-cancellation clause. This has lead to uneven cancellation of titles to make the budget balance. The result is that the little-used Elsevier and ACS titles must remain in our portfolio when the more popular titles by other publishers are cancelled. The Elsevier deal was a five-year deal and although it was a good buy when we took it out, four years into the deal it is restricting our collection development. The result for researchers and facility visitors is that there is a reduced range of relevant subscribed journals although there is more access to titles by certain publishers. One of the pressures to provide electronic access is the quicker access to publications, as online electronic versions are often released before print copies are produced and circulated. This pressure can lead to acceptance of less than ideal contractual agreements.

  5.  The CCLRC LIS response to this is to investigate document delivery which provides access to the research at the article level rather than at the journal level. CCLRC has also noted that several prestigious American Universities, among them Harvard and Cornell, have now opted out of the Elsevier deal for the very reasons mentioned above, and are now paying only for the individual titles they require. CCLRC LIS will also be avoiding in future multi-year deals with individual publishers, especially those with non-cancellation clauses, to ensure that CCLRC can respond on a yearly basis to its community's changing needs in a much more flexible manner.

  6.  There are some implications in the change in publication of academic journals for the learned societies (in the UK and elsewhere, particularly the US). For many years, the learned societies have tried to make a modest "profit" on the publication of academic journals, which has been used to promote the aims of the society.

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

  7.  Wherever practicable, the journals of not for profit organisations, such as the Physical Review series from the American Institute of Physics and the Journal of Physics series from the Institute of Physics, should be supported. Also there should be encouragement of initiatives like SPARC (Scholarly Publishing and Academic Resources Coalition), an alliance of universities and research libraries which seeks to change current publishing models, driving down the cost of journals and breaking down socially divisive barriers, by providing low cost print versions.

  8.  A key issue where producer and consumer interest need to be balanced in the CCLRC is the emergence of the open-access model of scientific publishing. Open-access journals are free at the point of use but recover their costs by charging those who wish to publish. This is gaining considerable momentum and political support on both sides of the Atlantic, for instance from the Wellcome Trust, Max Planck Society, CNRS—see the Berlin Declaration (Annex 1 paragraph 8). It is driven partly by the move to electronic publishing and partly by a community response to restrictive practices by some commercial publishers (especially Elsevier). This is an important development but has consequences for authors by way of page/paper charges. Many authors are required to present their manuscript in "camera ready" format. This charge could lead to a "postcode publishing system" where universities and institutes which are short of cash will not be able to afford the page charge. Scientists in developing countries will have no chance whatsoever.

  9.  Traditional page charges and journal subscriptions will co-exist with publication charges per article and corporate subscriptions to open-access publishing schemes. Organisations may wish to review the roles of libraries and research departments and their financial responsibilities to ensure that new costing models can be incorporated. The changing models of financing publication of articles will affect budgetary arrangements throughout the scientific community.

  10.  A further important change to publishing is the development of institutional archives where the author places a copy of the published work in a system belonging to the institution for which they work. A bar to this new model is that not all publishers allow authors to retain the rights to the electronic copy. All organisations that publish should encourage their authors to retain the electronic copyright of the accepted publication, thus making it legally possible to put them into institutional repositories. A recent breakthrough in this area is that the journal Nature has agreed to allow authors to post articles published in Nature on their own institutional website in pdf (see paragraph 19.1 above).

  11.  It could be envisaged at some point in the future that budgets which had paid for journal subscriptions in the past would use them in the future to maintain and develop institutional repositories. However, if the current journals budget in the CCLRC of around £450k were restricted to open-access publishing, this would equate to around 750 papers. On top of this would be the additional cost of running our institutional repository. CCLRC would then have to rely on all the high impact, important journals needed to transfer to the open-access publishing model. Also, if the library budget were to be reduced, this might lead us to restricting CCLRC's publications output. To avoid this CCLRC would be forced to move away from a central library and put the burden of scholarly communication/publishing/access costs on the departments.

  12.  It is also worth mentioning the development of e-print libraries, such as arXiv (see Annex 4). These bypass publishers and potentially could replace journals. Access is free and in some fields provides the best source of material. In some subjects, these are very much the preferred form of publication, and they serve adequately the current research needs. However, despite more than 10 years experience with such systems, it is still too early to judge whether the issues of access to the historical archive have been solved. Some of these archives are maintained by organizations on a "best efforts" basis. Whereas a print journal on a library shelf remains accessible even when the publisher has gone out of business, the electronic journal is lost if the host similarly goes out of business, or if the current software is no longer able to "read" the stored journal.

  C.   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?

  13.  It is critical for researchers that their work is published in the best (highest impact factor) journal and therefore these open-access journals, as long as there is peer-review, must be included in any exercise which judges the worth of scientific output. It is important to stress that it is the academic "marketplace" that determines the impact factor of journals. In some subjects, theoretical particle physics being just one, the impact of a paper is very much determined by the time of its appearance on the preprint servers, almost independent of where the article is finally published. In other subjects, the attention which a submitted paper receives depends to a large extent on the prestige and circulation of the journal in which it is published. For example in the field of space physics, the Journal of Geophysical Research (JGR) or Geophysical Research Letters are prestigious places to publish if you want to ensure that your research reaches a top-level audience in both the US and Europe. In part the problem is with the US, where non-US journals tend not to be read. Annales Geophysicae (the leading European journal) is at least as prestigious as JGR, but because the US community tends not to read it, articles that are published there can be under-publicised relative to articles published in JGR. If open-access publishing is to be really effective the whole scientific world has to buy into it. It would be counter-productive if the CCLRC adopted a policy that its staff should publish in open-access journals or institutional archives if nobody is reading them ! Likewise if we abandoned subscriptions to established print journals which still represented the leading forum for scientific publication in a given field that would be just as counter-productive. The problem might be solved in time with the emergence of a few highly reputable open-access journals which the international community will read, and the rest will be ignored.

  D.   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?

  14.  The British Library, one of the Legal Deposit Libraries, is starting to provide articles in electronic form and it is providing a useful service. It is in competition with other document delivery services.

  15.  The Legal Deposit Libraries Act 2003 came into force on 1 January 2004. The British Library is reviewing its processes for acquiring categories of material not covered by previous legislation, including offline (ie hand-held items such as CD-ROM) and online electronic publications. This will be done in line with specific Regulations to be brought forward under the new Act.

  16.  However Legal Deposit Libraries are there to collect and preserve material published within the UK and most scientific publishers are not based within the UK. Individual non-UK publishers may choose to deposit their non-print publications voluntarily, which would then be subject to the British Library's collection policy.

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