Memorandum from the University of Hertfordshire
Over recent years the University of Hertfordshire
has adopted policies and practices to exploit the benefits of
digital technology for learning, teaching and research. The successful
impact of this strategy is manifest in the embedded institution-wide
use of a virtual managed learning environment, an integrated management
information system and substantial digital library collections
of e-journals, information databases and other e-sources, available
24/7 for on and off campus use.
In implementing these significant cultural and
practical changes, the University has accrued varied and extensive
experience of the challenges and difficulties involved in making
e-publications available to a large community of researchers,
students and academic staff.
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. Licensing and pricing of e-journals
Whilst we are pleased to note the increasing
use by publishers of the JISC recommended model licence, there
remain many other licensing and pricing arrangements which appear
to be overly complex, restrictive, unjustifiable and ill-suited
to the needs of a modern university.
(i) Pricing differentials between alternative
delivery modes of the same e-journals so that subscription to
a web-based delivery service may be prohibitively more expensive
than the same service for local networking on CDRom.
(ii) Pricing based on the number of simultaneous
users with significant differentials between single user and even
low numbers (4-5) of concurrent users, when in practice actual
usage patterns and service requirements fluctuate at different
times of day from no one using the materials to a number of concurrent
(iii) Licensing restrictions to bar the content
from also being delivered and used effectively by staff in conjunction
with learning materials within the on-line virtual learning environment
to enhance the student learning experience.
(iv) Licensing restrictions to bar archive
file access to past years purchased unless a current subscription
The shift to digital publications has had a
significant impact on library budgets given the VAT differential
between print publications which are zero-rated and digital publications
which attract the standard 17.5% rate of VAT. The significant
cost difference for the same content in a different format is
anomalous and a disincentive to widespread availability of scholarly
information to UK higher education.
2. Big deal schemes
At their inception, some of the big deal schemes,
where the price for the "bundled" content was predicated
on the previous level of expenditure for the publisher's printed
journal titles, presented advantages to this University given
the relatively lower level of print journal holdings than in some
universities. The subsequent availability of more journal titles
within the digital "bundle" did allow researchers and
students more choice of some relevant titles, but amongst a large
number of others not relevant to their work.
The "all or nothing" basis of the
"big deal" scheme limits ability to select for relevance
to local learning, teaching and research requirements; requires
significant funding commitment to the particular package, possibly
at the expense of other publications from smaller publishers;
allows the publisher control over the size of the digital "bundle"
and concomitant price variations as contracts come up for renewal
and may add a further layer of user searching where titles within
the "bundle" can only be accessed via the publisher's
gateway rather than by going directly to the specific journal.
Some schemes fail to allow a choice between print or e-journal
and only provide the e-journal where the print is also taken.
In our case, where we have a clear preference for the e-journal,
the requirement to receive the print title as well is an unnecessary
and wasteful overhead.
3. Access and performance issues
Whilst many and an increasing number of digital
services are now available through Athens authentication, there
remains a significant number of publishers and providers with
complex and unsuitable access arrangements for a large diverse
Reliability and continuity of access to web-based
digital publication services can be poor, particularly with respect
to frequent and unannounced link changes; as a result responsibility
for service continuity falls heavily on the "customer"
to detect the changes and take local action to ensure updated
Meaningful usage data for on-line services is
often not available from the publishers to inform future decision-making
about relevance and funding allocation.
As yet very few publishers have made their digital
sources OpenURL capable to allow effective implementation of the
cross-searching and resource discovery tools now available to
support relevant accurate information retrieval in the e-environment
by researchers, academics and students.
Given the critical importance of easy and widespread
availability of scientific information to support UK higher education,
research and development, it would be in the national interest
for consideration should be given to appropriate measures and
incentives to encourage publishers and providers to adopt recommended
model licence(s), making e-services accessible through the Athens
authentication, ensuring e-services are OpenURL capable, and available
to academic and research institutions at reasonable prices.
What action should Government, academic institutions
and publishers be taking to promote a competitive market in scientific
Re-structuring in the publishing world in recent
years has led to increased concerns about the growing monopoly
position where a small number of large journal publishers dominate
the market. In addition to company merger and acquisitions activities,
there appears to be evidence of other market control moves. For
example, large publishers now offering other publisher's journals
under their own deals at rates lower than those quoted by the
original publisher. If this then becomes the only route for obtaining
these titles in the future, the large publisher will have a free
hand in setting higher prices subsequently. The monopoly situation
should be monitored and investigated as the publishing market
continues to change.
The developing initiatives to establish e-print
repositories and open access archives, whilst in their infancy
potentially offer alternative scholarly communications processes.
Government support and funding for the further development of
such initiatives in national and discipline-based contexts would
encourage diversity of scholarly communication and e-publishing.
We would request that in drawing up recommendations,
the Committee also take account of the likely effects on and relevance
of their proposals to other forms of e-publishing which have yet
to gather momentum but which may present similar concerns in the
future, including e-books and possible new formats of e-content
as the traditional print formats breakdown in the e-environment.
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 indicated above these developments have the
potential to positively benefit the scholarly communication processes
through diversification of the market. However, the primary requirement
of application of a rigorous peer review process remains essential
whether research is published in the traditional print academic
journal or through e-publishing. The ease with which material
can be made available electronically also promotes the "publication"
of draft versions, early uncorroborated findings, and unsubstantiated
opinions and views. It then becomes increasingly difficult for
researchers, students and other readers to distinguish the proven
scientific conclusions from other material.
The development of rigorous peer review processes
for the e-publishing context should be supported. Given the range
of e-publishing opportunities not bound by a framework equivalent
to the recognised authoritative print academic journal, it may
also be appropriate to consider the assignment of a universally
recognised quality assured "kitemark" to denote the
proven refereed e-publication.
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?
The British Library is a great strength in the
UK and much envied in other countries without a similar national
library. It has a key role to play in collecting and delivering
e-content to support academic study, research and development.
The British Library should have a major role in setting up and
running national e-print repositories and open access archives,
in the co-ordination of the development of any discipline-based
repositories and in ensuring e-archives to house collections of
personal and scientific e-papers of national importance. It will
need funding to do this.
What impacts will trends in academic journal publishing
have on the risk of scientific fraud and malpractice?
Spoofs, fraud and malpractice have occurred
from time to time in print publishing, in photographic material,
in audio and video recording. In the e-environment this is neither
more nor less likely, but capable of faster dissemination. On
the otherhand, the electronic technology is also capable of offering
more effective means of detection. Considerable work is already
going on to develop plagiarism detection tools. There is clearly
a need to ensure the development of peer review, editorial responsibilities,
authentication stamps, audit trails and detection tools appropriate
to the e-environment in parallel to the development of e-publication
of scholarly materials.
We would also wish to draw attention to the
substantial evidence submitted to the Inquiry jointly by CURL
(Consortium of University Research Libraries) and SCONUL (Society
of College, National and University Libraries).