Re: Nature 10 September on Public Archiving

From: Albert Henderson <> <harnad_at_COGSCI.SOTON.AC.UK>
Date: Thu, 24 Sep 1998 05:25:57 -0400

On 22 Sep 1998 Mark Doyle <> wrote:

MD> But the market conditions have changed considerably over the last 20 years
MD> since the study. Time for a new study.

Don't you think you should consult the King work before disagreeing with it?

MD> [I] presume most of the cost to
MD> readers was in their time spent looking for and retrieving information.
MD> ... Going electronic has the
MD> potential to eliminate most of the costs attributed to readers and thus
MD> greatly reduce the percentage of costs they have to bear and the total size
MD> of the cost burden.

King says that reading -- not acquisition, copying, etc. -- represents
over half of the total cost of journals communications. That was when
the reader did not need the equipment, supplies, energy, space, and
connectivity essential to your idea. I don't think you can claim that
working in the library is equally expensive.

I have seen no evidence -- and I use electronic means whenever I can
because I am not connected to a huge library collection -- that I am
getting more faster and cheaper. Systems are not only bugridden, they
want upgrades constantly to feed their makers. My 5 1/4 disks are not
only obsolete, I find many have lost their data in less than 10 years!
[I send my posts direct to Harnad because the forum server introduces
all sorts of garbage!]

MD> As for publishers, they can try to continue to do things in a costly
MD> manner, but I think authors, readers, and libraries will reject such
MD> publishing. Libraries will have to bear much reduced costs for their serials
MD> collections (less expensive subscriptions, less shelf space, less climate
MD> control, etc.) and can focus more on helping researchers use the electronic
MD> medium to their benefit and build better collections of books which are
MD> better suited to print distribution. You make it sound like libraries exist
MD> solely to distribute serial journals.

Libraries are the main economic support for academic journals, since
associations claim to base their member rates on marginal added
production costs. I believe they have been shirking a responsibility
articulated by Vannevar Bush in 1945 "the conservation of the knowledge

ah> As I read Harnad, electronic journals will be financially supported by
ah> authors' page-charges and will be otherwise free.

MD> The basic distribution fits that model. If there are other services (better
MD> searching, better linking) that can't be easily automated, then there is
MD> room for a publisher to step in and create value-added services that they
MD> can sell to libraries and users.

Libraries object to the price of automated databases as much as they do
journals. You should hear them on Chemical Abstracts Service!

Many databases have responded by capping their coverage. How does that
fit your model?

ah> Users would have to have their own equipment and supplies paid by
ah> tuitions, grants, employers or out of the users' own pockets.

MD> They already do this....

Some do. Many don't. Libraries have always prided themselves on their
lack of an economic threshhold for patrons. No fees and equal access to
rich and poor. In some cases, it is mandated by law. Your vision
doesn't do that, does it?

MD> It is funny the most librarians don't seem to agree with you. They want to
MD> spend money on better staffing and non-serial collections because they think
MD> this is a better way to spend their resources in aiding research.

Some librarians don't get it. Some must fear reprisals if they
criticize university management. They have been used as pawns for many
years. Look at the spurious material published by the Association of
Research Libraries Serials Prices Project (1989) They actually blamed
researchers for excessive publishers. Their anonymous economist report
claimed to assess publishers' profits without the benefit of
circulation data. Shame!

ah> Yes, as I interpret Harnad, libraries and librarians will be gone.

MD> Wrong. They will play a modified role.

Yes? Please expand.

MD> My view of the AAU proposals (which do have some
MD> problems) is that they desire to increase availability of research
MD> information by removing constraints imposed by the current print model of
MD> distribution and copyright while reducing the amount of money being funneled
MD> into corporate profits.

You mean, by removing constraints of authors' rights. Their ideas about
foreign materials run roughshod over foreign copyrights in my opinion.
They just don't want to pay for anything not connected with administration.

Corporate profits? Insofar as funnelling money, have you ever compared
the markups taken by Hewlett-Packard, IBM, etc. with those taken by
academic publishers? AT&T is the bluest of the blue chips. Xerox
Corporation has been the most profitable company ever, according to the
Wall Street Journal. At the expense of authors' rights I might add!

I would say that universities love to funnel money into corporate
profits whenever it suits them.

MD> You can go back
MD> and read my other contributions to this forum. There are real costs involved
MD> in today's publishing environment that are present mostly because we aren't
MD> taking full advantage of the electronic medium from author all the way to
MD> reader. If we were to switch immediately to the proposed economic model, it
MD> is likely something valuable would be lost because publishers like the APS
MD> with large publications can't turn on a dime and because we do other things
MD> like create long-term archival versions of articles which don't necessarily
MD> play a direct role in disseminating an article today. But both Harnad and I
MD> agree that such a transition is inevitable and possible, will benefit the
MD> research community in the long run, and needs to proceed orderly so that
MD> publishers who are willing can adapt.

Why not put libraries back into their central economic role? If
universities restored the conservation of knowledge to their mission
and provided the market essential to support publishers of research,
A&I services, reviews, handbooks, etc., the conversion to an
electronically-oriented system would be a lot smoother. As it is,
publishers must replace subscription revenue with document delivery
fees, licenses, etc., etc.

The harder universities try to escape their duty, the more damage
they are doing to research and education.

MD> I disagree with your implied conclusion. Look, if
MD> researchers (who have the highest interest in seeing their work
MD> disseminated) had to oversee library budgets, they would have long ago
MD> realized that the system is broken and would have taken measures to avoid
MD> feeding it (submitting to less expensive journals, starting new journals,
MD> etc.). I think we both agree that there it is problem that those with the
MD> largest interest don't control the money. But I am afraid you are wrong if
MD> you think this would lead to ever increasing library budgets to buy ever
MD> increasingly expensive serials.

First, it is groups of researchers who usually propose journals to
publishers -- not the other way around. Most proposals that I have seen
represent the failures of existing publishers to recognize budding
"twigs" on the tree of knowledge. Association politics ... well I
shouldn't have to draw a picture.

Second, why didn't university administrators ask faculty senates if it
would be OK to cut library spending from 6% to under 3% of their

Third, the exponential growth of science activity and its work product is
a matter of record. Suddenly, with the introduction of the Xerox
914, we have legislated "library photocopying" to aid dissemination.
It backfired, giving us the "serials crisis" instead.

MD> Perhaps it is true that university bureaucracies squeeze libraries. But I
MD> think you are wrong if you think that unfettered librarians would just
MD> continue to spend and spend and spend on serials...

I think they should have kept buying books, too. I don't think
the curve of library growth should be different from that of
research activity.

ah> If one gives the university an interest in
ah> authors' exclusive rights, what will stop them from attempting
ah> to exploit them for profit -- as they try to do with patents?
ah> They monopolize research grants already in the US. Basic
ah> research yields only journal articles, rarely a patent. I am
ah> convinced they want it all.

MD> You mean they want publisher profits? There will be much less profit (if
MD> any) involved. And I think their motivations are different than your
MD> maximally cynical take on it.

My opinion is based on the record of their behavior and comments of
higher education analysts like Nibet (Degradation of the Academic
Dogma). Libraries aren't the only target. Instruction, as a share of
university spending, is also down sharply. Tenure is under attack. The
percent of full-time faculty not on a tenure track has increased. Part
time faculty has increased. The largest increase in staff has been in
professional support / service people (138% vs. 45% increase in faculty
numbers since 1976. (NCES 96-323)

I gave academic management the benefit of the doubt for years. The
evidence of their sinister program is obscured by their secrecy. One of
the indicators is the failure of science policy and higher education
policy documents to dwell on dissemination or library quality over the
last decade in spite of the 'serials crisis.' In the 1960s, libraries
and dissemination had a prominence that gives the present silence an
ominous echo.

Received on Tue Aug 25 1998 - 19:17:43 BST

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