New Journal of Physics

From: Ken Rouse <KROUSE_at_MACC.WISC.EDU>
Date: Tue, 29 Sep 1998 17:00:00 CST

I would like to comment on the New Journal of Physics that has
been mentioned in the last few postings--from a chemistry
librarian's perspective. Stevan Harnad and my own experience in
the last couple years have convinced me that the future of
scholarly journal publishing belongs to the Web. Insofar as NJP
prepares the way for that all-electronic future it is certainly
a welcome development. It is also encouraging (from my
perspective) that it is jointly sponsored by two prestigious,
professional societies. I am convinced that the professional
societies must lead the charge if we are ever to emerge from the
crisis in scholarly communication.

However, I wonder if NJP may not be attacking the problem from
the wrong end. Judging from its first announcement, NJP aims to
continue doing (albeit electronically) what society publishers
have been doing very well for more than a century in some cases:
publish the *best* of science at prices most libraries can
afford. They have set their sites on articles of "highest
scientific quality.... Work that makes a major contribution to
the advancement of physics." And they have recruited a Nobel
Laureate to show that they mean business. It's hard to fault
such a program, but it seems to me that the library fiscal crisis
lies mainly elsewhere--with the mass of generally less
interesting but still largely worthy and useful literature which
libraries must also buy. The lion's share of the 386 million
dollars that major U.S. research libraries pay each year for
journals is expended on the latter. After 15 years of serials
cuts we are still able to afford the "best" (the society pubs).
They account for a relatively small percentage of my serials
expenditures. Forty percent of my journals budget, by contrast,
goes to just one publisher which has specialized--with some
notable exceptions--in publishing a mixture of second or third
tier literature which (given the publish or perish imperative)
*will* be published by someone. Isn't it time they had some real
competition for these submissions?

Yes, I know, in an ideal world some of this literature would
never see the light of day, and maybe some day the tenure system
will be reformed. But the failings of the tenure system has been
a hot topic since my undergraduate days (1950's). So, while
we're waiting, here's what I think might introduce some sanity
into the scientific journal business and hasten the arrival of an
all-electronic future: a second tier of inexpensive, all-
electronic, society sponsored journals which would have a much
broader mission than the more elite, first tier society journals-
--to publish all the scientific literature that's fit to print
(to paraphrase the NYT). Since new journals are regarded with
great suspicion these days, the societies would probably have to
join forces with university consortia to get such an effort off
the ground. In this regard, the Association of Research
Libraries" SPARC initiative (Scholarly Publishing & Academic
Resources Coalition) could serve as a model.

Ken Rouse

Ken Rouse, Head, Chemistry Library
           University of Wisconsin-Madison
           Phone: 608-2622942 FAX: 608-2629002
Received on Tue Aug 25 1998 - 19:17:43 BST

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