Re: A Note of Caution About "Reforming the System"

From: John MacColl <john.maccoll_at_ED.AC.UK>
Date: Sun, 25 Feb 2001 23:39:14 -0000

On 18 Feb, Greg Kuperberg wrote:

> Yes, journal cancellations and on-line passwords are a nuisance, but
> they have never been as bad for me as the enormous delay ...

But those cancelled journals, and the online passwords - or, more
pertinently, the subscription ejournals to which one's library cannot afford
passwords - represent a slice of the literature which either remains
unobtainable, or obtainable only with difficulty. And the research of
researchers deprived of that slice may suffer as a consequence.

Librarians worry about this: in fact, libraries partly exist to be the
consciences of their institutions (alongside their role as institutional
memories) in order to worry about this. We librarians observe the way
students and researchers will settle for the material to hand (or screen),
and the consequences of that: its effect upon undergraduate assignment
writing, and the quality of the sources 'to hand' via Internet search
engines, is a major concern in some quarters, which is shared by librarians
and academic teachers alike. We see it as our role to recover for users of
our services the slices of the literature that they cannot immediately

In the print world, we did (and still do) it by interlibrary loan, which of
course still exists for Greg to use in compensation for the literature he
cannot immediately get at. But because of its inconvenience, it is a poor
substitute for having an entire literature easily available, and it is an
irony of which librarians are well aware that the need for this poor
substitute should be growing just at the time that the means of putting the
whole literature online, via the net, is now within reach. It is the high
cost of that published literature which has caused this situation. The
publishers who are responsible for the slice of the literature which you
*can* obtain are also responsible for the large - and growing - slice which
you cannot! It is for this reason that I believe libraries should be
centrally involved in providing the 'insitutional assistance' which Stevan
Harnad talks of, in making it as easy as possible for researchers to fill
the open archives. And to return to Peter Singer's point about 'incentive
realignment', I would contend that 'supported reform of practice' is a
better, and more achievable, way forward. Let the support services -
libraries foremost - step forward!

John MacColl
Sub-Librarian, Online Services
SELLIC Director
Science & Engineering Library, Learning & Information Centre
University of Edinburgh Tel: 0131 650 7275
Darwin Library Mobile: 07808 170075
The King's Buildings Fax: 0131 650 6702
Edinburgh EH9 3JU
Received on Wed Jan 03 2001 - 19:17:43 GMT

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