Re: Cornell University Library (to cancel Elsevier journals?)

From: Stevan Harnad <>
Date: Fri, 14 Nov 2003 15:05:07 +0000

On Wed, 12 Nov 2003, Eberhard R. Hilf wrote:

> Regarding Cornell's plan's to cancel Elsevier journals:
> What is all the fuss about?
> The Physics Department of the University of Oldenburg has canceled all
> commercial journals, with the exception of small ones...
> and is using the freed money for ordering single copies when necessary. We
> are also improving information on online access methods, and training
> readers to:
> - search first for whatever information you want, from whomever you want
> - search for the author's home institution and homepage via PhysNet
> using either PhysDep (departmental information
> or by PhysDoc (scientific documents)
> - email the author and ask for a copy or a reprint, or a preprint
> Our tests suggest: This works mostly within 24 hours, costs nothing, improves
> oneself being recognized by famous authors.
> Self-archiving serves this to you. Let me know your experiences.

I am no small admirer of self-archiving, but reality requires that I ask the
question: Does the above solution -- for physics, at Oldenburg, with the help of
PhysNet/PhysDoc -- scale up to all disciplines at all institutions? For *that* is
what the fuss is about!

Physics as a discipline is still ahead of all other disciplines in
the scale and systematicity of its self-archiving. Yet Ebs himself has
recently estimated in these pages that only about 20% of Physics is as
yet self-archived in ArXiv. So what about the remaining 80%? Ebs seems
to be suggesting that either much of that 80% is self-archived too,
but not in ArXiv, and/or, that even if it is not self-archived yet,
contacting the author to request the digital document (which surely 100%
of authors do have) is a suitable provisional solution.

Ebs may be right -- for physics. But I regret that I must doubt he is
right -- or anywhere near right -- for any other discipline today!

That means that although it is infinitely better to look for the author's
email address and email him for an eprint today than it was to scan
Current Contents and snail-mail him for an offprint 20 years ago, it
is not yet clear that it is, in addition, better than to *also* have
toll-access to at least the subscribed/licensed journals that one's
own institution can afford too. (Don't forget that pay-per-item is just
a form of toll-access, and comes from the same budget, and that in
Ebs's proposal, each toll-item bought would now have to be preceded by
a good deal of prior fingerwork!)

Emailing for eprints today is a good *supplement* to the institutional
toll-access one has, but is it really a suitable *substitute* for it yet?

It may eventually be, but surely only after self-archiving has made considerably
more progress -- at least in fields other than Physics.

(And that is without mentioning that one gets enough spam email already today
without having to deal in real human-time with every instance in which
someone might have clicked to look at one of one's papers! Self-archiving
is one thing; becoming one's own document-deliverer is another! On the
other hand, the more one was thus importuned, the more motivated one
would become to self-archive one's papers, preferably OAI-compliantly,
to get all those real-time eprint-requests off one's back! And requesters
too, would see how incomparably simpler it would be to just click-through
for a paper in an OAI-compliant archive, rather than to have to go after
each one the hard way! By symmetry, that too might encourage them to
self-archive their own work!)

> P.S. As of recently, PhysDoc is now covering virtually all self-archived
> scientific documents in Physics at German Physics departments, institutes.

Unfortunately, German-physics-output is not an autonomous or
self-contained system! The relevant target set for a user is *world*
physics output. And here (and at Cornell in particular) we are not just
talking about physics.

Unlike these perhaps precipitous interim measures, such as journal cancellations
and DYO eprint-requesting, self-archiving can and will scale.

Stevan Harnad

NOTE: Complete archive of the ongoing discussion of providing open
access to the peer-reviewed research literature online is available at
the American Scientist September Forum (98 & 99 & 00 & 01 & 02 & 03):
    Posted discussion to:

Dual Open-Access Strategy:
    BOAI-2 ("gold"): Publish your article in a suitable open-access
            journal whenever one exists.
    BOAI-1 ("green"): Otherwise, publish your article in a suitable
            toll-access journal and also self-archive it.
Received on Fri Nov 14 2003 - 15:05:07 GMT

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