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    • CommentRowNumber1.
    • CommentAuthorMark C. Wilson
    • CommentTimeMar 13th 2012

    (I started a new thread, because the original place of this question was illogical)

    I would appreciate advice on how to make the most of a meeting with my university’s head librarian and other library staff on 4 April. I have already asked them to let me know all information on our serials budget. We have complete access to Elsevier journals and I am sure it isn’t cheap. Other issues I thought of are: how is the university helping the cause of green OA through our institutional repository? (is there a list of best/recommended practices for this?); have they thought about hosting any journals?; have they joined any consortia to negotiate with the likes of Elsevier?

    • CommentRowNumber2.
    • CommentAuthorHenry Cohn
    • CommentTimeMar 13th 2012
    This is a great question, and I'll be very interested in the answers it gets.

    Regarding Elsevier specifically, it would be useful to know whether you have a direct contract with them or through a consortium, whether the details of the contract are publicly available, what the time frame of the contract is, and whether there is a list of prices broken down by journal (there usually is). It would also be great to collect similar information for other large publishers.

    It's also important to ask librarians how faculty can support them in their negotiations with publishers, as well as what issues they think we may be overlooking or misunderstanding.
    • CommentRowNumber3.
    • CommentAuthorAndrew Stacey
    • CommentTimeMar 14th 2012

    I’d echo Henry’s last comment. My default assumption would be that librarians are, by and large, on our side - in so far as definite sides exist - but I certainly only have a very hazy idea of what battles they face in running an academic library and the difficulties they have to overcome to create a viable resource for the faculty. So knowing what we can do to make things easier to have a useful library would be a good thing to know.

    Part of that is that it would be good to know what librarians can actually do. If we claim that, for example, they should subscribe to Journal of Topology instead of Topology, does that actually do any good? What factors go in to deciding whether or not to subscribe to a particular journal? We have a department with only a handful of topologists, to what extent is a small group listened to (or can be listened to)?

    I’d also be curious as to the readership of articles and journals. At what point would it be cheaper to go for a pay-per-article model, particularly in mathematics. I imagine that there are many articles languishing in journals deep in the stacks of all libraries that are never read, but which are “carried” (ie paid for) by the other articles in the same journal (not even in the same volume). We talk a lot about the cost per page in terms of publishing. I wonder what the cost per page is in terms of reading.

  1. There is one thing that several librarian I have spoken with have told me: one of their constraint is that scientists hate not to have access to the articles they want, so librarians get mobbed by angry scientist asking for a specific journal, not knowing its cost. That is the reason we phrased the Appel pour des négociations équilibrées avec les éditeurs de revues scientifiques in this way: there we pledge not to blame our negotiators if we do not have full access to Springer journals, so that they can bargain harder (which most probably and sadly did not happen much, despite the overall success of this call).

    Concerning the comparison between pay-per-article and subscription, I remember that a library did an experiment to answer this, and a report is probably available online, but I do not remember which library it is… “Token” is one of the key word here.

    • CommentRowNumber5.
    • CommentAuthorMatthew Daws
    • CommentTimeMar 14th 2012

    This is probably of interest:

    (Ironically, I am reading this from work, and so I don’t know if it’s behind a paywall… it probably isn’t).

    Our library, like many (all?) in the UK, can get Document Supply via the British Library. For a journal article, the typical procedure is that I fill in a short online form and pay 5 pounds (on credit). The library pays a similar amount as well. A scanned copy of the journal article will turn up in my email 24-48 hours later (the quality is good enough, but far from outstanding). The PDF file is encrypted and can only be printed (but, ahem, it’s not encrypted terribly well; and modern photocopiers make wonderful scanners…) I can eventually claim the cost back from my department.

    I find this work pretty well– about 50% of what I use it for is getting the published version of arXived stuff, and so it doesn’t impede literature searches too much. The time delay would be annoying if I had to use it more, for things where I didn’t have a preprint version available. My colleagues do seem to dislike the idea of waiting 24-48 hours. The library tells me that, even with journals being cancelled, they have seen no increase in Document Supply usage (suggesting people are going without; or emailing their friends at other universities). As more cancellations come along, it will be interesting to see if Document Supply becomes more used.

    • CommentRowNumber6.
    • CommentAuthorTom Leinster
    • CommentTimeMar 14th 2012

    Interesting, Matthew. In 18 years at UK universities, I don’t think I’ve ever heard of Document Supply. From my sample of one, I conclude that it is not well known.

    • CommentRowNumber7.
    • CommentAuthorMatthew Daws
    • CommentTimeMar 15th 2012

    @Tom: Hmm, terminology can be annoying. I guess this would be more commonly called “Inter-Library Loan”. But, for journal documents, you genuinely get a scanned copy not the original on loan, so “supply” does seem a better word. It’s what the British Library calls it, anyway: Our library has been pushing this quite hard as a replacement for very expensive, under-used journals.

    • CommentRowNumber8.
    • CommentAuthorAndrew Stacey
    • CommentTimeMar 15th 2012

    I used this when last in the UK and I was very pleased with the results. I have a vague memory of getting a hard copy once and an electronic copy another time (as with Matthew, I seem to remember the restrictions not being all that restrictive. It felt more like the “Linux Honour Virus”1 in that there was no actual physical or electronic lock on the document **cough, cough** print to file **cough,cough**).

    Indeed, this is the sort of thing that was on my mind when I said that what I’d really like from Elsevier and Springer and so on regarding back issues is simply a declaration that they will not prosecute anyone who makes available an electronic copy of an article. Then, whenever I need to look at a physical article which isn’t already online, I simply scan it in and post it to the mathematical version of the pirate bay and everyone else then has access to it if they want to. Also as Matthew says, photocopiers and scanners look awfully alike these days2. This may be a bit haphazard, but at least it would mean that articles were made available according to need rather than the prestige of the journal.

    1. The email that says “This is an honour virus. Please now delete some random files, and then send this on to all of your friends. If you do not, nothing will happen.” 

    2. I’ve even gotten decent results simply photographing an article using the low-resolution camera on my iPad. It was perfectly readable and the original wasn’t all that great in the first place. 

    • CommentRowNumber9.
    • CommentAuthorHenry Cohn
    • CommentTimeMar 15th 2012
    I'm skeptical about this sort of declaration of not prosecuting people: the real question is how enforceable it is. For example, what if a publisher changes its mind and announces that permission is withdrawn and all files must now be taken down? Or what if a zealous prosecutor decides to try to shut down a website because of copyright violations? (Many crimes can be prosecuted regardless of the inclinations of the victim, and that's actually a good thing, since giving the victim veto power would create obvious incentives for criminals to threaten victims.)

    My feeling is that any publisher that's really committed to open archives will release the papers under a clear, legally binding license, such as CC BY-ND. If they aren't willing to do that, then we shouldn't trust in it as a long-term solution.

    And now that all the major publishers have done large-scale scanning projects, the only reason we should ever have to scan old papers ourselves is if they were published in awfully obscure places.
    • CommentRowNumber10.
    • CommentAuthorAndrew Stacey
    • CommentTimeMar 15th 2012

    Yes, that’s a consideration. My point was less about the details and more about the fact that I don’t really need them to do anything. I’m quite happy to scan in stuff as I come across it and for everyone else to do the same.

    they were published in awfully obscure places.

    Sadly, I find that that is frequently the case.

    • CommentRowNumber11.
    • CommentAuthorskome
    • CommentTimeMar 30th 2012
    Hi everyone. I'm a librarian at an academic library in California. You and I have the same goals.

    I am not directly involved in collection management but I can say with 100% confidence that your librarian is your friend and would welcome your constructive involvement in collection decisions. E.g. I have ~60 science faculty members for whom I want to be sure proper, relevant teaching and research resources are made available. I can make very educated decisions on my own, but always prefer to hear from them directly.

    Also: subscription decisions are complex! tens of thousands of titles, some aggregated into packages, some bought via consortia.
    • CommentRowNumber12.
    • CommentAuthorMark C. Wilson
    • CommentTimeApr 5th 2012

    Here is a report on what I learned at the meeting. I didn’t find out concrete price data for specific publishers. Our library currently (depends on foreign exchange rates) spends about US$12 million per year on serials. Most deals are negotiated through a consortium of Australasian universities (CEIRC) and I think they are done annually.

    I believe we may have some advantages over institutions in North America and Europe because of regional pricing policies, and apparently our library is quite well funded compared even to those at much more famous institutions (something to do with funding from operating expenses vs living off dividends from endowments). However it was acknowledged that the present cost situation is not really sustainable. I have been invited to join a project to promote awareness of open access and other Math2.0-ish issues at the university. CEIRC seems to have an active working group on this issue.

    I note that we have about 2500 research/teaching staff. If each is responsible (perhaps through students) for reading 100 serials articles per year, this comes to nearly US$50 per article. I am not quite clear as to why we don’t just do it this way instead of subscribing. I just made up the number 100 and haven’t asked about number of articles read electronically through our library site.