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April 12, 2001 Nation-wide agreement makes more journals available









by Barbara Black

Libraries director William Curran would like you to know that despite its current glamour, electronic data have by no means displaced books and scholarly journals.

Unfortunately, the cost of this material, which can be essential to researchers and their students, has risen to an alarming degree.

Curran estimates that the average cost of a year’s subscription to a journal in the life sciences is $832. A subscription to the journal Brain Research—an important tool for one of Concordia’s leading research centres—is now a whopping $16,344 US, about $24,000 Canadian.

“Between 1986 and 1998, the cost of scholarly journals rose 207 per cent,” Curran said recently. “No increase in our acquisitions budgets came anywhere near one-tenth of that amount. Last year, from a budget of over $3 million, Concordia University Libraries had less than $600,000 to spend on the purchase of books.”

Add to this Canadians’ diminished buying power in the powerful U.S. market for academic publications because of the currency exchange rate. CARL, the Canadian Association of Research Libraries, says that universities’ journal-purchasing power declined by 42 per cent over the 1990s.

“And keep in mind,” Curran added, “these are largely commercial publishers.” Indeed, CARL says that commercial publishers are major journal publishers in the sciences, and increasingly, the social sciences. They report profit margins of up to 40 per cent.

However, there’s some hope. Researchers across Canada have access to an expanded range of electronic journals with the finalization of agreements under the Canadian National Site Licensing Project, or CNSLP for short.

This is a three-year pilot project jointly funded through an award from the Canada Foundation for Innovation (CFI) and contributions from 64 participating institutions, of which Concordia is one.

The initiative will provide scholars with desktop access to scholarly journals and research databases that emphasize science, health, engineering and environmental content.

Seven national site licenses have been negotiated so far by the CNSLP, many of them in mathematics and the sciences. For a list of publications and databases newly available to Concordians as a result of this agreement, please consult the library’s home page, at http://library.concordia.ca.

For more on the rising cost of journals and how it affects Canadian scholars, CARL has published a brochure titled Create Change: Creating New Systems of Scholarly Communication, and it is available through the library. It has some eye-popping figures, and bears the subtitle: “The system is no longer working.”

Create Change: Creating New Systems of Scholarly Communication was launched by the Scholarly Publishing and Academic Resources Coalition (SPARC), headquartered in Washington, DC, and its partners, about 200 institutions in North America, the UK and Europe, Australia, New Zealand and Asia.
CARL is a founding member of SPARC and 14 Canadian libraries are SPARC members.

New agreement doesn’t go far enough, says scholar

Michael Bross is the chair of the library committee for the Psychology Department, and he feels that the Canadian National Site Licensing Project (CSNLP) agreement didn’t go far enough.

Most important, it doesn’t include the database ScienceDirect from Elsevier, the large Dutch publishing house that owns the pricey journal Brain. While the commercial publisher claims that price increases are needed to cover costs including high-quality paper and image reproduction, the subscription price of $24,000 a year reflects not the cost of the publication, but the fact that “they have a captive market—only academic institutions.”

Professor Bross said that only a few top Canadian universities and the big private U.S. universities, with their multi-million-dollar endowments, can afford to keep this select company. As for the professional organizations, Bross said, some are sympathetic, but others are not. For example, the American Psychology Association (APA) holds copyright to many of the journals important to academic psychologists, and it charges top dollar through its publishing arm.

“Even the APA database is difficult to maintain at Concordia,” Bross said. “The cost has gone from around $10,000 in 1997 to $27,000 in 2000, and will go up to about $34,000 in the next two years.

“We have a large undergraduate and graduate program, and students from other departments need it as well. It’s a very useful tool, because you can access abstracts of journal articles, PhD theses and technical reports by just typing in keywords.”

How does the Psychology Department cope with their shrinking resources for the tools they need so badly?

“We make severe cutbacks, divert funds from monographs to cover urgent needs, and rely on the library to make emergency arrangements,” Bross said simply. “We cancelled Brain, among others. And with new faculty coming in and wanting other journals relevant to their research, we have to cancel existing serial holdings. It’s tit for tat.”

Will electronic journals fill the gap? “Actually, we academics are a bit conservative,” Bross admitted. “It means starting from a scratch, and building an institutional memory. For any academic, it’s an honour to be on the editorial board of a learned journal, and if you are currently on one, that isn’t something you give up easily. But the prices publishing houses are commandeering will give a big push towards electronic journals.”

–Barbara Black

More on this subject in the next CTR.