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October 11, 2001 Concordia libraries gain respite from soaring cost of journals



by Barbara Black

A deal struck on behalf of 64 Canadian universities, including Concordia, will save their hard-pressed libraries thousands of dollars.

The $50-million Canadian National Site Licensing Project (CNSLP) was to be launched Sept. 11 in Halifax by Prime Minister Jean Chrétien, but events in the U.S. led to the cancellation of the event. However, scholars here have had access to the site since April. “What makes it important for researchers is the broad, easy access,” said Mia Massicotte, assistant director of collection services in the library.

The CNSLP provides desktop access to electronic versions of over 700 scholarly journals and research databases in science, engineering, health and the environmental disciplines. The material is available on-line to some 650,000 Canadian university researchers, post-doctoral fellows, graduate and undergraduate students.

Faced with journal subscriptions that rose 207 per cent between 1986 and 1998 while purchasing power declined by 42 per cent, the universities appointed a team of negotiators to act on their behalf. These negotiators worked for two years to conclude an agreement with seven leading commercial publishers of scholarly journals around the world.

William Curran, director of the libraries, said that some of the publishers wanted to tie access to their electronic versions to the conventional hard-copy version of their journal, but the negotiating team held out for electronic data only. The trend toward electronic scholarly journals is inexorable, he said, and the CNSLP’s arrival is timely.

“We are welcoming all these new young professors, about 30,000 across Canada in the near future. What happens if they come in and say, ‘I absolutely need such-and-such a journal to do my work’ — and we don’t have it?”

The CNSLP was launched with $30 million from universities and provincial governments, and another $20 million from the Canada Foundation for Innovation (CFI). Because of these grants, belonging to the CNSLP costs Concordia about $55,000 a year. For this money, the library is getting far more than it would if it had to buy subscriptions directly.

The “Web of Science” alone could cost $90,000 a year; through CNSLP, this important electronic resource which allows scholars to know all the citations that have been made of their research, is available at Concordia.

The deal is for three years, after which it will be up to the universities to renew for another two years, but Curran and Massicotte hope that funds will provide for the CNSLP to continue past that time frame.