Cost of library materials requires new strategies

by Sabrina Mammarella

As serial subscription prices continue to soar, Concordia faculty, staff and students have access to a dwindling selection of journals and monographs.

"We are sitting ducks for virtually every commercial enterprise that publishes scholarly journals," said William Curran, Director of Concordia Libraries.

"Funding for journals is a major problem because that affects how much money we have left to purchase monographs and other things, like electronic resources," said Mia Massicotte, Assistant Director, Collection Services.

According to BiblioFile, from 1986 to 1998, research libraries in Canada and the U.S. spent 152 per cent more on periodicals but purchased 7 per cent fewer. Monograph spending increased 33 per cent, but 25 per cent fewer books were bought.

Concordia libraries purchase fewer books and subscriptions each year due to rising subscription prices, a decrease in the value of the Canadian dollar. This academic year, Concordia has had to cancel more than 80 serial subscriptions, for a value of about $66,300.

Furthermore, Massicotte pointed out that the simplicity of computer indexes frequently provides users with false expectations of easy and free access to information, but most universities only carry a small number of the citations provided by computer indexes.

Project DART (delivery of articles) was launched in December 1997 to counteract subscription cancellations, Massicotte said. The project permits faculty and authorized graduate students in psychology, science and engineering to obtain articles from journals not subscribed to by Concordia.

Participants can search the 14,000 journals in the Canadian Institute for Scientific and Technical Information database. The cost of delivering articles electronically to the university are covered by a $25,000 document delivery fund, formed by some of the money freed by subscription cancellations. Participants usually receive their articles in one or two days.

Through the Confˇrence des recteurs et principaux des universitˇs du Quˇbec (CREPUQ), graduate students and faculty can borrow books from any library in the system using a CREPUQ card. Library groups in given disciplines try to ensure that certain serials will not be cancelled in all Quebec universities, and that there aren't wasteful duplicate subscriptions.

A new alliance, the Scholarly Publishing and Academic Resources Coalition (SPARC), encourages publishers to enter high-priced markets to create much-needed competition to drive down prices, a concept endorsed by many academic organizations, including the Canadian Association of Research Libraries (of which Concordia is a part).

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