Technology poses problems for journals



Technology has revolutionized the way many researchers access the latest information in their fields. But the transition has not alleviated all the problems that plague print journals, and has even presented some new ones, Yale faculty members said.

Members of the Advisory Council on Library Policy, or ACLP, and other faculty say subscribing to online journals — which provides a convenient way to retrieve current academic research — is becoming more expensive, even though many anticipated a cost reduction once the publications went online.

Associate University Librarian Ann Okerson said the University’s journal subscription costs, particularly in the areas of science and technology, rise about nine percent annually — a pace that library budget increases cannot match.

“Ten years ago — everyone believed that electronic [journals] would be really cheap,” Okerson said. “I think there’s a fair amount of disillusionment or disappointment that moving to electronic has not brought down costs or prices.”

Okerson estimated that Yale spent $6.5 million on serials, or publications for which the University must pay every year, in the 2001-2002 academic year, the last year for which the information is available. She said approximately $3.6 million of that sum went toward journals related to science, technology and medicine.

While journals dealing with the sciences have seen dramatic price increases, those in other disciplines, such as finance and economics, are less affected, School of Management professor William Goetzmann said.

The ACLP, a committee composed mostly of faculty members and appointed by the president and provost, has discussed the issue of journal subscription costs at its monthly meetings, Okerson, a committee member, said.

Professors who serve on the ACLP said their most pressing concern is whether to continue print subscriptions to journals they can now access online.

“I was trying to find ways by which the University could save money, and for me the obvious one was to get rid of the very expensive and very poorly read hard copies of the journals,” physics professor Ramamurti Shankar, a committee member, said.

Shankar said he does not see a need for paper journals when he can access the same information more conveniently online. Users who are connected to Yale’s network generally have direct access to the publications, Yale Information Technology Services Director Philip Long said.

Not all faculty are in favor of cancelling paper subscriptions to journals in their fields, and even those who favor Internet access to journals acknowledge some unresolved problems with the practice.

“There are certainly people for whom it’s extremely important to have a printed copy of their material available,” biology professor Doug Kankel said.

Both Kankel and Shankar said archiving is a particular concern in relation to online journals. For instance, there is no established policy for how readers would be able to view old issues of an out-of-print journal to which they had only subscribed online.

Shankar said some people have proposed solutions to the archiving problem.

“Maybe not every department has to have a hard copy at every university,” he said.

Goetzmann said his ideals as a researcher conflict with his knowledge of the economic demands of publishing.

“I understand as an economist that it’s an economic problem of how to charge enough to support the distribution of information,” Goetzmann said. “But as a researcher I sincerely wish it was free.”

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