Monday, September 24, 2007

The academic library to become a publisher?

Besides the scholarly book publishing presentation at the Leiden University conference Publishing in the Digital Age, Leiden university librarian Kurt Belder gave his view on academic publishing and specifically scientific journal publishing. A lot has changed in this area with regard to the role of the university and the impact on academic libraries.

The role of the university in Research and Development is changing fast, certainly in Europe. R&D expenditures are on the rise. And there are more publications, especially in Europe. There is more research being done than ever. European scientists are now more than before subjugated to the publish or peril regime. Scientific articles are on the increase with 3 percent. And in the meantime the market grows in Asia, especially in China and India.

The scientific journal publishing market is getting smaller as publishers are merging; Wiley bought Blackwell. Also private equity is stepping in; Kluwer Academic and Springer could merge through these types of companies. The return on investment is high; Elsevier Science requires 22,5 percent and Wiley 21 percent. The journal market is dominated by four large companies: Elsevier, Springer, Wiley and Taylor & Francis. In total there are 35.000 scientific journals, of which 21.000 are e-titles with backfiles, which function as a longtail for the publisher. Scientific journals which are not digitised have problems; if a title is not digitised, it does not exist.

All these indicators do not spell much good for the academic libraries. After some years of just making noise, the library world now looks into new opportunities like Open Access, for example. Basic idea behind it that the publication costs are for the producer and not for the consumer; several research funding institutes also fund the publication in one of the 2.200 Open Access magazines. The Open Access journals have in the meantime gained faster recognition than traditional publications. Also the articles in these journals are supposedly quoted more than articles in traditional journals.

One would think that the production costs of Open Access journals would be cheaper. In principle the costs remain the same, except that in the case of Open Access the producer or sponsor pays for the costs, while for paid journals the subscribers, i.e. the academic libraries, pay.

Besides Open Access publications, there are other initiatives like SPARC, an international alliance of academic and research libraries stimulating the emergence of new scholarly communication models that expand the dissemination of scholarly research and reduce financial pressures on libraries. Also repositories are built up. Scientific Commons contains now 1.6 million publications. Leiden University Repositorium has stored 10.000 documents.

A new tyrend in scientific publishing is the attachment to a print or digital publication of scientific data in corpora for later research. The question is here, whether the data are going to be maintained by the university or by the publisher in his closed data silo.

In the ensuing discussion in which two publishers, respectively Brill and Elsevier partook, the scientific publishers understood that the universities were in for a hard time in order to keep up their research and to get it published; academic libraries are under pressure and getting less money. But they advised Kurt Belder (left on the photograph) as a representative of the academic libraries not to turn into a scholarly publisher in order to save money. IMHO that would be a bad decision by the university libraries. Earlier experiments like the EU funded project Figaro did not work; university libraries in cooperation with a neutral party like SPARC could work. But the idea should not be that university libraries transfer people from the library to a publishing unit, just for the sake of it.

Blog Posting Number: 876

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