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Library cuts threaten research

As journal cancellations sweep across the US, scientists worry about how they will affect research

By | September 28, 2010

Earlier this month, New Mexico State University (NMSU) library announced the cancellation of over 700 journal and database subscriptions, the result of a perfect storm of rising journal prices and a slashed materials budget. It is the latest, but not the largest, in a procession of research libraries to chop, slash and hack their subscription lists in response to significant budget cuts. Now, tensions are rising as scientists speak out against library cuts and how they will affect research.
Library at York University
linkurl:Wikimedia;http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:SteacieLibrary.jpg
"The lifeblood of a university is its library, and cutting library resources is like cutting off oxygen to the brain," said linkurl:Robert Buckingham,;http://www.usask.ca/sph/faculty_staff/our_faculty/Robert-W.-Buckingham.html a long-time epidemiologist at NMSU and now dean of the School of Public Health at the University of Saskatchewan. "Without this lifeblood, the university will falter and fail." The economic downturn is hitting libraries and hitting them hard. A linkurl:2009 global survey;http://www.ebrary.com/corp/collateral/en/Survey/CIBER_survey_2009.pdf of 835 libraries in 61 countries found that nearly one-third of academic libraries saw their budgets reduced by 10 percent or more that year. And journal subscriptions are taking the brunt of that loss: The University of California at San Francisco (UCSF) cancelled linkurl:118 print and 115 online subscriptions;http://www.library.ucsf.edu/help/scholpub/cancel/2010 for 2010, as well as several databases (including linkurl:Faculty of 1000 Medicine,;http://f1000medicine.com/ publisher of The Scientist). Last spring, the University of Washington announced cuts of linkurl:1,600 print and electronic journals,;http://www.lib.washington.edu/dean/budget.html databases, and microforms. The University of Virginia library sliced linkurl:1,169 journals,;http://www2.lib.virginia.edu/press/budgetfaqs/2010JournalsnotRenewed.pdf the University of Arizona downsized by linkurl:650 print and electronic titles,;http://www.library.arizona.edu/spendingReduction/ and Georgia State University cut 441 and is now considering the fate of linkurl:another 1,092.;http://homer.gsu.edu/journalcancellation/list.php The list goes on and on. linkurl:NMSU's journal cuts,;http://nmsu.libguides.com/content.php?pid=67080&sid=495301 which also included the axing of over 1,300 Springer journals due to discontinued consortium bundles, resulted from the loss of several external revenue streams. The library once received 5 percent of research overhead funding, but two years ago this was slashed to 2.5 percent without an explanation from the administration, said Collection Development Coordinator and associate professor linkurl:Susan Beck.;http://nmsu.libguides.com/profile.php?uid=3989 The library was also required to return $1.19 million to the administration this year that it had saved to pay for subscriptions. The library has asked for the funding to be restored, but has not heard a positive response back, said Beck. "We're working on it, but I don't see much hope right now." Other universities have been more responsive. In Louisiana, librarians panicked this summer when the state Board of Regents announced the end of funding for linkurl:LOUIS,;http://appl003.lsu.edu/ocsweb/louishome.nsf/index/ the statewide academic library network that provides journal and database access to some 30 institutions, including Louisiana State University (LSU). On a linkurl:Facebook page;http://www.facebook.com/pages/SAVE-LOUIS-LSU-LIBRARIES-ELECTRONIC-DATABASE/134995406519527?ref=search dedicated to saving LOUIS, students and faculty alike expressed their outrage at the loss of access. "Oh, please please please save LOUIS," wrote one LSU graduate psychology student. "I'm funded by a large federal research grant from the Department of Education. We need to prove we have adequate research resources in order to secure funding.... I need the EBSCO databases like I need air or water!" To retain the network -- some 63,000 full-text electronic resources -- LSU and other libraries increased their contributions to LOUIS. LSU is now paying double, a total of $450,000 per year, thanks to the university administration stepping in with the needed funds. "I don't know where they found the money, what bucket they got it out of, but we're just very grateful we didn't have to take it from our library budget," said linkurl:Nancy Colyar,;http://www.lib.lsu.edu/faculty/Colyar/index.html assistant dean of libraries at LSU. Still, even with LOUIS in place, the university has been trimming its own journal list month to month. "Basically it's a continuous process for us," said Colyar. "We just keep a running list with a total dollar amount and if we need to cut a dollar amount, we decide where to chop the list." The biological sciences may be particularly hard hit this year, as they are among the most expensive journals subscriptions, averaging $2,035 per year, according to Library Journal's linkurl:Periodicals Price Survey 2010;http://www.libraryjournal.com/article/CA6725256.html -- significantly more than the $1,287 for the average general science title. In lieu of online access to specialty journals in their field, scientists can try to use interlibrary loan, said linkurl:Vincent Gutschick,;http://gcconsortium.com/academic_page/index.html an emeritus biologist and library liaison for the biology department at NMSU. But it's not a perfect fix. "When you're under pressure to put together a grant proposal, even if you get that loan within three days as a PDF, it could really adversely affect putting the proposal together," he said. What's more, due to copyright laws, a library can only borrow five articles from a given title per year before they have to purchase each article directly from the journal, said Beck. A single article in the Journal of Sound and Vibration, one of the recently cancelled subscriptions at NMSU, costs $39.95. Last year, the library had over 1,000 uses of the journal. If more and more scholars turn to interlibrary loan, libraries might not be able to support the demand, said Beck, who noted libraries might start charging for the service or restricting it to high priority user groups, such as professors and doctoral candidates. It's time for faculty to stop being complacent about library cuts and put pressure on their administration to increase resources, said Buckingham, or soon they'll feel the consequences. According to the 2009 global survey, most libraries expected to be in worse financial straits by 2011. And not long after, in 2012, stimulus funding will expire. "What [the state government] is telling us is that next year is the cliff, and we'll all be looking over the cliff and maybe some will be diving off," said Colyar. "With a diminished library, you have a diminished university," said Buckingham. "It's that simple."
**__Related stories:__***linkurl:Support for UC-Nature ban;http://www.the-scientist.com/blog/display/57491/
[10th June 2010]*linkurl:Upping access to open access;http://www.the-scientist.com/blog/display/55489/
[5th March 2009]*linkurl:Libraries 2.0;http://www.the-scientist.com/2008/11/1/82/1/
[1st November 2008]
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Comments

Avatar of: anonymous poster

anonymous poster

Posts: 10

September 29, 2010

It is a sorry state of affairs when access to knowledge disappears from institutions of higher learning. I can understand cutting print subscriptions, but it makes no sense to cut online access. The universities are going to find that they pay for their budget cuts with loss of the top students and faculty. No scientist with any ambition is going to want to stay someplace that restricts their ability to monitor the latest scientific findings.
Avatar of: Borya Shakhnovich

Borya Shakhnovich

Posts: 11

September 29, 2010

I think that its time that the scientific community embrace the digital content publication model that has been the staple of consumer knowledge distribution for a decade now. Open access journals have been around and are widely available and a plethora of new resources such as iAMscientist is coming online which is making peer-to-peer publication available to researchers. Scientists should share the knowledge with their colleagues using these platforms and make the fruits of their labor affordable to all. For more information go to http://www.iamscientist.com/search/publications
Avatar of: anonymous poster

anonymous poster

Posts: 4

September 29, 2010

The main problem with the "open access" digital content model is that it forces researchers to take the time to determine the quality of each paper. For example, has each of the authors disclosed his/her possible conflicts of interest (e.g. funding sources)? Also, are there factual, mathematical or typographical errors in the paper, or errors of omission? And, has it been peer-reviewed? The nice thing about libraries is they filter out poor-quality publications for you, and the editorial boards of high-quality publications tend to filter out bad authors, &c. Disclosure: I'm a librarian.
Avatar of: anonymous poster

anonymous poster

Posts: 2

September 29, 2010

OA is not free. OA either costs to publish or to make the publishers make it OA compliant (deposit in PMC/UKPMC) and the money has to come from somewhere, whether that's grant money or money from the funder in another way.\nPrivate companies use scientists to be editors, to do peer review, all with no compensation!\n\nOA is great if it means every article is available, but of course most publications (and virtually all journals from the major publications) are only partially OA so what if the paper you want is not OA. The fact that 10 others in that journal makes no difference to you.\nWith NIH's OA policy stating 12 months and RCUK's saying 6 months from publication you're waiting a long time from when you first hear about it anyway unless more money has been paid by the author for immediate deposit.\n\nMaybe the point should not just be the cuts to library resources but the costs of those resources in the first place.
Avatar of: anonymous poster

anonymous poster

Posts: 1

September 29, 2010

Our library has suffered greater than 10% cuts, and there will be more cuts for the next three years. We haven't ordered books for 18 months. Subscriptions are out of the question. Fortunately our small school produces only rudimentary research, so even the remaining few thousand e-journals might be enough.
Avatar of: David Hill

David Hill

Posts: 41

September 29, 2010

The point made at the end of this article must have been written by a commercial publisher! Librarians can see the writing on the wall, as we transition to digital publications. Commercial publishers are raising prices, fighting a rearguard action, as their business continues to decline in importance. Meanwhile, scholars just continue to get copies of publications, and other current research information, from their peers. The prices charged for individual articles have no market basis, but are just there as part of a futile attempt to coerce libraries to maintain subscriptions. So what if a journal drops out of sight? Authors will just move to new, open-access, digital publications that allow them to retain copyright and freely distribute their work. This healthy trend can only accelerate as libraries drop subscriptions.
Avatar of: Ting Wang

Ting Wang

Posts: 15

September 29, 2010

In numerous Chinese small colleges, even none of expensive foreign literature databases or journals are purchased, but researchers can in most cases get literature freely through put on Literature Request in many network stations.
Avatar of: Ting Wang

Ting Wang

Posts: 15

September 29, 2010

In numerous Chinese small colleges, even none of expensive foreign literature databases or journals are purchased, but researchers can in most cases get literature freely through putting their Literature Request on many network stations.
Avatar of: anonymous poster

anonymous poster

Posts: 1

September 30, 2010

This is what we get for trusting our precious and critical information to the private sector. The big publishers that keep increasing subscription and database access rates could care less about science or the need to communicate ideas and information. They have only one driving force ? profit. They will extract as much as possible from us, and then dump everything and move on to something else they can make money on. The sooner we move to another way of communicating science to each other the better. In the mean time, I fear we will discover significant losses to both our libraries and archived material ? which they now ?own.?
Avatar of: Judy Kraemer

Judy Kraemer

Posts: 1

September 30, 2010

Many publisher licenses do not allow subscribers to lend via Interlibrary Loan. This means that libraries that do not subscribe cannot obtain articles from those titles via interlibrary loan. The only choices those libraries/researchers will have include: 1) do without which many will do, or 2) pay the publisher's individual article order price which will always exceed interlibrary loan fees. The publishers are indeed forcing libraries into pricy subscriptions! It is the basic law of Supply and Demand. There are just too many monopolies in the publishing world. The answer is Open Access.
Avatar of: Christopher Lee

Christopher Lee

Posts: 50

September 30, 2010

Another aspect of the financial situation is that many scientists are now out of work, or have been pensioned off (my own declared interest).\n\nIn the old days, unemployed people who lived near a university could keep in touch by sneaking in to the library. Now, you can't unless you have been able to "borrow" someone's password for online access. Too bad for you if you're trying to produce a convincing job application.\n\nIn practice, there's a double barrier if your search needs are not covered by Medline, because access to usable search engines is even more tightly controlled than access to published articles.\n\nFor the moment, the only way to keep in touch is to ask authors of recent papers to send you an electronic copy. They usually oblige but, as a result, those scientists who do the best work have to spend the most time dealing with emails.
Avatar of: Haydn Allbutt

Haydn Allbutt

Posts: 1

October 24, 2010

I have been at a number of universities now and one of the greatest frustrations is not having access to relevant papers simply because the university you are at does not subscribe to the particular jounrals that publish them. Whether this is due to an academic decision or an economic one, most universities, certainly those in Australia, only have access to a selection of journals. The bigger universities of course have a wider selection, but during the course of writing most researchers will routinely come across relevant articles that they can not access because of a lack of a subscription. While you can usually order them in through the library, and for important articles you often do, usually you will just go without that particular paper you can't access and make do with the range of papers that you can access.\n\nIn this day and age how is it not possible for there to be a single repository of ALL published articles to which all universities subscribe to, and everyone pays the same price. That way there is no picking and choosing, there is no cutting out journals because library budgets have been cut. A university either subscribes to ALL journals or subscribes to none. Every university then has access to all published papers and therefore the research output of small institutions are not disadvantaged over larger institutions, simply because they can't afford to subscribe to as many journals.\n\nWho do you talk to about making that happen?
Avatar of: Neil Toner

Neil Toner

Posts: 6

October 25, 2010

Haydn Allbutt asked who to talk to about making Universities subscribe to every journal published.\n\nI'd say God, if you are a believer, or Bill Gates and Oprah.\n\nSeriously, Haydn, how do you think that is possible.\n\nYou need to ask a Librarian for a quick course in the reality of information as a resource.

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