As an editor, I find that book buyers dislike conference volumes more than any other category of book, and yet the partnership of scientists and publishers persists in producing them. How are we to explain the fact that scientists can be both disdainful and enthusiastic about these ephemeral publications? What is it that drives the community to support proceedings volumes at all? Can we afford to do without them?
Last August, I attended the Twentieth General Assembly of the International Astronomical Union (IAU) in Baltimore, which lasted 11 days. Nearly 2,000 astronomers registered and participated in half a dozen parallel sessions. In addition, there were 10 or so satellite symposia and discussion meetings before and after the General Assembly. I estimate that the publications of all these meetings will require about 8,000 pages and the resources of at least four publishers. The total cost to any library that takes everything...
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