The Crisis in Scholarly Publishing and the Role of the Academic Library

Vincent P. Tinerella
Graduate School of Library and Information Science
Dominican University

© 1999 Vincent P. Tinerella, Graduate School of Library and Information Science, Dominican University
Katharine Sharp Review ISSN 1083-5261, No. 8, Summer 1999 []

    Spiraling costs and stagnant library budgets have made the acquisition of scholarly publications unsustainable for most academic institutions. Costs for subscription journals, in particular, have risen dramatically over the past thirty years. With the advent of a networked system of communications, however, many academic librarians have heralded the electronic journal as the salvation of scholarly publishing. An increasing number of librarians have proposed the idea that libraries, in cooperation with their academic departments and university presses, should assume the role of publisher as one solution to the deepening crisis. This article documents the serial crisis in-depth, explores whether librarians-as-publishers is indeed a good idea, and examines the state of the electronic journal in academe, particularly the extent to which digital serials have been accepted as legitimate research vehicles among scholars. In addition, the author suggests a number of methods individual academic librarians can employ to improve the acceptability of electronic journals so that they can eventually serve as low cost alternatives of scholarly information, and examines steps libraries can take collectively to deal with commercial publishers.

    "Ride the horse in the direction it's going."
    — Werner Erhard


  1. The crisis in scholarly publishing has been well-documented over the past two decades. Spiraling costs coupled with stagnant library budgets has made the acquisition and production of print journals and monographs unsustainable for all but a few university presses and research libraries. The advent of a dependable, worldwide, networked system of communications, however, has been seen by an increasing number of observers as the salvation of academic publishing. Many librarians, in particular, have advocated a proactive approach in which university libraries become directly involved in the production of electronic serials as a response to the deepening crisis. As the Internet irrevocably alters the way in which scholars communicate, librarians are surely being offered a unique opportunity to influence the future as traditional methods for storing, acquiring, buying, and producing scholarly output are being challenged. But what should that role be? Are there advantages for libraries to become publishers of electronic journals and monographs? If not, then what other alternatives can libraries pursue?


  2. The problem for most academic and research libraries over the past thirty years has been the skyrocketing cost of print journal subscriptions which have risen 11.3% annually since 1963, escalating well ahead of the rate of inflation and two to three times as rapidly as the Consumer Price Index (Whisler & Rosenblatt, 1997). Scientific, medical, and technical journals have consistently led the way, growing 13.5% per year in the same period with the most expensive serials experiencing the highest rate increases and also getting the most use (Whisler & Rosenblatt, 1997). Between the years 1990 and 1995, subscription journal rates in all fields increased 82% (Dow, Meringolo, & St. Clair, 1995, p. 104). Serial expenditures, moreover, accounted for 58% of Association of Research Libraries (ARL) members' acquisition budgets in 1991, while 55% of ARL libraries acquired less subscriptions than they had five years earlier (Okerson & Stubbs, 1991, pp. 36-37). In 1996, ARL libraries spent on average 124% more to acquire 7% fewer titles than they had in 1986 — an increase from $88.81 to $219.46 (Enserink, 1997). In addition, a recent report found that a typical ARL library subscribed to 16,198 journal titles in 1986 and spent $1.5 million to acquire them. Yet, by 1996, the average member spent nearly twice as much money ($3.5 million) to acquire only 15,069 serials or 1,129 less titles (Thomes & Clay, 1998, p. 26). Table 1 documents the inflated cost of 1998 journal subscription prices in selected scientific fields:

    Table 1. Average Price For Journals In Selected Scientific Fields (Van Orsdel-Ketchum & Born, 1998)
    Title Avg. Price Per Title 1998 % Of Change 1994-1998
    General Science607.0064.54
    Health Science573.0056.24

  3. Libraries are being forced to cancel their subscriptions to expensive and rarely used journals as periodicals absorb a higher percentage of their acquisition budgets. Van Orsdel-Ketchum and Born (1998) estimate that this trend will continue, projecting that domestic and worldwide periodical subscription expenditures will rise 8 to 11% this year, indicating that the serial crisis is not limited to the United States. A recent study by Chrzastowski and Schmidt (1996) found that subscription cancellations have risen dramatically, unique titles were being dropped in large numbers, and cancellation overlap was rapidly escalating. Libraries have responded by relying on interlibrary loan, increasingly borrowing from one another as their core journal collections are depleted. A 1996 ARL study, however, concluded that the average interlibrary transaction costs more than $30, attesting to the fact that borrowing is a poor cost-cutting method and an unlikely long term solution (Kahin, 1996, p. 57). Despite a number of technological improvements, moreover, interlibrary loan remains a relatively slow and cumbersome process.

  4. Rapid price increases in scholarly publishing can largely be attributed to the transferring of academic journal production from nonprofit, scholarly societies and university presses to commercial publishing companies who charge whatever the market will bear. While scholarly societies retain editorial control, publication, distribution, and pricing are determined by publishers who are interested in earning high profits (Thomes & Clay, 1998, p. 27). Yoon (1998) elaborates:

    In fact, researchers say, academia is a paradise for publishers. First, the public pays for most scientific research through, for example, the National Science Foundation. Then, universities pay the salaries of scientists who do virtually all the writing, reviewing, and editing. Universities sometimes even provide free office space to journals. Finally, authors typically sign over their copyright to publishers, who can sometimes bring in millions of dollars a year in subscriptions for a single high-priced journal — subscriptions paid by university libraries supported by tax dollars and tuition. (p. F2)


  5. Academic presses are not fairing much better with sales of scholarly monographs in a steady twenty-five year decline. The typical book published by an academic press in 1970, according to Ekman (1996), sold approximately 1,200 copies, or 100 more than the "break-even" point of 1,100 established by most publishers. In 1996, reported university press sales were closer to 800 copies per title with the same break-even point, meaning that most scholarly monographs lost money for their publisher. As with journals, prices for books are growing exponentially, costing nearly 50% more than they did in 1990 (Dow et al., 1995, p. 105). While prices fluctuate widely by field, books, in general, have risen 7.2% annually since 1963 (Cummings, Witte, Bowen, Lazarus, & Ekman, 1992). Results from a recent ARL study indicate that 61% of their member libraries purchased fewer books in 1991 than they had in 1986 (Okerson & Stubbs, 1991, pp. 36-37). The result has been that libraries have been hard-pressed to acquire a substantial portion of the literature being produced in any one field much less a broad range of academic disciplines, despite the fact that the book remains the traditional outlet for scholarly research in many fields. Caught in the spiral are the universities who want to attract top researchers and faculty — which remains dependent to a large extent on the size and quality of the academic library — and, of course, the libraries pressured to acquire more with less.

  6. Commercial publishers have traditionally used copyright laws to protect their economic interests. The current law allows the copyright owner to control the making of copies and assign licenses based on financial agreements negotiated with interested parties. Under the present system, authors and universities usually are required to transfer copyright and control over the subsequent use of an author's work. Not only are academic writers rarely compensated financially but sometimes have to contribute monetarily in the form of page charges. According to Okerson (1991), approximately 70% of scientific journals are produced by writers affiliated with universities while academic presses publish only about 15% of their scholars output. As both the source and end-user of scholarly output, a growing number of writers are questioning the wisdom of handing over copyright to commercial publishers when they in turn charge their libraries increasingly high prices for the benefit of sharing their research.

  7. So why don't commercial producers reduce their prices? Publishers argue that the biggest obstacle to cost reduction for print versions of scholarly articles are the high first-copy production costs associated with the labor and secretarial expenditures required to handle manuscript submissions: reviewing, editing, typesetting and setup (Varian, 1997). A recent study conducted by Odlyzko (1997) and confirmed by Tenopir and King (1996) conclude that first-copy costs of publishing an academic article range from approximately $2,000 to $4,000. Publishers argue that these first copy costs will remain the same no matter how many subsequent copies are created and regardless of whether the format is paper, electronic or both. Publishers, for example, estimate that the first-copy costs for electronic version of journals range between 70 to 85% of the print price and they note that most of the savings they realize in postage, typesetting, and so forth have been more than offset by the cost of technology and resources devoted to research and development. Monographs are experiencing the same problem, according to Colin Day, director of the University of Michigan Press, who estimates that alternative technologies — whether they are CD-ROM or networked based — can only save libraries 10% over print equivalents (cited in Lichtenberg, 1997, p.14).

  8. Many feel that wholly electronic products will be cheaper in the long run, but so far, commercial publishers have structured their prices to guarantee their current revenue base and to account for future inflation, calculating the subscription rate on a percentage of what it costs to produce the print version. Most publishers have responded by limiting access to digital products through subscription agreements and offering electronic site licenses, usually at the same or more than the print price and requiring guarantees to ensure profits (Odlyzko, 1997). According to Okerson, publishers have added surcharges as high as 35% on digital journals and electronic licenses have cost an average of 1/3 more than their print equivalents (cited in Whisler & Rosenblatt, 1997).

  9. Publishers have demonstrated that they will invariably produce products in both print and digital formats as long as there is a market. If anything, first-copy costs will rise in the immediate future while publishers produce articles in both digital and print formats. While some advocates for self-publishing argue that first-copy production costs can be reduced significantly despite the claims of commercial publishers, profits in scholarly publishing can be substantial and prices will more than likely rise in order to compensate for cancellations, which have taken their toll.

  10. While no one is claiming that electronic journals produced commercially will be any less expensive — at least until publishers recoup their initial investments for technology — many librarians feel that publishers arguments are self-serving and based on their desire to retain high profits. Van Orsdel-Ketchum and Born (1998) note, moreover, that a growing number of publishing companies have tried to eliminate vendors altogether, forcing libraries to deal directly with them for their electronic publications and technical support, making it difficult for them to provide a common gateway to their electronic subscriptions. Another recent development which has librarians worried is the growing lack of competition — especially over the last five years in technical fields — as the number of publishers has shrunk due to the trend in buyouts and mergers. Of imminent concern is the recent merger of publishing giant Reed-Elsevier with one of its main rivals, Wolters-Kluwer. Together, they are now the world's largest publisher of trade and academic journals, producing 1500 serial titles with annual sales totaling more than $6 billion, of which approximately one-sixth is earned from scientific and medical journals (Enserink, 1998, p.1558). Librarians worldwide are concerned about the implications for price increases.

  11. Academic Press and Elsevier have started offering colleges and universities package deals on their electronic journals, providing free or reduced rate access to e-journals based on the amount the school pays the company for their print subscriptions. Others have followed suit. Of the 2,200 e-journal titles in the EBSCO database, for instance, more than half are free with the purchase of a print subscription (Van Orsdel-Ketchum & Born, 1998). The response from librarians has been mixed. Package deals have been criticized because they force libraries into long-term contracts, making it impossible to cancel specific titles and they have been denounced as a self-serving method for publishers to reduce the number of print cancellations and justify price increases. Many librarians, however, consider the arrangement to be a good way for their libraries to access a large number of journals they could not otherwise afford.


  12. With escalating prices for print journals and the high cost of electronic publications now being offered commercially, an increasing number of academic librarians have suggested that universities publish their own research. Advocates maintain that libraries, in cooperation with their university presses and academic departments, can publish, edit, and referee significantly lower priced journals and books and distribute them free over the Internet. Technology, they argue, has made it possible to produce quality publications at substantial savings by eliminating many of the costs associated with traditional publishing: printing, mailing, bookkeeping, overruns and returns, warehousing, and functions that once required expertise like typesetting and distribution (Odlyzko, 1997). Odlyzko determined that by using Paul Ginsparg's high-energy physics pre-print server model, academic journal articles can be produced and distributed for as little as $75.00 per paper and cheaper for what basically amounts to a per-print database without editing, filtering, and so forth. Nonetheless, the disparity in costs is encouraging to many proponents of self-publishing.

  13. Besides the hope of economic benefits, self-publishing supporters have pointed to a number of advantages offered by electronic publications over their print counterparts, which they claim will ultimately make the transition worthwhile. Searching in digital formats, for example, is a clear improvement and does not have to be limited to bibliographic sources. Sophisticated boolean and keyword searches can be conducted on full-text databases while appealing features can be added to electronic publications that cannot be duplicated in print: hypertext links can be included in the table of contents and endnotes connecting author biographies and illustrations; subject indexing is possible for single articles using Library of Congress headings; subject, title, and author indexes are available; the user can create online electronic syllabi and print individual articles on demand; and articles can be purchased on an individual basis rather than in a bundle. Successful attempts at digital publishing — e.g., Project Muse — and other university sponsored projects which have provided access to digital documents — e.g., TULIP, Voice of the Shuttle, and JSTOR — have been used as evidence that the concept can work.

  14. Unfortunately, too many problems have been glossed over or lost in the debate over economic feasibility while the costs and difficulties associated with production and quality control have often been underestimated. While it is true that a few bold projects have indeed been successful, those that have done well have done so with exceptional institutional and monetary support which few publishing projects can realistically hope for and even less can count on. Self-publishing enthusiasts also have not satisfactorily explained how they can maintain high standards while reducing the 70 to 85% first-copy production costs of print journals cited by commercial publishers while still following the same or similar review and editorial processes. Nor is it realistic to expect that part-time amateurs and dedicated volunteers can handle the workload of professional publishers, especially as the volume of publication steadily shifts from print to digital formats. Fytton Rowland, for example, has written:

    While a journal publishing 15 papers a year could be run on an 'amateur basis,' one publishing 1500 papers a year cannot, regardless of the medium it is published in. The sheer administrative load of organizing the input, refereeing, copyediting, formatting, and distribution of that many documents (including the ones that get rejected, which generates work too) requires a full-time staff. (cited in Kling, 1997, p. 243)

  15. The literature, nonetheless, is inundated with librarians who have advanced the proposal that electronic self-publishing is an economic panacea. Charged with providing the research needed by their faculty and students and pressured to find a solution, academic librarians have been too willing to support self-publishing without a careful analysis of its requirements. Deciding to publish should not be taken lightly. The common thread among projects that have succeeded has been the tremendous amount of institutional support from their host institutions who have made a long-term commitment by supplying adequate staffing and funding and have enlisted outside sources of aid. Librarians should not be misled into thinking that they can publish successfully alone. Careful consideration needs to be given to the interdependence in the scholarly communication process.

  16. Publishing projects cannot thrive without an unprecedented level of cooperation among libraries, university administrations, campus computing centers, university presses, academic departments, and especially university faculty. Unless libraries can count on strong support and a clear definition of the role they will play in the publishing process, librarians should be cautious before undertaking network-based projects that still might not resolve their long-term serial pricing problems. For the vast majority of libraries, trying to replace commercial businesses by publishing their own research electronically is an impractical solution that will consume too many of their already thin staff and economic resources.


  17. If indeed the idea of the individual library publishing its own research is impractical, then librarians must find an accommodation with commercial publishers or develop innovative consortial publishing strategies. However, two essential interrelated concerns must be addressed before libraries can explore alternative solutions for easing the price crisis. The first has been the perceived poor quality of electronic subscription journals offered commercially by publishers, and secondly, and perhaps more insidious, the reluctance of many writers, scholars, and university faculty to hold electronic publications in the same esteem as their print equivalents. Frank Quinn (1994), Professor of Mathematics at the University of Virginia, comments:

    The first experimental offerings by commercial publishers are unattractive in several ways: they restrict access; some of them shift traditional library functions (e.g., archiving) to the publishers; and there are no indications they will be cheaper. At the other extreme, preprint databases and home-brew journals have sprung up on the network. These are free, but have problems with stability, quality control, visibility, and acceptance.

  18. Other problems with electronic journals include a wide discrepancy in accessibility, quality, and price. In addition, bundled electronic subscriptions may be less complete than their print equivalents as some authors maintain their copyright and as features are eliminated such as letters-to-the-editor and so forth.

  19. While not every scholar writes to be widely read, most major academic concentrations are dominated by a few highly regarded journals that are deemed most prestigious, read by the most influential scholars in their respective fields, and hold the highest circulation. Few of these are in an exclusively electronic format. Considerable doubt remains as to whether scholars will write in great numbers for journals not held by their academic libraries or whether tenure committees will hold digital publications in the same esteem as print journals.

  20. Evidence of this lack of acceptance can be found in a study conducted by Harter (1996) who found that electronic serials have had less impact in a variety of fields on scholars than similar print counterparts. Harter examined 39 scholarly journals that began publishing electronically after 1993, using the common-sense approach that if scholars and researchers were not aware or influenced by electronic serials, they could not play an important role in their development. Analyzing and tabulating citation data, Harter identified the eight most highly cited electronic journals, compared the three highest ranking journals to similar print serials, and determined the seven most highly cited electronic articles. Harter's study, moreover, examined a number of characteristics of digital journals including the frequency and number of articles published, language, discipline, charging policy, access problems and issues, references, and citation data. Harter concluded that the vast majority of scholarly, peer-reviewed electronic journals have had "essentially no impact on scholarly communication within their respective fields" [emphasis mine] and went on to say:

    Only eight of the 39 e-journals studied have been cited more than ten times over their lifetimes. Given that eleven of the e-journals have print counterparts, these findings are especially telling . . . . The overall scholarly impact of these journals on their disciplines is not great. Indeed, they cannot have a major impact until they publish many more articles annually than they presently do, while maintaining the present overall high quality of their articles. More authors will need to view e-journals as legitimate publication vehicles before e-journals can assume a significant role in the scholarly communication process.

  21. Problematic is the academic reward system present at many universities, where publication is often seen as evidence of scholarly achievement and required for rank and tenure and to satisfy criteria for grants, contributing to a growing body of scholarly output — of which a significant portion is ignored (Okerson, 1991). It has been estimated, for example, that a mathematics article has less than a 1% chance of being read (Rohe, 1998).

  22. The situation is similar for monographs. According to Colin Day, director of University of Michigan Press, professors who are desperate to have their works published and the scholars who need to read them have not pressured publishers for anything more than "the traditional codex, carefully edited and energetically marketed" (cited in Lichtenberg, 1997, p. 14). Yoon (1998) summarizes the situation succinctly:

    The real problem, many say, is that commercial publishers have discovered they can raise prices with impunity, since universities must buy the most important journals, no matter what the cost. And scientists will continue to publish their best work, even in journals neither they nor their libraries can afford, because prestigious publications are crucial to getting grants, promotions, and tenure. (p. F2)

    So far, too many writers have demonstrated that they will wait for publication in order to see their work appear in the most esteemed journal or published by the most reputable press, regardless of the cost to their universities and libraries.

  23. Technological limitations might be contributing to the reluctance of some users too. Grenquist (1997) has outlined a number of reasons why he refuses to read electronic journals. Some of these include the eye strain associated with reading from a computer screen; an inability to annotate or highlight without first printing a hard copy; determining subsequent use (how can articles be conveniently accessed in the future); establishing authority control (how can provenance be decided when anyone can publish on the Web); the omission of typographic refinements and conventions established over many centuries like column width, proportion, page breaks and the like which make it more difficult to navigate documents and are impossible to reproduce in sequential screen viewing; and current intellectual property laws which will not allow scholars to pass along articles to colleagues via retransmission without a special license. Other obstacles not mentioned by Grenquist are familiar to any Web user and include an inability to connect or slow connect times; Web sites disappearing; server malfunctions; file transfer problems; computer access; and a host of other technical difficulties which can prevent documents from being accessed, downloaded, or printed.


  24. Yet, despite the gloomy outlook, the legitimacy and influence of digital scholarly publication is almost certain to improve as market and social forces coerce commercial producers to upgrade the quality and accessibility of their electronic products. Dramatic improvements have already taken place, especially since commercial publishers have increased the number of publications designed exclusively for the Internet (Peek, Paling, & Pomerantz &, 1998). It should be noted, for example, that Grenquist published his article describing why he won't read electronic journals in the Journal of Electronic Publishing — an electronic publication. The irony is a clear indication that digital publications are an expanding presence within the academic community.

  25. Most of these developments can be attributed to the explosion of the World Wide Web, which has emerged as a standardizing catalyst for publishers seeking new ways to cater to a vast Internet audience. End-user acceptance of electronic media has already gained legitimacy among the general public as nearly every major publisher of mainstream consumer magazines offers online versions of their products and constantly develops new and improved Web-based publications. While no one can say for certain what direction electronic publishing will take, technology and the rapid development of the Web seem certain to force changes in the academic system just as its growth has revolutionized conventional publishing.

  26. Scholarly writing has benefitted substantially from the growth of technology and the development of the Internet. Without question, the quality of digital serials has increased significantly since they first appeared. Many electronic journals use the same review processes, employ chief editors and review boards with specialized subject knowledge, and are affiliated with professional associations. It is becoming apparent, moreover, that both print and digital media have a place within the network of scholarly communication. Acquiring peer-reviewed electronic journals is increasingly being recognized as a good method for balancing the need for high-quality publications against the high cost of subscribing to print journals (Cartwright & Kovacs, 1995). While online versions of serials can provide users with unique services impossible in print equivalents, technology has yet to eliminate many of the advantages of the printed page. Electronic, print, and digitally reproduced print journals can coexist side-by-side, complementing one another, just as the electronic version of many mainstream magazines supplements — not supplants — their print versions.

  27. This encouraging trend can be seen by the rapid growth of digital serials — 450% since 1991 (Holt, 1997). Even traditionally conservative medical and scientific journals have started to offer Web-based versions of their print journals. Moreover, 30% of the 900 titles in the Science Citation Index are available electronically — an increase of 237 since 1998 (Van Orsdel-Ketchum & Born, 1998). The esteem of digital publications will accelerate even more rapidly when prestigious scholars begin to publish their best work electronically, as many certainly will, especially as quality and accessibility continue to improve, features are added, technology improves, and they become more stringently edited and peer-reviewed. A growing number of writers — the less influential scholar unable to publish in high-end, first-tier print journals; young faculty more willing to take risks; researchers unwilling to wait for their work to appear in print; the technically proficient; writers who prefer a particular electronic journal over its print competitors — will all increasingly turn to electronic publications as a viable alternative.

  28. At the same time, the number of full-text, full-image articles available over the Web and through subscription databases has increased dramatically, as has the demand for all electronic resources among students and researchers. Digital publications will continue to grow exponentially as universities cater to this demand. Although scholars will contribute to electronic journals at varying rates, academic writing in digital formats will inevitably become increasingly accepted as all electronic publications become a more ubiquitous and important part of our culture. The present academic system, dominated by an older generation of researchers fond of print and protective of the status-quo, will shortly be replaced by a new wave of scholars, well-versed in the intricacies of computer networks and the Internet and far more receptive to new technologies.


  29. Academic librarians, unfortunately, do not have the luxury of standing by idly while the electronic revolution works itself out, waiting for the richness and diversity of their collections to dwindle. On the contrary, academic librarians can go a long way toward influencing the direction and shape scholarly publishing will take in the future. Individual librarians, for instance, can employ a number of strategies to improve the acceptability of digital resources and can take steps to promote electronic journals as an alternative low-cost source of scholarly information.

    • Reference librarians can introduce researchers to articles and sources of information in electronic formats and encourage their use, and they can suggest digital sources that are relevant, reliable, and easily accessible.
    • Collection development librarians can strike a balance in their collections and stimulate interest in electronic sources by assembling information in a variety of formats while making a commitment to purchasing and providing access to electronic journals of high quality.
    • Bibliographers can encourage their faculty and colleagues to petition their scholarly societies to maintain their journal publication rights, not renew lopsided contracts with commercial publishers, and recapture publication rights they have relinquished. They can also circulate lists to academic departments when cancellations occur because of financial constraints, inform individual department members of the extent and complexity of the serial crisis, familiarize researchers with the range of network and digital resources available and enlist their cooperation in making collection decisions.
    • Library administrators can encourage university deans to seek alternatives to publishing records when committees make tenure and promotional decisions and they can insure that staff and economic resources are devoted to acquiring electronic journals, databases, and enough reliable hardware to encourage their use.
    • Technical service librarians can improve standardization and stability and increase the accessibility of their electronic holdings by constructing finding aids and indexes to their digital and networked-based collections and they can implement improved standards for acquiring, storing, and accessing electronic information and digital holdings. Moreover, technical services can digitize and make available documents when universities hold copyright.
    • Acquisition librarians can negotiate better deals and licenses with publishers for electronic journals.
    • Instructional librarians can assist faculty and researchers in manipulating electronic databases and accessing network and Web-based journals.
    • Internet librarians can supply links to their electronic journals from their library web pages and provide faculty members with easy, user-friendly access from their homes and offices.


  30. Libraries have become more willing to join forces in consortia to hold down escalating journal prices and negotiate better deals with publishers. Recently, for example, several Dutch research libraries issued a joint proclamation warning publishers that they had collectively adopted a set of principles to guide them in future negotiations over electronic journals. Highlights of the declaration include provisions that stipulate that members of the consortia will pay no more than an additional 7.5% to have the electronic access to a journal nor will they pay more than 80% of the print price for the digital equivalent alone (Enserink, 1997, p. 1558). Research libraries from around the world have offered their support and are optimistic that other European libraries will soon follow suit. In a similar venture, the International Coalition of Library Consortia (ICLOC) a group of 42 libraries, challenged commercial publishers to reevaluate their journal pricing policies and called on libraries to collectively launch their own non-profit publishing ventures and financially support those that do.

  31. Closer to home, ARL recently joined with the world's largest scientific association, the American Chemical Society (ACS), in the first of what many hope will be a growing collaboration aimed at distributing research findings economically at a significant cost reduction to libraries. According to ARL's executive director, Duane Webster, the newly established Scholarly Publishing and Research Coalition (SPARC) is a significant step forward in resolving the serial pricing crisis (in Saunders, 1998, p. 20). Under the guidelines established by the partnership, ACS will launch at least one new scientific journal a year for the next three years and will design new features in order to improve cost efficiency.

  32. SPARC has also sought to create partnerships with publishers in order to establish quality alternatives to high-priced print journals and create a more competitive marketplace. SPARC's primary mission is to "seek partnerships with member libraries and institutions, scholarly societies, university presses, and other organizations, including publishers, that share a common set of academic values and are interested in developing new strategies for controlling costs and improving access to research information" (Thomes & Clay, 1998, p. 28). The coalition's goal this year is to support at least 5 alternative publishing ventures. According to Laverna Saunders (1998), dean of instructional and learning support at Salem State College and editor of the Internet Librarian section of Computers in Libraries, SPARC will influence the marketplace in several ways:

    1. SPARC will encourage publishing partners to enter markets that especially need competition and where prices are currently highest — science, technology, and medicine.
    2. With purchasing power approaching $500 million, SPARC can flex its collective economic muscle by agreeing to financially support SPARC products and services.
    3. SPARC will substantially reduce the risk of publishing partners while providing faculty with prestigious alternatives to traditional print sources.
    4. SPARC will solicit and encourage the production of products with high-quality offered at fair prices, provide a subscription base and market new products to potential subscribers and generate support from distinguished faculty, professional organizations, scholarly publishers, and educational organizations. (p. 21).

  33. So far, more than two-thirds of ARL's 121 libraries have agreed to become founding members. More recently, ARL announced that membership in the coalition is open to libraries who are not members of the Association of Research Libraries and has introduced plans to encourage international participation. Memberships are available for both individual institutions and consortia. In addition, ARL has initiated a proposal to create several centralized, comprehensive libraries that will serve as national archives to facilitate access to research collections.


  34. Academic libraries have a long history of working collaboratively. Some of the most innovative libraries have continued this trend in the arena of electronic publishing by joining forces within their own systems, with publishers, and with other research libraries with similar academic missions. Columbia University, the University of Michigan, Emory University, Boston College, OHIOLINK libraries, Johns Hopkins University, the University of California libraries, OCLC, and Virginia Tech, are just a few examples of libraries that have been at the vanguard of consortial projects that have tried to improve the presentation, archiving, storage, accessibility, and cost of electronic journals and digital resources. While it is unlikely that an individual library can accomplish much on its own, together, libraries wield enormous clout and purchasing power. Publishers will have no choice but to take notice and perhaps then, journal prices will finally stabilize.


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Vincent Tinerella graduated from Northeastern Illinois University with a bachelor's degree in history and continued his studies, receiving a M.A. in history from Depaul University. He was recently awarded a M.L.I.S. from Dominican University. He has been a police officer for the city of Chicago for the past 17 years and upon his retirement in 3 years will pursue a full-time academic library position. He is also currently working part-time at the Depaul library.