Should Publishers Offer Free-Access Services?

From: Vivienne Monty <vmonty_at_YORKU.CA>
Date: Fri, 28 Aug 1998 09:22:09 -0400

I don't disagree with anything Thomas Walker says in his article. One
could argue that digital format is far better than print since hyperlinks
in most fields allow for a flexibility on the elaboration of ideas far
better. But the question of costs and other matters are a muddy slope no
matter how it.s sliced.

Some general thoughts on points that have been made: (Somewhat long I fear
but there are many points and issues to consider.)

--What we constantly have to remember is that we are in an interim period
where dislocation and confusion rein. For example, Walker discusses
scientific data but the sciences have been at the forefront of digital
access development. The social sciences lag far behind, not in the
materials available on the net but the serious refereed academic
materials. There are no huge archives of pre-prints in this realm. It.s
pay as you go or very little serious stuff is gets out there for free.
For example, Walker mentions JSTOR. JSTOR is most reasonable costing just
over $3500 for founding libraries, other services that are current and not
archival however cost libraries each an average U$30-40,000 annually, e.g.
IAC or Proquest. This, at the moment, is reality in most fields. We should
also remember that per page payment is a scientific phenomenon that does
not exist in most other fields. I would suggest that natural market
forces, when brought to bear will have the user pay rather than the
creator or we shall continue to have middlemen (ie libraries) carry the
costs on our behalf.

--What is of greater concern in for pay services is that libraries are NOT
paying for archival copies, that is, they are paying for current access
and when they quit paying annual fees, all access is cut off. At least in
the paper world, a library had what they bought and researchers could
refer to materials even centuries later.

--Somehow most who have written on this topic seem to feel that archives
will be around in the ether of it all. Unless we make sure that we have
the same archival systems that we do for paper, I fear none of these
self-published or even society published materials will be around for
long. Technology moves too fast and societies do die. Much has already
been lost in the first computer generated files that no machine can read

--Most of all what we need are development of mechanisms and systems to
handle this new form of publishing as we handle paper publishing today.
Libraries in many cases already catalogue and provide hotlinks to major
journals that they want to own. (Changing URLs don.t make this very easy
but still...)

--New developments must include proper indexing that have control terms
and there must come shortly a combination of many journals into -one
service- that is, libraries cannot handle the hundreds/thousands of
individual journal subscription today so they use journal services. There
are already such Internet service providers for a fee but what we must
have is a academic/free journal provider service if this free world is to
grow or even be maintained.

--Indexing is a greater problem. Specialists will always know what their
friends are writing about. The world of true knowledge however must open
material to anyone who is interested in a subject yet knows none of the
venues to search. Some have said that full-text searching will do for
this. I would argue, not at all. Full-text searching implies that the
searcher is always clear as to the term/terms that a specialist might have
used. There is also no provision for changing language and growth in
fields. Interdisciplinary studies are here to stay and are growing making
identification harder even for experts. The process of proper indexing,
however, is very costly and takes indexing experts. The researcher also
has to be able to find a single subject over many and varied journals to
make their search worthwhile.... a general search on the net just elicits
too much garbage to wade through. I doubt that this sort of intermediary
search tool could come for free very quickly. I do believe that University
libraries could fund such efforts as consortia but they have been
unwilling to do so to date. Other matters have been seen as much too
pressing. Libraries have been contended in leaving indexing to private
companies and to librarians who get research grants for projects to index
various journals and publications. (Recent research has proved that
students have a love affair with the general net for about three years and
then they go back to standard indexes when they realize what time they
have been wasting and not finding the resources they really want.)

-- Most importantly what we need to do is continue to discuss issues and
suggest different and newer ways of handling this new venue of publishing.
Much has changed since Stevan Harnad first made his subversive proposals.
Things are still evolving. Even though we might not agree with all that is
said or suggested, we must remember that the squeaky wheel does get oiled.

Vivienne Monty
Senior Librarian
York University
Toronto Ontario
Received on Tue Aug 25 1998 - 19:17:43 BST

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