Re: Survey: How many refereed journals can your library NOT afford?

From: Andrew Odlyzko <amo_at_RESEARCH.ATT.COM>
Date: Mon, 15 Jan 2001 08:23:17 -0500


The general thrust of your argument is certainly correct. The
overwhelming majority of scholars have access to only a tiny
fraction of the existing corpus of relevant literature. In
my paper (A) I give some figures for library spending by various
institutions. During the academic year 1996-7, Harvard spent
$71 million on its library system, which even as large and
rich an institution as Brown University spent only $15 million.
Clearly Brown scholars had access to only a fraction of the
resources of Harvard scholars. You can quantify this by looking
at the source of this statistics, namely the compilation by the
Association of Research Libraries of statistics on holdings,
circulation, etc. available at <>.

However, looking at serial holdings does not by itself say too much.
First of all, there are measurement problems, with different libraries
using different classification schemes. A more serious problem is that
of relevance. Something on the order of 2 million articles appear each
year in the STM literature. Clearly no more than a fraction can be
looked at by any single individual, or even the entire faculty of a
small institution, say. Furthermore, there are issues of quality and
substitutability. If your library gets the top journals in a field,
that may be enough for you and your colleagues, especially since for
most questions, there are many sources of information that will be
satisfactory (a factor that I discuss in paper (B)). Thus the harm
from not having access to the entire literature may not be as great
as raw statistics might make it seem.

However, that having access to more information is better can be
seen from the observed behavior of scholars. That is what my paper
(B) is largely devoted to, showing that people will use even esoteric
materials if those are easily available. More evidence is available
in sources such as J. Luther's report, "White paper on electronic
journal usage statistics," Council on Library and Information Resources,
Oct. 2000, available at <>. Quoting from page 7:

  Recent data from OhioLINK show that more than half of the articles
  selected by users come from journals not currently held by the library.
  ... There is increasing evidence from both libraries and publishers
  that current holdings are too limited to meet user demand ...

Although there are and have always been complaints about too much
information, people do like to have access to everything, and do
derive benefits from it, even though it is often not easy to quantify
such benefits.

Best regards,

References (both available at

(A) "Competition and cooperation: Libraries and publishers in the
transition to electronic scholarly journals," Journal of Electronic
Publishing 4(4) (June 1999), <>
and in J. Scholarly Publishing 30(4) (July 1999), pp. 163-185.

(B) "The rapid evolution of scholarly communication," to appear in
the proceedings of the 1999 PEAK conference,

Andrew Odlyzko
AT&T Labs - Research voice: 973-360-8410 fax: 973-360-8178
Received on Wed Jan 03 2001 - 19:17:43 GMT

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