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

From: David Goodman <dgoodman_at_PHOENIX.PRINCETON.EDU>
Date: Mon, 15 Jan 2001 22:22:29 -0500

The relationship between the number of times an article would be used
if available under optimum conditions (click-through access from the
catalog, references, or indexes, exactly as subscribed journals are now)
and the number of access it has under conventional interlibrary loan is a
complex question. As Steve points out, it is a major error to assume that
they are equal.

The conventional interlibrary loan system is designed to discourage access
to the level that the library can afford, and to shift costs to the
personnel budget.* It provides items only for those who
both need an item very badly and are prepared to wait a good while for it.
I have seen figures quoted as low as the totally absurd 1:1.1 to the
possible (in some cases) 1:50

The ratio of this to the people who would ideally look
at the article depends upon the type of user and the type of material.
In my experience,
for a researcher looking for material to obtain critical
comparative data, to answer a referee, or to complete a
grant request, even 1:1 might be correct. They will ask for it every time,
especially if they are knowledgeable and important enough to get rush
service. But this is rare: for the much more typical case of
undergraduates looking for term paper material, 20:1
or so might be right--they will not use it if they cannot have it right
away and as easily as any other online item. (These are presumably the
users who make up the bulk of the Ohionet figures)

The widespread use of document delivery will run against another fallacy:
How can we possibly expect it to cut total costs, when it seems obvious
that every publisher will be intelligent enough to raise the copyright
fees to a level which will yield the same return. It may have a role
in some cases, e.g. a library asking , rarely, for material
normally out of subject scope, but it inherently cannot serve as a general

* I do not mean to criticize interlibrary loan librarians: I run an ILL
service myself. Every time I improve ease of access, delivery time,
and responsiveness to rush requests, use goes up dramatically.

 David Goodman, Princeton University
Biology Library 609-258-3235

On Mon, 15 Jan 2001, Stevan Harnad wrote:

> Let me add that there is some misunderstanding in some of the early
> returns I have begun receiving in response to the three questions. The
> misunderstanding is about P (Pay-Per-View): Andrew has of course not
> fallen into this misunderstanding, grasping clearly that the P option
> in the current system does not give even a remotely accurate indication
> of how much material would be accessed by users if there were no P to
> be paid at all:
> Librarians have been replying that what they can't afford with S & L
> (Subscription and License) they can always get with P, whenever a user
> requests it. But this is an illusion based on the current awkward
> P-system! A user must first ascertain (from some indexing source) that a
> paper exists at all, and then must request to look at the full text via
> P (whether through photocopy, ILL, or an online meta-License -- the
> last being the "click-through oligopoly" that some publiser consortia
> have been envisioning as a metered solution to the problem of providing
> access to the entire corpus online).
> The P process is both time-consuming and costly (indeed, potentially
> ruinously so). What should really be held in mind is the barrier-free
> access Andrew is speaking of, where all you have to do to access a
> full-text on-screen is to click on it!
> Now, dear librarians, please recalculate your confident Pay-Per-View
> budget in terms of the potential cost of all those untrammeled clicks!
> Your current P-system does not offer or reflect anything like that!
> And let me also remind everyone that impact is the flip-side of access,
> and impact is the all-important factor for research and the researcher.
> All the potential clicks that are lost to a researcher, because of the
> P-barrier, and the absence of Andrew's untrammeled access, are losses to
> research itself, and hence to the potential beneficiaries of scholarly and
> scientific research, namely, all of us.
> So the right way to estimate the proportions I asked about is to reckon
> how far along the pathway to untrammeled clicks to the entire relevant
> refereed paper corpus your budget could conceivably take your
> institution's researchers. I think that you will find that the distance
> is very small indeed. -- S.H.
> On Mon, 15 Jan 2001, Andrew Odlyzko wrote:
> > Stevan,
> >
> > 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,
> > Andrew
> >
> >
> > 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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