Re: Recent Comments by Albert Henderson

From: Andrew Odlyzko <amo_at_RESEARCH.ATT.COM>
Date: Sat, 27 Jan 2001 07:36:56 -0500

The recent exchanges, primarily between Albert Henderson and
Greg Kuperberg, with some additional remarks by David Goodman
and others, commingle two issues:

1. Ease of access: Electronical resources are much easier
to use, so are increasingly preferred and becoming much more
widely used than print ones. However, commercial publishers
have been moving rather rapidly towards making their journals
available online through various subscription, consortium,
and other pricing plans that make them available to scholars
in convenient form on their desktop. Thus the continuation
of the publishers' role in processing scholarly articles and
collecting revenues for this does not preclude access that
is better than what we have had in the past, at least for
scholars at institutions able to afford their wares. This
access would not be as easy, nor available as widely, as free
distribution, but it would still be an improvement.

An interesting question is whether publishers (both commercial
and professional society ones) would have moved to online
publication as fast as they did if it were not for the "journal
crisis," with libraries cancelling their subscriptions in response
to escalating prices and budgets that did not keep up. I expect
that in the end the publishers would have moved in this direction
anyway, as the logic of more convenient access and, even more
importantly, the attraction of partially disintermediating the
libraries by reducing those libraries' huge internal costs would
have become obvious. However, it might very well have taken them
longer than it did.

2. Library budgets: Albert Henderson is correct in pointing out
that library budgets have been shrinking as fractions of university
budgets. However, there are several ways of thinking about it.
If every part of the university got to keep its "rightful share"
of the overall budget in the past, then a third or so of the faculty
would still be teaching theology.

Here is what I wrote on this subject in the 1994 paper "Tragic loss
or good riddance? The impending demise of traditional scholarly

  University libraries have already lost some of their importance.
  Spending on libraries has been increasing rapidly, much faster than
  inflation. Still, Albert Henderson has pointed out that over the last
  25 years, the fraction of budgets of research universities in the US
  that are devoted to libraries has declined from 6% to 3%. One could
  therefore argue that everything would be fine with scholarly
  publishing if only libraries regained their "rightful share" of
  university budgets. My opinion is that this is unrealistic, and that
  the decline in the relative share of resources devoted to libraries
  resulted from their decreasing importance. The increasing
  availability of phone, fax, email, interlibrary loan, and other
  methods of obtaining information, and the inability of any single
  library to satisfy scholars' needs, may mean that scholars do not need
  the library as much, and as a result do not fight for it. In the best
  of all possible worlds, there would be resources to acquire
  everything, but in practice, choices have to be made, and at some
  level in the university power structure, libraries compete for money
  with faculty salaries, student scholarships, and so on. That
  libraries have been losing this competition probably means that they
  have already lost some of their constituency, and will have to change.


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

This archive was generated by hypermail 2.3.0 : Fri Dec 10 2010 - 19:46:00 GMT