Re: Recent Comments by Albert Henderson

From: Albert Henderson <chessNIC_at_COMPUSERVE.COM>
Date: Mon, 29 Jan 2001 18:42:23 -0500

on Sat, 27 Jan 2001 Andrew Odlyzko <amo_at_RESEARCH.ATT.COM> wrote:

> 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.

        When I entered learned publishing in 1964, all the
        major scientific publishers had computerized their
        back offices with machines that used IBM punch cards
        for input. In the following decades they constantly
        upgraded back office fulfillment technology to take
        advantage of every new generation of equipment. The
        ISBN was developed in the 1960s specifically to make
        computerization easier. The ISSN appeared at the
        same time. At the time, most large publishers had RCA
        facsimile machines which burned treated paper -- the
        predecessor of the plain paper fax -- while a Xerox
        914 could be found on every floor. Telephone switches
        that replaced the plug-in switchboard operator were
        also quickly adopted by publishers.

        Publishers moved print production to photo-offset lithography
        in the 1960s. This ultimately made possible author-prepared
        pages for rapid communications journals and research monographs.
        The price indexes prepared by Blackwell North America suggest
        to me that these developments made possible lower average prices.
        In the mid-1970s I worked with Bowker, a leader in computerized
        bibliography, to use its BOOKS IN PRINT file as the basis of
        Pergamon's annual price list. It saved the duplicative tasks of
        typesetting and proofing, as well as manual indexing. Pages and
        indexes were prepared by Bowker's computers and printed on an
        offset press. Learned publishers joined in Cataloging-in-Publication
        (CIP), an idea that was perhaps suggested by photo-offset technology.

        Publishers computerized their promotional catalogs as soon as
        PC-based databases would accommodate the demands for longish
        tagged text, verbose descriptions, and images. Libraries, I might
        add, seem to be stuck in a replication of the 3x5 card online
        with constrictions that would be unacceptable to any publisher.
        The Ango-American Cataloging card format was good when the patron
        could walk to a shelf and browse. Online, it is very poor indeed.

        Publishers' editorial offices and processing were also
        computerized as early as possible. First the Wang machines. Then
        ATEX and other typesetting programs. Information services were
        the first electronic publishers, delivering tapes until online
        services were feasible. By 1980, AIP was able to tag the
        bibliographic headers information of each article in its dozens
        of journals and dump it into its abstracts journal -- also
        selling a copy to the Department of Energy (if memory serves me
        well) for inclusion in government databases.

        Publishers were also, during the 1960s and 1970s, eager to
        provide microform copies to supplement printed versions of
        journals, thanks to the interest of libraries.

        Many publishers contemplated serious investments in electronic
        distribution during the 1980s. The APS had a task force. ACS
        ran some experimental program. One of the commercial firms that
        I worked with had a stable of publications on electronic media
        and even distributed a demonstration CDROM tucked in a book on
        the subject. A group of journal publishers created the ADONIS
        document delivery service that was, as I understand it, far more
        successful in industrial libraries than in the unversities that
        complain so bitterly about the lack of technology from publishers.
        Elsevier had the TULIP project. Springer et al had Red Sage. Both
        found that the academic market was not ready for electronic media.
        Economist David J Brown wrote, "none of the new media options ca
        survive if there is insufficient market size to be shared around."
        (ELECTRONIC PUBLISHING AND LIBRARIES. Bowker-Saur. 1996 p. 152)

        Why then, would anyone suggest that publishers would have to be
        dragged kicking and screaming to develop electronic means of
        distribution? The library crisis, which clearly originated with
        the new approach to financial management of university budgets in
        the 1970s, only discouraged their investment.

> 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.

        The library serves the entire university and the future.
        More important than shrinking as fractions of university
        budgets is the gap between R&D growth, which produces
        publications, and the growth of library spending. Library
        spending has grown at half the rate of world journal articles.

> Here is what I wrote on this subject in the 1994 paper "Tragic loss
> or good riddance? The impending demise of traditional scholarly
> journals":
> 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.
        This "access not ownership" argument might have some
        credibility if universities had not increased their profits
        at the expense of knowledge assets. The prospective availability
        of quick, cheap information did not materialize. As studies
        of ARL libraries pointed out, interlibrary loans are expensive,
        costing $25 on average, and late, with the average photocopy
        taking more than two weeks.

        Regarding the power structure, it seems to me that librarians
        were put on notice by a $114 million cut in total library spending
        around 1987. Some left academic libraries for industrial and public
        libraries. I perceive those remaining at universities as economic
        captives who must toe the line in spite of their professional
        commitments to the good design of dissemination systems and to

Albert Henderson
Received on Wed Jan 03 2001 - 19:17:43 GMT

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