Re: Online Self-Archiving: Distinguishing the Optimal from the Optional

From: Arthur P. Smith <apsmith_at_APS.ORG>
Date: Thu, 12 Dec 2002 11:27:13 -0500


     thanks, I'd forgotten about your article; it does have some useful
numbers (though 8 years old - in particular, Phys Rev B's numbers have
changed somewhat, and the profit you mentioned was quite atypical for
us...). However, on the issue of publication expenses vs R&D
expenditures - there's a third variable which I don't see in the ARL or
NSF numbers - the total number of institutions world-wide that are
participating in research. I believe this number has been growing - is
there any statistical collection of total expenditures over all
institutions, rather than the sort of per-institution data that ARL has?

Andrew Odlyzko wrote:

> University libraries have already lost some of their importance.
> [...] 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.

     The main focus of your "tragic loss" article was the obsolescence of
paper, and the resulting consequences. One consequence which was perhaps
not widely anticipated is expanded access to research journal content -
now available from
the desktop instead of having to go to the library. And the increased
availability that
consortium deals and other special arrangements are providing. So the
library as a physical
facility is less useful, but as a provider of information, surely the
of every library has grown over the past 8 years? Are the other things
you mention
(phone, fax, email, etc.) really a substitute for traditional scholarly

The total number of institutions (N) comes into the equation assuming
some number of research dollars per institution (R). The number of
articles published (P) varies as total research
funding (P = c * R * N for some constant c) so for every institution to
have access to every article
in the paper world meant spending something proportional to P:
per-institution spending S is then
    S = c2 * R * N
and total spending is S*N = c2 * R * N^2

i.e. if research spending per institution is level (or only growing with
inflation) per-institution spending in the print era still had to
increase because total worldwide research spending was growing - and
total publication spending was increasing as the square of the number of
research institutions world-wide. Obviously, libraries could not keep
up, hence the crisis.

But what the electronic era gives us is a gift - having access to
electronic articles does not mean actually having a physical copy: the
only physical copies an institution has to have are those specifically
downloaded by its researchers, which will grow only as R (dollars spent
per institution), not P (total articles published). The most intensive
electronic activity per institution would be searching, which grows only
logarithmically with P for properly indexed searches. So there is no
longer anything that forces per-institution spending to vary as P - it's
possible to drop below the R*N total research spending curve now, and
still have access to everything. In the long run, when paper is really
gone, library spending should be only some constant fraction of R (S =
c3 * R) and total spending becomes S*N = c3 * R * N, growing only
linearly with total worldwide research spending.

I believe this shift from N^2 to N growth in total publication spending
is what we are in the middle of. As the transition takes effect, it's
going to mean a huge improvement in accessibility for the foreseeable

Received on Thu Dec 12 2002 - 16:27:13 GMT

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