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

From: Andrew Odlyzko <odlyzko_at_DTC.UMN.EDU>
Date: Sat, 14 Dec 2002 07:45:24 -0600

> On Thu Dec 12, Arthur P. Smith wrote:

> Andrew,

> 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?

Arthur, you are very likely right, but I have not seen any statistics
on this subject. (We don't even have a precise figure for total library
spending on acquitisions on a worldwide basis.) However, it should be
possible to get some data very easily for mathematics from the MathSciNet
database, and I'll ask the folks at Mathematical Reviews about it.

> 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
> utility
> 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
> communication?

Pphone, fax, email, etc. are not a substitute for traditional scholarly
communication, but technologies for enlarging the scope of such communication
and making it more effective. They do make the library less important, since
they allow scholars to bypass the library, and obtain the information directly
from other scholars (from archives, or personal Web pages) or from publishers
(with many ACM members, for example, who do not have access to a good library,
subscribing personally to the ACM Digital Library, etc.) Libraries do help
provide access through arranging licenses, but still, I feel their relative
importance has decreased. (In the 1997 paper "Silicon dreams and silicon
bricks: the continuing evolution of libraries," available at
<> I predicted that the
two natural niches that libraries could occupy was handling licensing
and enforcing access restrictions. Almost everything could be taken
over by other institutions, although it does not have to be taken over
in this way.)

> 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.

Yes, a nice way to look at the problem. Furthermore, this simple model
demonstrates something else: If every institution were getting
everything, with each institution staying constant, the fraction of
material in the library that was getting used would go down inversely
with N. That would be saying that by the bean-counters' measure, the
collection would be used less and less efficiently.

> 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
> future.

> Arthur

Yes, agreed. That is why the package deals, for all their anti-comptetitive
features, and their effect of transferring resources from libraries to
publishers, do offer real gains for the scholarly community.

Received on Sat Dec 14 2002 - 13:45:24 GMT

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