Re: Self-Archiving and Journal Subscriptions: Critique of PRC Study

From: Mark Ware <>
Date: Mon, 13 Nov 2006 12:27:25 -0500

My previous comment (in response to David Goodman's) on Chris and Simon's
report was rather flippant, for which I apologise. Now Steven has posted
this critique I thought it would behove me to post something more
substantive. I conducted a survey of librarians' opinion on the same
topic earlier this year which received responses from 340 librarians
(report available on the ALPSP website here; free summary article here).
Although my methodology was much less sophisticated than this study's
(and there was some criticism on one of the lists that some of my
questionnaire begged a key question), there are nevertheless some
puzzling differences between the findings in the two surveys:

(1) Librarians in this survey expressed no preference for the publisher's
final version over the author's refereed post-print. I have no particular
argument with the librarians on this but they appear to say something
different in my survey. When we asked "What freely available versions
would you consider an acceptable substitute for the journal?", 97% chose
the final journal pdf but only 39% the author's post-print. The recent
finding does seem anomalous, though: as the authors say, it is not
concurrent with current observed behaviour. If it is a true finding, then
it's a concern for those who think there is value in the copy-editing,
linking, formatting etc. that publishers do.

(2) This survey finds that a 6 month embargo had little impact (on
librarians' preference for (delayed) OA material rather than the paid-for
version), but that longer periods (12/24 months) had larger effects.
Overall, the direction of the preference for more immediate material is
hardly `{u^?^?^?^?D+b surprising, but the key point for many publishers
is where the tipping point lies, and on this there appears to be a
conflict with our earlier findings. The very different methodologies
makes it hard to compare reliably, but my data showed only 18% of
librarians regarded material embargoed for 4 or more months an acceptable
substitute for a subscription.

Some other points:

(3) I too have some doubts about the methodology, although it was
obviously done very carefully by experienced people. It's not fully clear
to me, though, that the matrices of options presented really capture the
choices faced by librarians. From a librarian's perspective, for
instance, there are important factors such as supplier support, ease of
integration with library systems, etc. that were not represented in the
study. Unlike Steven, however, I do think that it is reasonable to think
about "acquisition" ^ librarians' role is to help library patrons with
their searching and other information needs, and this includes using
freely available tools. In a modern digital library, online resources
have to be integrated with the library system and other resources, which
takes time (money). From a librarian's perspective, therefore, it's as
reasonable to talk about acquiring free materials as for an organisation
to talk about acquiring open source software.

(4) On a perhaps minor point of methodology, I thought "reliability of
access" was an ambiguous term, especially as "reliable" is used in a
different sense in the second part of the survey ("Content on OA archives
is reliable"). I suppose librarians would have seen it in this context as
related to uncertainly as to whether content available on one day would
be there the next, or have the same link, analogous to the criticism of
aggregation products as being not reliable because publishers can
withdraw their content. But the r`{u^?^?^?^?D+b esults on this factor
don't seem to tell us much.

(5) One reason that librarians may be slow to substitute OA archives for
journal subscriptions is that they have limited knowledge of the degree
of overlap between their holdings and the archives. Chris and Simon don't
mention this as a factor but in my survey we found only 16% of librarians
had estimates of this overlap, and only 31% had plans to introduce
systems to measure this overlap. This may change with the integration of
archive records into Thomson's World of Science, which will make the
archive content (even) more visible, add (additional) citation linking
and perhaps crucially also "validate" the content by inclusion in a
trusted source. (Incidentally, on a related point, I noted that Thomson's
Reynold Guida's slides from his presentation on this at the Charleston
conference included the point that "[WoS/arXiv integration] Provides
links and citation data at article level as an incentive for every
researcher to post work on IRs ".)

(6) Looking at the headline question of the study, there's enough in just
the Part 2 findings to at the least suggest OA archives will be a factor
in cancellations. With some 38% of librarians disagreeing with the
statement that publishers should not worry about OA archive causing
cancellation, and 40% thinking that libraries that continue to subscribe
when the content is freely available, it is surely rational for
publishers to worry about this! As Steven says, though, the key issue is
one of timing and extent ^ we don't know exactly when and how many. But
am I right to think Steven is changing his position slightly on this,
from saying there's no evidence that OA will cause cancellation and that
arXiv suggests the opposite in physics, to saying that it is "possible,
even probable that self-archiving will cause some cancellations" but that
this is a (much) lower-priority issue than the`{u^?^?^?^?D+b gains to
research (and hence society) that would flow from OA. I think the latter
emphasis is much more coherent and one that crystallises the issue for

Received on Wed Nov 15 2006 - 04:00:04 GMT

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