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Re: Journal use (Steve Black) Marcia Tuttle 03 Jul 1996 19:26 UTC

---------- Forwarded message ----------
Date: Wed, 3 Jul 1996 15:20:05 -0700
From: Steve Black <blacks@ROSNET.STROSE.EDU>
Subject: Re: Journal use

  Mr. Henderson seems to be saying that if a library has no print
subscription, it has inadequate access to research.  That point should be
challenged on several grounds.
  First, if the goal is to provide current research to the people who
need it, a printed journal may not be the best means of delivery.  The
rapid increase in the exchange of scholarly information on the internet,
especially in the sciences, suggests that alternatives to print are
sometimes superior.  The forte of print journals is to record and store a
fixed record of research, not to rapidly disseminate research.
  Second, a system of ready access to indexing combined with reasonably
efficient document delivery *is* a workable alternative to having a
journal in house.  True, there is a loss in browsing and serendipitous
finds when journals are not on the shelves, but economic reality prevents
libraries from having all journals of interest to our users.
  Third, if free market economics apply to journals, libraries *should*
behave in the best economic interest of the communities they serve, and
let the invisible hand slap us all around ;-).  A recent article by Bruce
Kingma, "The Economics of access vs. ownership:  The costs and benefits
of access to scholarly articles via Interlibrary Loan and journal
subscriptions", Journal of Interlibrary Loan, document delivery &
information supply 6(3) 1996, concludes that for the costs incurred at a
university library (SUNY-Albany), the decision-maker may subtract $63
(the fixed cost of having a journal in the library) from the subscription
price, and divide by total uses of all subscription years.  If the
resulting figure is less than the cost of ILL/document delivery, the
subscription should be retained.  If it is more, it is economically more
efficient to cancel the subscription and substitute it with document
  If all libraries actually did such a cost-benefit analysis and acted on
it, I wonder what would happen.  Perhaps we'd see lots of journals priced
at $62 ;-).
  The problem with free market economics, of course, is that research is
not widget production, and the advancement of knowledge requires a
committment to subsidize inquiry in areas that may have no immediate
financial return.  But even if that committment is in full force,
subscribing to print journals may not be the best way to meet the needs
of researchers.

Steve Black