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Help : Re: Cost of the Journal of Molecular Structure & others (Albert Henderson) Marcia Tuttle 07 Dec 1999 19:59 UTC

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Date: Tue, 7 Dec 1999 12:24:37 -0500
From: Albert Henderson <>
Subject: Help : Re: Cost of the Journal of Molecular Structure &  others

on Thu, 02 Dec 1999 Simone JEROME <> wrote:

> This time, Mr Henderson, you carry the things too far. If the
> argumentation of the librarians are flawed, what does that say about
> yours.
> I am a librarian but I was educated as a chemist and although my
> contribution is not a benchmark of science, I learned by experience that a
> good library, and particularly a good librarian, is crucial to scientific
> research.  In all your communications, you repeat the same arguments as a
> leitmotiv : that periodicals are expensive but it is quite natural,
> universities must increase part of their expenditures in libraries and
> particularly in an ever growing number of ever more expensive scientific
> journals.

Yes, good libraries and good librarians are crucial. I have suggested that
there should be more good librarians as well as larger collections. The
situation is that some of the best library schools have been closed by the
same folks that decimated once excellent library collections

My point is that major research libraries must grow at the same rate as
the research literature. The late Yale historian of science, Derek de
Solla Price pointed out, "Roughly speaking, both the world population off
book titles and the sizes of all the great libraries double in about
twenty years ... Such is the stuff of cumulative growth, the distinction
of scholarship in general. but of science in particular." (SCIENCE SINCE
BABYLON. New Haven: Yale U.P. 1975. p. 173)

Beginning in 1970, the major research libraries stopped growing at the
same rate as R&D. (JASIS 50:366-379. 1999) World R&D output, in the form
of journal articles and US Academic R&D continued to increase.

The result is like squeezing the end of a garden hose. The inflation
produced by increased production alone would increase prices. Added to
reduced circulation, the effect has been spectacular.

> I suppose it is realistic for the few wealthy private universities, the
> only ones you seem to know.

In the U.S., only 4% of all higher education institutions, the Research
Universities, account for almost 40% of all library spending. The doctoral
universities, less than four per cent of the population, account for
another 12%. Together less than 8% of all institutions command over 50% of
library spending, including salaries and supplies as well as materials.

There is no need for austerity. Thirty nine private Research Universities
post their income and expenditures each year with the Treasury Department.
It is public information. The Nov. 29 issue of the CHRONICLE OF HIGHER
EDUCATION reported the results which show average profits at 25% of
revenue. That is up from 21% last year!

Three of those universities, MIT, Northwestern and Princeton, appear in
ARL STATISTICS to have reduced their library spending recently while
enjoying profits in the hundreds of millions of dollars. ARL STATISTICS
also show four other institutions on the letter to Professors Barnes and
Laane cut library spending since 1988. It is no wonder that librarians are

It is an outrage. I simply believe the bile should be directed at the
university managers whose preference run to hoarding financial assets
rather than supporting the library collection and other knowledge-based

> But, Mr Henderson, the research world does not limit itself to some US
> universities although I may agree they contribute for a large part to its
> product. What do you know of the situation of universities in less wealthy
> environment whether in the US or Europe, not to mention developing
> countries, to which you seem not to concede the least right to science
> education ?

Statistical sources are generally poor. I have seen analyses of library
funding as a percent of higher education spending in UK. The results
parallel the statistics of ARL that were collected since 1980 but not
officially released until 1993.

> You are right when you say that access to secondary information is
> essential but you place greater value on the journal-based bibliographies
> than on databases.

Databases acknolwedge their coverage has been limited in an effort to
accommadate complaints of librarians about rising prices. The result is
that a very narrow bibliography is likely to provide twice as many useful
references and to eliminate false hits. (Deitz, L. L., and L. M. Osegueda.
1989. Bulletin of the Entomological Society of America. 35:33-39.)

There is a theory of distributions that suggests that the true value of
scientific discovery resides in a relative handful of papers or journals
or authors. Unfortunately no attempts at selectivity have prevented
duplication and error. Look at nomenclature, for instance, where the same
"discovery" has many names. One is given by each investigator who is
convinced the finding is new. Look also at the bias admitted by journal
editors, who will not consider publishing "negative results" even though
such papers may well help other scientists from wasting time and money.
Such waste is a direct result of the bottleneck in research communications
fostered by libraries' impoverishment.

> And that on economic argumentation which is not serious. Critical
> literature is too valuable to be published in journals where it is diluted
> in other less lasting information.

News is often critical. Responding to a questionnaire, many scientists
asserted that new information revealed innocent duplication of research
and also compelled them in some cases to change their current projects.
(Martyn, J. New Scientist, 377:388. 1964)

>                                    Series are better suited to that sort
> of papers, see for instance the highly praised series 'Methods in
> Enzymology'.  As opposing the journal-based bibliographies as more
> accessible to institutions who cannot afford database access, please
> remember that, for instance, the 'Journal of Organometallic chemistry'
> which offers many of those annual state-of-the-art papers costs more than
> a quarter of the price of the 'Chemical Abstracts' which gives information
> to about 700,000 chemical papers each year. Self explaining, I suppose.

You must accept my position unless you can show me how to browse through
700,000 titles.

> Another dubious argument is your reference to the difficulty for end-users
> to retrieve information from databases. The problem is true but its
> solution has a name : it is education and not to introduce as many
> journals in libraries and let the users find the information by mere
> browsing. Are we going back to Lavoisier ?

Researchers browse because they find it productive. They are seeking to
discover unexpected information, of course. R&D is notable for its coinage
of new concepts and words. Citation searching helps deal with this better
than looking for unknown key words. Unfortunately, SCI's coverage is very

> So my fellow librarians who I know to be among the best in the profession,
> are archive-minded, and in your eyes, it is not a quality.  They are when
> it is necessary to recover data concealed in huge mountains of paper
> padded with most contributions which are serving more the ego of their
> authors than adding to the global knowledge of science. Modern librarians
> in science are essentially data-minded, whether the information is written
> on paper or stored as electronic bits is just a technological difference
> not a conceptual one.  But publishers are paper-minded. Although they know
> the paper media will soon be replaced by electronic media in journals
> production, they try to transpose the quasi-monopolistic situation they
> have created in the paper world in the new environment. They have to fight
> hard because the new frontier is less secure for them as entrepreneurial
> people can more easily publish information at low costs with a far less
> basic investment than before.

Sales trainers say the best sales people work for the customer first, the
store second.

It is true that some published information is ephemeral. That does not
undermine its value to researchers. The best librarians and publishers
serve their readers first.

> Definitely, we, librarians, have to help people think, neither read nor
> write but think their own. Then they will naturally be eager to know what
> other people have said, proved or suggested and they will read. And when
> they will be sure that what they have thought is sufficiently original,
> they will write it.

> So the problem of the growth and scattering of the scientific literature
> is more a problem of authors than a problem of libraries.

I cannot disagree more. If it is not a problem of libraries, then
libraries cannot serve their patrons. It is incumbent on the entire
science community to challenge the administrative "dogma" that seeks
financial savings from information technology without understanding
the problem.

>                                                               It is not
> astonishing that apart from some particularly responsive and courageous
> editors who resigned from their positions, many resist any change in a
> system which was created by the scientific community, is serving the
> authors more than the readers, and can sustain itself only because authors
> and readers are two in one, and the interests of the author are
> predominant over the interests of the reader.

The readers of primary interest are researchers: they are also authors,
referees, and editors. Other readers are students: potential researchers

>                                                Too much emphasis is put on
> authorship which is now compulsory for hiring, tuition, promotion,
> award..., only because such information seems more objective when
> comparison is necessary. Authors are to publishers what movie actors are
> to show-agents. With some stars, as editors of course, and plenty of more
> or less good writers, a publisher can make a fortune -- and they do.  As
> writers are easily replacable and new stars appear to launch new journals,
> the system can resist for a while.

Stars in science get Nobel Prizes, often many years after their
publication. They are made stars by their peers, not -- as in
entertainment -- by press agents.

In science, authorship refers to the research and not to the writing. It
is the research that is central to hiring, etc. Authorship is cumulative,
which is why so much emphasis is given to attribution. I think of Goethe's
comment, something like "look at what is lit, not at the light."

This is why excellence in dissemination -- including both libraries and
publishers -- is of paramount importance. Being cheap in the library
undercuts research investments in the laboratory, the classroom, the
think tank, and the clinic.

Albert Henderson