Results of a survey on moving to “electronic-only” for journals

Interlending & Document Supply

ISSN: 0264-1615

Article publication date: 1 September 2004



(2004), "Results of a survey on moving to “electronic-only” for journals", Interlending & Document Supply, Vol. 32 No. 3.



Emerald Group Publishing Limited

Copyright © 2004, Emerald Group Publishing Limited

Results of a survey on moving to “electronic-only” for journals

Results of a survey on moving to “electronic-only” for journals

Thanks to Nicholas Lewis at the University of East Anglia for permission to publish these summary results of a snapshot taken during an important transition period.

The purpose of this survey was to take a “snapshot in time” to see how many libraries are taking steps towards electronic-only for their journal collections.

It asked the recipients to comment on the extent to which they had implemented each of four scenarios, each representing a different level of commitment to move to electronic-only. At the end of the survey, they were prompted to comment on any constraints they had experienced in moving to electronic-only, such as archival arrangements, non-cancellation policies, future price increases and reliability of access. Quotations used are taken directly from comments made by respondents.

Thirty-one institutions replied to this “Moving to electronic-only for journals” survey, which was circulated via the lis-e-journals discussion list in January 2004. Respondents included 27 academic libraries, three special libraries and one health library. (26 were from the UK, five from other countries.)

Question 1. Have you withdrawn print back copies of titles that are included in bundled electronic archive deals, like JSTOR?

Yes: 45 percent No: 55 percent

In addition to JSTOR, other archive services mentioned included: Institute of Physics backfiles, Science Direct backfiles, American Chemical Society archives and IEEE Archives.

Question 2. Have you stopped taking print for titles included in major ongoing bundled deals, such as Science Direct (i.e. moved to electronic-only for these)?

Yes: 80 percent No: 20 percent

This question did not just refer to Science Direct, but to any bundled deals that have led to the cancellation of equivalent titles in print. Other bundled deals mentioned included: Blackwells Full Collection, American Chemical Society (ACS), American Institute of Physics (AIP), Cambridge University Press (CUP), Oxford University Press (OUP), Wiley, Lippincott Williams & Wilkins (LWW), IEEE, Emerald, Association for Computing Machinery (ACM), Springer, American Physical Society (APS), CRC Press, Nature and the American Society of Civil Engineering (ASCE).

Question 3. Have you decided that all new individual journal subscriptions should be “electronic-only”, unless electronic is not available?

Yes: 22 percent No: 78 percent

Question 4. Have you decided to purchase both print and electronic for individual titles but to withdraw print after a certain period of time (e.g. 2-5 years)?

Yes: 9 percent No: 91 percent

Question 5. Having made these decisions, what are your concerns about the future in terms of archival arrangements, non-cancellation policies, future price increases, reliability of access, etc.? Any other comments?

Other concerns mentioned included: VAT, complexity of bundled deals and impact on the readers.

Whilst few institutions have moved to a completely e-only model, there is clearly considerable movement in this direction. Sometimes this is underpinned by a strategy or policy, but more often it seems to happening as a reaction to other pressures: “we are being forced along this route by shrinking bookfunds and lack of space,” one librarian explained.

Most institutions seem to be adopting an incremental approach owing to constraints that vary in importance depending on local circumstances. Some of these constraints are external, such as the terms of the licence agreements, others are internal such as opposition from the users.

What is apparent is that there is no one right approach. One library had a cautionary tale that even if you have institutional backing for an electronic-only policy, the working out of it in reality may be quite different: “We haven't moved forward with electronic-only as quickly as expected. Despite having once had institutional backing for the policy, there was opposition from academics in some areas.” But other institutions feel we should be more proactive and that we need to show how the “benefits outweigh any negatives.” Commenting on the list of possible concerns in question 5, one librarian wrote: “These are all concerns both for the Library and academics, but if we wait until all are resolved we'll never make the move to electronic resources which present great benefits for many researchers.” This comment is a timely reminder of all the benefits of electronic access in terms of multi-user and off-site access, searching functionality and speed of access, etc. We must keep reminding people of these very considerable benefits, so that they can be weighed fairly against the disadvantages.

There are some examples of good practice, for example, the University of York is withdrawing print collections, such as some titles in JSTOR, to a “closed store” on a trial basis. They are involving the user community in this experiment and are measuring usage to get some objective data to back up their decision-making. At the end of the trial period, they will still have a choice as to whether to make this change permanent or to return all or some of the print to the shelves. Now other institutions may not have the time, space or resources for this kind of approach, but it is a good example of thinking ahead and not just going for the short-term solution.

Whilst there are few surprises in this survey, the fact that 80 percent of institutions who responded have already moved to electronic-only for at least part of their collections cannot be ignored. Yet, the considerable reservations expressed by the participants of the survey, when taken as a whole, seem to suggest that it is still too soon to make radical steps toward electronic-only until issues such as archiving, VAT and long-term pricing have been resolved. It seems we need to avoid making short-term decisions that ignore long-term sustainability. As we sign license agreements for electronic-only and send our print volumes to store, or possibly the bin, we need to keep that uncomfortable question in mind: “are we burning our boats?”

This is a summary of the more detailed write-up of this survey at:,l002/eonlysurvey.html

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