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Emerald Group Publishing Limited
Copyright © 2006, Emerald Group Publishing Limited
Semi-retirement lends a certain distance and objectivity. When working at the British Library I had to keep up with the latest information technology (IT) developments. The blizzard of published information had to be organised in such a way as to attract paying customers. Even then I realised that access to vast amounts of information on the reader’s desk top entailed a downside. As I observe in the literature review two things do not change – the processing ability of the human brain and the number of hours in the day. Thus more and more choices have to be made about what not to read. Nowadays, I subscribe to eight journals, some current awareness services, some e-mail discussion lists and have a backlog of books to read which will last ten lifetimes let alone the 15 or so years left to me – and the UK alone publishes over 100,000 new titles a year. What hope does the full-time researcher have?
Which explains, I believe, another reason for the decline in document supply, both non-returnables and often returnables. Presented with the cornucopia of the big deals, the free offerings on the web, RSS feeds and tailored current awareness services many researchers will say “enough is enough” or at least “good enough”. Why wait for that elusive article when I have ten more in my immediate reach?
Does this matter other than to those who make their living from document supply? Well yes – the “Law” of Unintended Consequences gets everywhere. (If you are interested in what is an ever more pervasive effect see: www.econlib.org/library/Enc/UnintendedConsequences.html for an excellent exposition). An obvious example of it is that important research articles and data will be missed. It is interesting that 66 per cent of journal titles are still not covered by big deals. Libraries, squeezed by the big deals, are cancelling these one off titles and researchers will cease to ask for articles from them via document supply (see above) – a vicious circle of declining demand that will lead to the closure of what are important titles. Just “gloom and doom”? Well perhaps, although I am not alone in thinking these thoughts – and it is a fact that the document supply of articles and often of books is declining. Two articles in this issue identify this trend – Marjory Lobban on the experiences of Edinburgh University Library and David Baker in his continuing series of articles on UK higher education and the vision for the future. An analysis of the decline at large document suppliers such as INIST and BLDSC would suggest that the big deals cannot account for all the decline even when one adds in retrospective digitisation programmes and Open Access. After all, there are countervailing factors as well, more money for research, more researchers and better access also stimulates, as well as turn off, already saturated researchers.
I am not at all sure that anything can be done. It is rather like the consumer faced with the choice of a million music titles, 100,000 films on DVDs, endless clothing opportunities etc. “Shop ’til you drop” is as applicable to researchers as it is to more conventional consumers. The market economy, for good or ill is firing on all cylinders – and to thoroughly mix my metaphors – our children will reap the whirlwind.
And elsewhere in this issue, Thora Gylfadottir and Thorny Hlynsdottir update us on the impact of making 10,000 e-journals accessible to all Icelandic citizens. Michael Ireland and Beverly Brown from CISTI describe how it was able to purchase more journals as a result of a detailed analysis of their document supply figures. Perhaps more universities and other heavy users of journals should take a leaf out of CISTI’s book and look at low use titles especially in big deals and the cost effectiveness of document supply? Publishers are beginning to offer pay per view rates that are competitive with document suppliers but they have to strike an uneasy balance – too cheap and titles will be cancelled, too expensive and librarians will go to document suppliers.
We publish a revised version of Maria Lushchik’s welcoming speech to delegates at the 9th ILDS conference in Tallinn which gives insights into the history of document supply in that turbulent country. Mike McGrath’s literature review once again groans under the weight of the published onslaught and important areas must be held over. Still, the review used to be only every six months so do not complain too much. And last but very definitely not least, we carry an article by Michele Shoebridge, Marie-Pierre Détraz and Jill Evans on an ambitious project to set up a national interlending scheme for monographs in the UK, which has ended not quite how it was intended.
Finally readers can find more information about the ILDS conference in Tallin at: www.nlib.ee/ilds/ together with some fascinating photos of the conference and associated events. See who you recognise!