D-Lib Magazine
December 1999

Volume 5 Number 12

ISSN 1082-9873


blue line

Online Only -- a Checklist for Publishers

As publications become available both online and in print, some groups of users find that they prefer the online versions. More than a year ago, the computer science department at the University of Virginia passed a resolution advising the library that, where there is a choice, the department always prefers the online version.

When the users prefer online journals, we would expect to see libraries subscribe to the online version and save the expense of acquiring and storing print. There are isolated examples of libraries relying on online access; it is more than a decade since the Harvard Law Library decided not to subscribe to "The Independent" newspaper, but to access its law reports through Lexis. Yet these are rare examples. More often libraries continue to collect print journals, even when the users have stated a clear preference for online.

Recently, I have asked a number of librarians why they are reluctant to cancel print subscriptions. Many of the answers concern their relationships with publishers. Three themes recur: libraries are concerned about the long-term; they wish to retain financial flexibility; and there are concerns about references and citations. From these discussions, I wrote a short paper, Online Only, which was circulated at a meeting of librarians and publishers. This paper contains a checklist with six requests from librarians to publishers. They are:

Long-term preservation
Libraries need to be confident that the content will be preserved in the long term.

Long-term access
If a library is unwilling to subscribe to a serial in future years, its patrons should not lose access to the materials to which they currently have access.

Cost savings
Serials should be priced so that there is a savings in not acquiring both the print and online.

Individual titles should be priced so that libraries can choose to buy some or all, with reasonable cost savings if they subscribe to only a few titles.

Reference linking
Article-level reference linking should be provided in an open manner that allows libraries to combine links from several services and to link to their own materials.

Links to open-access material
Publishers should be explicit in encouraging the freedom of libraries, patrons, and all scholars to create links to their materials.

Discussions with leading publishers suggest that none of these requests are unreasonable. Some, such as the last two, may be unduly cautious, but libraries are naturally cautious in changing the practices that have served them well. Hopefully, publishers will be able to step forward and announce their support for these six points. In this way, libraries will be able to move to services that are online only, confident in their dependencies on publishers. Ceasing to store little used print journals will free resources for other services.

William Y. Arms
Editor in Chief

Copyright (c) 1999 Corporation for National Research Initiatives

Top | Contents | Letters
Search | Author Index | Title Index | Monthly Issues
Opinion | E-mail the Editor

DOI: 10.1045/december99-editorial