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D-Lib Magazine
June 2003

Volume 9 Number 6

ISSN 1082-9873

Improving Access to STM Literature

The Need for Continuing Dialogue

On May 19 - 20, 2003, the National Academies Committee on Science, Engineering and Public Policy hosted the "Symposium on Electronic Scientific, Technical, and Medical Journal Publishing and its Implications" in Washington, D.C., to discuss the critical challenges facing the scientific, technical, and medical (STM) research communities in their efforts to obtain timely and affordable access to STM research results [1]. Panelists represented a variety of organization types, including commercial publishers, scholarly and professional society publishers, government, and public and private universities, and discussions addressed the concerns of various stakeholders, including content creators, publishers, aggregators, libraries, and end users.

Digital technologies have transformed the processes involved in information creation, dissemination, and access. The potential exists for the results of STM research to be reported, accessed and used more rapidly than could ever have been imagined in the days when journals were published solely in print.

However, moving to electronic publication has also created new challenges. As the keynote speaker, James Duderstadt, President Emeritus and University Professor of Science and Engineering Millennium Project, University of Michigan, pointed out, "Digital threatens the system of intellectual property that has existed for centuries." Kent Anderson, Publication Director, New England Journal of Medicine, remarked that customer service demands have escalated, subscribers still want print yet also want web-enriched documents, and publishers are pressured to produce information faster while maintaining quality control. Robert Bovenschulte, Director, Publications Division, American Chemical Society, stated, "E-publishing has not only revolutionized the industry but has changed the costs involved in producing the publication...costs are going up rapidly, much faster than if we had stayed with print alone." Bernard Rous, Deputy Director/Electronic Publisher, the Association of Computing Machinery, added, "Some upfront costs turn out to be recurring costs." (Among those recurring costs, and one that is hard to estimate over the long term, is the cost of preserving digital information.)

At the same time, libraries and users of STM journals need much more rapid and affordable access to research results than they have now. In the face of escalating journal subscription fees, some have reacted by canceling subscriptions, forming consortia to negotiate licensing prices, and investigating and experimenting with new publication models based on open access rather than toll access. (These open access models will require continuing, adequate funding to ensure long-term availability of resources.) Although in the current environment there is some tension between end users and publishers (both for-profit and non-profit) of STM information, as Malcolm Beasley, Theodore and Sydney Rosenberg Professor of Applied Physics, Stanford University, observed, because of the value added, publishing is not going away.

It's clear that almost every roadblock to timely — and continuing — access to STM journal literature in electronic form depends on developing new business models to recover the costs involved in the information process from creation through publication, access, use and preservation.

Although the symposium ended without complete solutions to the many issues and concerns raised by participants, the opportunity to hear from those who have different motivations and goals proved extremely valuable. It is critical that the dialogue among the various stakeholders continues.

Bonita Wilson

[1] The symposium was simultaneously webcast, and an archived version will appear on the National Academies web site in the near future. D-Lib Magazine will announce the webcast's availability in D-Lib's "Clips and Pointers" column.


Copyright© 2003 Corporation for National Research Initiatives

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DOI: 10.1045/june2003-editorial