Iowa State University

Inside Iowa State
April 16, 1999

Electronic journals bring convenience ... and costs

(This is the second in a series that examines the sky- rocketing costs of scholarly journals and possible solutions.)

by Linda Charles

As library officials across the nation struggle with rising journal costs, they also find themselves struggling with a change in the way information is disseminated. With the growth of the Internet, more faculty and students are demanding access to everything from advanced searching capabilities to full text journals from wherever they are -- be that office, home or while visiting another university.

Enter the electronic library, a convenient service for Web- savvy consumers but, at present, a costly and complicated undertaking for university libraries.

Wave of the future

Dean of Library Services Olivia Madison predicts, in five to seven years, all major scholarly journals will be available in electronic form. And many of those may be available only electronically, with increasingly sophisticated multimedia and graphical capabilities.

Between 1991 and 1997, the number of available electronic journals increased from 110 to 3,414, with 1,049 of those peer-reviewed, according to a February report by a Faculty Senate committee appointed to come up with creative solutions to the rising costs of scholarly journals. Most of the on- line journals still have a print counterpart, but it is expected that more and more will be offered only electronically in the future.

At first glance, that looks like a solution for libraries that are struggling with spiraling costs of journals. Not so, Madison said. In the long run, the most the surge of electronic journals might do is keep costs from escalating as rapidly. While publishers might be expected to reduce costs somewhat when they don't have to pay for paper, mail handling and postage, their other costs, such as editorial services, will remain the same. Additionally, they will have continuing development, software and hardware costs for their computerized production operations.

In the short term, the trend toward electronic journals is expected to make prices even higher, Madison said. The publishing houses are in a quandary over how to charge for electronic dissemination of their journals. Their solution frequently is to require libraries to subscribe to the print version at full cost, and then offer the publication electronically as an add-on, often with an additional cost.

Added to that is the costly computer systems that must be purchased to make these electronic libraries viable.

Storing the information

As with the beginning of anything, there is much confusion and many questions about electronic libraries, Madison said. No one is quite certain how they will affect interlibrary loan of materials, and questions remain over who will be in charge of archiving and retrieving what, over the years, will grow into a massive amount of electronic data.

Libraries traditionally serve the archival function, but Madison said storing banks of electronic journals is far too costly for any one university library. Archiving electronic journals is "incredibly expensive," she said, noting costly high-powered servers must be purchased and then upgraded. The accompanying software requires frequent upgrades to keep it viable in an ever-changing computer world.

Publishers never have provided archival services for their print journals and generally are not interested in providing such long-term services for their electronic counterparts, Madison said. Independent commercial and non-profit archiving companies are beginning to implement these services -- all at added costs to libraries.

Lagging behind

Iowa State is lagging behind its peers in its ability to provide a sufficient array of electronic resources, noted the Faculty Senate committee.

The ISU Library's materials expenditures are 1.12 percent of the university budget -- good enough for a second place ranking among the 11 peer land-grant institutions and seventh among the Big 12. But Iowa State only spends .07 percent of the university budget on electronic resources. That's seventh place among peer land-grant universities and ninth among the Big 12 universities.

Even those figures are slightly misleading because many of the other universities also benefit from statewide purchases of core electronic resources (such as basic subject electronic indexes and the Encyclopedia Britanica Online) that are not reflected in their reported expenditures. In Iowa, the regents' schools bear the costs of these core resources themselves. When you factor that into the equation, ISU probably ranks in last place in the amount spent on electronic resources, according to the Faculty Senate committee.

While electronic journals will be the wave of the future, at this point, to librarians like Madison, it looks more like a tidal wave approaching.

April 30: A look at possible solutions at both Iowa State and nationally.

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Revised 04/15/99