Iowa State University

Inside Iowa State
April 30, 1999

Senior faculty must lead the conversion to electronic journals

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

by Linda Charles

To counter rising journal costs, library officials had to drop approximately 3,800 journal subscriptions between 1980 and 1993, with another 1,900 set to be canceled this year. An alarmed Faculty Senate last year appointed a committee to come up with some creative solutions.

Among the recommendations the committee presented in February are to increase the library's ability to build a competitive electronic library and, when feasible, acquire electronic- only versions of specific titles. Along with that, the committee recommends ensuring an adequate software and hardware system so the library can deal with the changing face of journals.

A $1.1 million boost

Specifically, the committee urges that over the next three years, $1.1 million be directed toward an electronic library. The committee recommends that the library's base- budget be increased $200,000 annually for three years and that the library internally reallocate $500,000.

The committee also suggests that the cost of additional library resources be considered and included in proposals for new university initiatives. It's particularly important to include library resources in proposals for multidisciplinary initiatives, in which single-field journals often need to be augmented by new multidisciplinary resources, the committee added.

The committee recommends that the library also participate in new scholarly initiatives, such as the Association for Research Library's SPARC initiative.

Alternative journals

SPARC (the Scholarly Publishing & Academic Resources Coalition) is a new alliance of libraries that has partnered with publishers in hopes of creating a more competitive marketplace and reducing the price of journals.

SPARC already is supporting electronic journals offered at vast savings over their print counterparts. For example, Phys-ChemComm, put out by the American Chemical Society, is offered electronically at $353 a year. The publication competes with Chemical Physics Letters, published by Reed Elsevier and marketed for $8,000 a year.

Evolutionary Ecology Research is a new electronic publication by Michael Rosenzweig, who began the print publication Evolutionary Ecology, then resigned and took the editorial board with him. The electronic publication costs approximately $260 a year, while Evolutionary Ecology subscribers pay $777 a year.

And the electronic Organic Chemistry Letters, also by the American Chemical Society, goes for $2,300, compared to the $8,000 price tag of its print competition, Tetrahedron Letters, published by Elsevier Sciences.

Getting faculty to buy in

The new electronic journals with lower costs could be an answer for university libraries struggling to stretch their budgets -- but only if faculty across the nation buy into using them.

Dean of Library Services Olivia Madison says electronic publishing opens a new world of possibilities. For example, an article might link directly to the source of a footnote rather than simply noting the name of the publication. Or a cited film clip could actually be shown rather than just referenced.

One problem for these emerging lower-cost electronic publications is prestige. Until promotion and tenure review committees begin to accept publications for their quality, "rather than their wrappers," these alternative scholarly journals cannot flourish, Madison pointed out.

She looks to senior faculty across the nation -- those who already have tenure and a sound reputation -- to lead the charge. They must take a "leap of faith" and begin submitting to these publications. Eventually, these alternative publications will gain in prestige and acceptance, she said.

Universities' policies also will affect the success of these journals, she noted. Iowa State's new definition of "scholarly pursuits" places the emphasis on quality rather than where publication takes place. So, even if Iowa State adopts a post-tenure review policy, senior faculty should be able to submit to these less prestigious journals without having their careers affected, she said.

In the end, the rising costs of publications is not a problem the Iowa State library can solve on its own. It will take the cooperation of faculty, administrations and libraries, both at Iowa State and across the nation.

The senate committee's 27 recommendations can be downloaded at

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Revised 04/29/99