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Monographs and Journals Task Force

The purpose of the monographs and journals task force is to learn more about what scholars and students who use books and journals need and expect from libraries, and to help librarians think about their future role in ensuring access to such resources. Future problems and opportunities should be viewed in light of the changing nature of information technology.

The Changing Nature of Publishing

In the fields of science, technology and medicine (STM), journals represent the frontier and are used much more than monographs, which tend to review the current state of the field. Just the opposite is true in the humanities. Moreover, journal publishing in the social sciences and humanities can take years, while, in general, STM journals race new work into print.

Academic institutions are both producers and consumers of scholarly publishing. Faculty members and students produce work which is reviewed and, if accepted, edited by academic peers, often for a commercial publisher. Libraries must then buy back the published work at escalating prices. The problem is especially serious with scientific journals, which are the most expensive. Social science and humanities journals tend to be less expensive.

Commercial publishers have aggressively expanded the publication of journals over the past several years. For example, the American Physical Society publishes 90,000 pages per year in a variety of journals, when once it published only 8,000-10,000 pages annually. So commercial publishers have both created more products and also raised their prices to maximize income.

The task force called attention to an issue that has arisen from the online availability of journals, namely, the instability of the information foundation. Because subscribers license online resources and do not own them, users have no recourse when the owner-publisher takes those resources offline. They are gone. Commercial interests, rather than scholarly or academic ones, often drive these decisions.

Electronic publication of some articles is more powerful than print publication, for example, when three-dimensional illustrations must be used, or in cases when the user wants to see variants on text (such as in translated and annotated materials). However, there are problems in evaluating electronic publications. Print journals have a limited number of pages, so editors have to be selective about what to include. E-journals are not so physically limited, and they tend to be more inclusive. Also, there is a hierarchy in print journals: in any discipline, certain journals are considered better and more selective. Without even reading an article published in the New England Journal of Medicine, for example, a researcher knows that it is likely to be of high quality. The value added by editors and peer reviewers and the established reputations of certain journals go a long way in helping researchers know what should receive their attention first. No such similar mechanisms now exist in electronic publishing.

Preservation and Access

The electronic storage of journals brings benefits for both preservation and access. JSTOR centralizes storage of journals and sees to their preservation through digital migration, relieving libraries of this burden. This works especially well with journals, where, frequently, the artifact is less important than the content. There is a paradox in preservation: with print resources, the less they are used, the better they can be preserved. With digital information, the opposite is true. Continued use (demand) ensures that the information will be migrated as often as necessary to remain usable in electronic form.

Preservation of esoteric pieces is most often at risk because low-use materials are often neglected. In seeking to build our knowledge base, we may be taking a step back from preserving less-used materials that nonetheless have high value to researchers now and later.

Better and more complete catalogs of available works would help librarians make decisions about what to preserve. In the nineteenth century, different fields organized different bibliographic activities so that local items could be contributed. It would be a good idea to bring critical thinkers from international groups together to look at knowledge bases and develop a plan for their mapping.

Some scholars have experienced inconvenience in using older materials relegated to remote storage; even worse, some original materials have been destroyed after being put on microfiche. Microfiche and other microforms are described by some as hard to use because the microform readers are often out of commission, the indices are difficult to access, and the endnotes inconvenient to read in conjunction with the text they gloss. Librarians and other responsible parties were urged to think more about preserving old monographs, even if this comes at the expense of a few journal subscriptions.

The question was raised whether universities are moving away from reformatting to microforms for preservation or content. There is less money for reformatting; for example, one major library now gets half of what it used to receive for preservation. Library reformatting programs have focused on Americana in response to the priorities of the National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH), but libraries have rich collections of materials from many other national, regional, and ethnic sources that are valuable and merit conservation. Expanding reformatting efforts for material outside of the NEH priorities would be expensive, and such projects could take many decades. Most preservation work is done with grant money, and preservation funds from outside agencies are earmarked. Internal funds can be allocated to preservation purposes, but in general, internal funds have not been reallocated to extend preservation work beyond that made possible by grant money.

Selection Issues

Many publishers of Internet editions of scholarly journals insist upon purchases of an entire suite of titles rather than allowing librarians to select and pay for individual titles. Publishers engaging in this kind of marketing seek to maintain their cash flow from subscribing institutions. In response, libraries are joining together to buy suites of online publications rather than buying only what they need as individual libraries. Librarians accepting such arrangements justify their choice by pointing to the greater local availability of an expanded number of titles. However, site licenses such as these tend both to increase the provision of little-used information and to continue the established profitability of certain publishers, both undesirable consequences, albeit unintended.

Before World War II, scholars played a large role in selection and collection building. Their knowledge of the materials helped librarians build solid collections with the least overlap among research collections. Today, conditions are very different, and nonspecialist librarians often do not have the information on which to base judgments about buying highly specialized materials. Small universities and colleges benefit from groups of local scholarly advisors, who guide them in purchasing materials to support their disciplines.

Selecting material for offsite storage is a difficult task for librarians. Stacks are full and there are few major library building projects. Librarians have little choice but to relegate the less-used materials to less expensive offsite storage. The faculty who do use these materials feel disadvantaged because they must wait while materials are retrieved. The demise of the card catalog and the unfortunate reality of offsite storage have also removed the opportunity to peruse titles in the same or neighboring cataloging categories on the shelves. It was noted that work has been done to develop a catalog that would allow you to “view a shelf” on the computer terminal, to permit browsing by classification.

Visions for the Future of Technology and Scholarship

Are the technological alternatives to old systems adequate for scholars’ purposes today? Many visioning sessions held on campuses today seem unable to provide a sense of the functions technology will provide for libraries and archives in 10 to 15 years. There is a feeling that we are moving along in a haphazard way; there is as yet no strategy that says, to make the information environment work for us, we need certain specified technological devices and capacities. Some libraries are interested in the development of a vision, and many librarians do have a vision of a system and how components will interrelate in the short term; they could benefit from working with visionaries in the computer industry. A number of development projects are in fact underway in the industry, some even with library partners, but they seem uncoordinated.

Members of the task force believe that there may be a disconnect between the vision that librarians have of their audience and the readers’ own desires. In the minds of many readers today, the Web seems to define “real” knowledge.

The task force was also concerned about the potential neglect of the documentary base for the history of disciplines. Disciplinary histories have fallen out of fashion and many scholars are no longer interested in the history of their own fields. But unless the electronic record is kept, future scholars will no longer have the choice to return to this history. For instance, the history of science and technology has not been well studied in recent years, and the documentary base remains largely intact; however, without renewed interest, it could fail to be maintained.

Library staff have the advantage, now, of using the Internet to make experts more available. The task members discussed the practical aspects of putting scholarly materials on the Web. Currency of information presented is crucial; if the author does not make revisions, it is possible for readers to amend the work themselves by adding annotations. Thus, the Web allows a live, interactive publication. It is also possible for scholars to present their own work directly on the Web. When librarians select material to be digitized and place it on the Web, they add the function of Internet publishing to their many other roles.

The Future of the Monograph

Monographs are still a good way to communicate; libraries will continue to buy them as long as they are published. Some task force members wondered whether university presses have moved away from monographs because they are finding it increasingly difficult to sell books. Libraries may be the last market for highly specialized monographs. On-demand printing of monographs may become increasingly important in the next few years, as demonstrated by the Columbia University pilot project that has mounted monographs online. Many task force members regret the decline in the publication of the monographic series but recognize that the current economies of monographic publishing are discouraging.


D.1. Improve access

Give more attention to improving accessibility of materials that have been put in storage or copied to microformats. The construction of a virtual library shelf would be helpful.

D.2. Information costs

We need to know more about the real costs of information. Technology is turning the library into a new type of scholarly resource. Yet provosts have no idea how much is being spent on library and information resources, since most of the budget for these resources is scattered under different budget categories, such as communications functions, computers and networks, and storage.

D.3. Book-like qualities

The book is still the best technology for many researchers. The qualities that make it so useful, such as page turning and indexes, can be better incorporated into advances in information technology.

D.4. Access vs. acquisition

In budgeting, do not think only about acquiring new materials. Consider also what can be done to make better use of what is already available, as through electronic resources that make print resources more available, such as indexes.

D.5. Cost sharing

Find new and efficient ways to share costs among libraries.

ACLS-CLIR Possible Program Initiatives

  1. The plight of not-for-profit scholarly publishing needs to be more widely known and understood. For-profit scientific publishers have so increased prices that the cost of subscriptions has come to take up a disproportionate share of library budgets, and humanities-based monographs have become more and more underrepresented. ACLS and CLIR should monitor the evolution of scholarly communications practices and regularly distribute information about the implications to the higher education community.
  2. ACLS-CLIR might commission a study of the prospects for truly innovative research using digital information resources. CLIR and ACLS should follow these developments closely and provide follow-on investigation, analysis and publication of relevant Web sites. More convenient tools for discovery, retrieval, manipulation, and analysis are needed for the publishing genres of monographs, journals, and of related materials such as social scientific data sets and collections of digital source materials in all disciplines. Word searching and counting and analysis tools are common, but some linguists are involved in more daring and extensive research involving meaning, investigation of generative techniques, and word/term association tools which could be suitable for wider application.
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