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New world, was: Re: Elsevier and cancellations

There are two separate questions:

1. What should we provide if we have unlimited financial resources and no
space constraints (since electronic resources have effectively removed the
space problems that were so difficult with print.)

  I think we are all agreed that researchers ought to have unhindered
access to whatever they might potentially want, which includes the entire
range of published materials, good or bad, relevant or irrelevant.
Librarians are not appropriate judges of this, and in fact, no person or
institution except the researcher personally is or ought to be. ( Now that
it is practical to also provide wide access to a much wider range of less
than formally published material, I think we can and must make this
available also, and the challenge we are just beginning to come to terms
with is how to effectively organize this material for access so that this
can be more than just theoretically available.)

  Students and the general public also have a right --to my thinking an
absolute right --to all of this as well. But they also have a right to
guidance and education if they want it. In the past we have done this
guidance partially passively, in that educational as distinct from
research institutions provided easy access to only a selection of
material, and relied on much less convenient and slower ILL access for the
rest. Most beginning undergraduates do need help in recognizing worthwhile
material, and how to provide it is already an increasing problem.

 2. What should we provide with limited financial resources. 

Now the idea solution here is to remove the financial constraints, and
perhaps a change to less expensive modes of publication like e-print
servers may do this. But at present, we must decide how to most
effectively spend the available money.  This is our professional
responsibility, and we are professionally obliged to learn how to judge
what material in a given situation is most worth acquiring. It is not
necessarily appropriate for us to accept whatever packages are most
convenient to buy.

  One factor we have always considered is quality, and in the science
periodical literature at least we do have a relatively objective way of
measuring that, if used with sufficient precautions. Another factor we
have always considered is actual use, and it is one of the really good
things about e-journals that we will now have much more accurate ways of
measuring that than we did, if used with appropriate precautions. With
this new medium, we may not yet understand the necessary precautions. I
would suggest, for example, that we must take into account print use as
well as electronic when evaluating the use of a title. I would suggest
that if we make easily accessible a group of poor quality titles, and not
that easily accessible a group of better titles, that if we find the
poorer titles more heavily used we cannot validly conclude that our money
is best spent on the poorer titles. That many library users will happily
use whatever they are quickly presented with, good or bad, is not new,
though it is becoming more obvious with the increasing availability of the

   What I think we are debating is whether, if what we can most easily
make accessible is mediocre titles, that is what we should get; my view is
that we should save our money for the better. A more difficult question is
whether we should accept a publisher's offer to make the good titles
easily accessible if we also make the same publisher's poorer titles as
easily accessible--and pay extra for them, though perhaps only a little
extra. I have a definite position on this, though it certainly seems that
some people I respect from libraries I consider excellent do not have the
same position that I do.

David Goodman, Princeton University Biology Library				
dgoodman @princeton.edu            609-258-3235


On Sun, 29 Aug 1999, Tony Ferguson wrote:

> Isn't it that the current statistics show that, when given the
> opportunity, people use journals that their library would not have owned?  
> Their libraries did not own these journals because with limited budgets
> they bought some and not others.  But that doesn't mean that users
> wouldn't want it otherwise.