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RE: Electronic availability

I generally agree with Peter Boyce's point of view, and David Goodman's as
well. But I am having a problem with this argument about "quality" that
keeps cropping up on liblicense. It is starting to remind me of the age
old professional discussion about whether public libraries ought to be
buying trashy fiction just because that's what people want or whether they
have an obligation to try to elevate the reading habits of the public
through supplying only "higher quality" books.

> Of course, what this means is that if you sign up for, say, the full
> Elsevier set of electronic journals, you will ultimately be directing the
> usage toward the poor quality as well as the better journals -- probably
> to the detriment of other, better journals.

First of all, if you provide a large number of electronic journals (and I
wouldn't advocate buying ONLY Elsevier's (or Academic Press's) package
without providing journals from other respected (by the users) publishers)
then you are not directing usage at all. You are letting your users

> So, the choices which
> libraries make will have a large impact upon the selection of journals
> which get referred to by your end users.

Yes, and this is even more true if you are very selective about which
journals to provide. If you provide large packages, then they will only
use the journals that are important to them. And then you'll know which
they are. If you provide electronic journals at all, then they will
probably be more heavily used than print journals, because of the
convenience factor. So I don't believe that we can direct use towards high
quality print journals by providing only a small selection of high quality
electronic journals. It seems to me that the use of those selectively
provided journals would be artificially high, thus reinforcing the idea
that they are quality journals, while the quality print journals languish
unused (provided the library has publicized the electronic journals and
there are not technical barriers). This is just my instinct, and I would
love to see some data about the comparative use of print and electronic
journals from a variety of situations.

What bothers me most is that I'm not so sure we will all agree with each
other or with our users on which journals are the quality ones. Objective
measures such as the Journal Citation Reports, have some inherent flaws,
one of which is that they are measures of the journal as it once was, and
journals do change, for the better and for the worse. The reputation will
lag behind. Disciplines also change. I've been categorizing electronic
journals for subject lists on the web and I'm surprised to see so many new
interdisciplinary journals. So I'm thinking that a journal that is not a
"quality" journal for one discipline might better appeal to some branch of
another discipline. How can we always know?

> Perhaps, it is irresponsible to
> automatically accept such a complete package, even if it seems attractive
> from the pricing standpoint. So, I urge everyone to consider the negative
> effect of your decisions.

I don't believe we can predict the negative or the positive effect of our
electronic purchasing decisions until we have analyzed lots of usage data.
Does anyone know of a citation study of Academic Press journals before and
after IDEAL? Because they were online at least two years before other
major publishers, I would think that their impact factors would have risen
substantially if Peter's assumptions are correct. Though it may be too
soon to tell.

I wouldn't be surprised if that were the case. But there may well be some
positive effects of making thousands of journals electronically available
to faculty. As I've said before, this is a grand experiment, offering many
opportunities for the researchers among us. We might surprise ourselves.
Won't it be great when our decisions will be based on data?

Donnie Curtis
Director of Research Services
University of Nevada, Reno, Library