Let's keep our libraries intact 1

November 23, 2007

So libraries are throwing out books to make way for e-learning ("Libraries dump 2 million volumes", November 16)? A squeeze on library space also comes from the research assessment exercise-generated pressure to publish, resulting in an appreciable growth in shelf space taken each year by some journals. Compare the shelf width taken in 2006 with that in 1996 or 1986.

Journals may shift to e-issues, accessed via Athens, for example, but this reduces access because there is also a trend to change from free access to charging for it. This results in an educational elitism because often the poorer institutions purchase fewer resources on Athens.

The shift to paid-for e-journals has other deleterious effects. Researchers must travel to large libraries, wasting time and increasing pollution. There is more pressure on photocopiers. Libraries need more space, more building extensions. It's harder to explore new journals in hard copy, so new subjects, new researchers, new journals suffer in bibliometrics such as citation indices while the position of prestigious established journals is reinforced. Yet the base material for these journals was provided free by researchers.

Is there not a case for some external funding of journals so the electronic versions can be free for all and all institutions can have equally wide access to Athens resources?

Universal free-at-point-of-use e-journal access might even be self-funding to an extent, as university libraries could devote less space to physical copies.

Hillary Shaw
Senior lecturer, business management and marketing group Harper Adams University College.

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