College libraries snub pricey online journal

March 2, 2001

University libraries are spurning the electronic version of the prestigious scientific journal Nature because of the cost and its delayed news content.

At least 14 United Kingdom universities have decided not to take Nature Online , following the example of Harvard and Princeton universities in the United States.

David Goodman, a Princeton librarian, said: "To the best of my knowledge, no major US institution is subscribing, or will on current terms."

The British journal, which Goodman describes as "the best scientific journal in the world", charges libraries Pounds 390 subscription for the print version. Institutions are charged 30 pence per person on campus - researchers, students and staff, irrespective of discipline - for the online version, which includes the most recent papers, but has a three-month delay for news. Personal subscribers to the journal get full access to Nature content online.

Dr Goodman said: "It is absurd to expect an institution to buy access to part of a journal, with the other part coming months later. We most certainly will not subscribe. We cannot imagine why any library would."

Hertfordshire University, which has about 20,000 staff and students on campus, was quoted £5,706 for Nature Online , almost 20 times more than the print subscription.

Hertfordshire librarian Lesley Crawshaw said online journals were part of the university culture and that having the electronic version would make hyperlinking available and guarantee access for students.

"We want Nature , but we feel that the pricing policy is not affordable... and it is a price that we cannot justify paying," he said.

The US journal Science has a similar pricing model, but does not have the three-month delay. It quoted Hertfordshire a subscription rate of about half that of Nature .

Della Sar, marketing director for Nature , said she was "amazed" by the librarians' reaction. She said Nature surveyed its 55,000 subscribers to find out how they used library copies of the journal and found they were used only for research and citations. News and views were read from personal print versions.

"We were concerned that 24 by seven access would affect our circulation," she said.

She added that Nature was reviewing its pricing model and it would be holding discussions with scientists about how they use the journal.

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