Libraries condemn 'crisis'

March 6, 1998

Libraries in the Netherlands, Germany and the United Kingdom have united to raise concerns about the pricing and licensing of scholarly journals.

A group of Dutch and German libraries, led by Netherlands' Tilburg University, said that the explosion in the number of titles coupled with price rises ranging from 7 per cent to 15 per cent a year have caused a "journals crisis". The effects have been exacerbated by publishers' efforts to hinder the electronic storage and retrieval of information.

"The library position in copyright law in the digital age is being threatenedI the rights that libraries have in the printed environment are being challenged," the group said. Publishers are presenting licence agreements for electronic access to journal titles that demand additional fees, hinder document delivery and introduce non-cancellation clauses.

Consortium members include the universities of Hanover and Gottingen in Germany, and the Dutch universities of Utrecht, Amsterdam and Groningen.

In a joint statement this week, the UK's Standing Conference of National and University Libraries and the Consortium of University Research Libraries said they, too, are worried that a number of publishers are trying to impose terms that prevent a library from cancelling titles for several years and demand a premium for access to text in electronic format.

The growth of monopolies in academic publishing is partly to blame, the two bodies said, because "it will restrict the ability of libraries to negotiate fair licence terms". As an example, they cited the proposed merger between publishing groups Reed Elsevier and Wolters Kluwer, which could create one of the world's biggest publishers of academic journals, with huge clout in negotiating licences for electronic access to journals.

Another problem for university libraries is the rising number of periodicals. The 1993 Follett study into university libraries found that the number of journals had risen from 62,000 in 1980 to 126,000 in 1992. In the same period, the average cost of a periodical rocketed 300 per cent while the retail price index rose by 70 per cent.

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