The LAPIS module has, up to now, taken us on a very broad and philosophical journey, asking us to consider questions like “what is an author?”, “what is an authorial work?”, and “what is copyright?”. The fifth lecture of term applied some of these questions and general themes to the narrower and more focussed field of scholarly publishing and its effect on libraries.
Scholarly publishing is distinct from trade publishing, in that it aims to provide resources for research and advanced study rather than merely turning a profit (although this remains an important consideration!). It dates back to the 1660s, with the Enlightenment-era formation of the first learned societies and the publication of their activities in serial form.
This format of scholarly publishing continues to the present day; the number of academic journals has increased steadily at about three per cent every year to a current total of approximately 25,000, most of which are marketed primarily at academic libraries and other large institutions, instead of individual customers. This has created problems for librarians, particularly those who work in academic libraries: as the number of journals has increased, it has become more and more difficult to afford access to those necessary to sustain a scholarly, research-orientated institution–a particularly severe problem for those institutions that exist in the developing world.
Most current academic journals are published on behalf of their societies by commercial publishers, although university presses and not-for-profit organisations are still part of the market as well. We referred to two related articles from the journal The Serials Librarian, both of which emphasise the financial risk taken on by a publisher that establishes a new journal: this has led to the widespread practice of “bundling”, whereby a large academic publisher such as Elsevier, Springer or Wiley sells a large collection of journal titles–some highly desirable, others less so–as an inclusive package, thus using its more successful journals to subsidise the rest.
This has further increased the financial pressure on the acquisitions budgets of academic libraries, as the price of journals subscriptions has consistently increased faster than the general Consumer Price Index since the 1980s. An example of the effects that this phenomenon—popularly dubbed the “serials crisis”—can be seen in this (American) Association of Research Libraries survey of changes in library expenditure by resource from 1986 to 2007, showing a 340% increase in expenditure on serials, compared to an 89% increase in the CPI and a lower figure for every other type of resource.
The resultant growing backlash to the large commercial publishers’ models has taken many forms, from petitions and campaigns against individual publishing houses, new, less restricted forms of copyright licensing, and all the way through to the Open Access movement, which we will cover in more detail in future lectures.
The session also featured a guest lecture from Suzanne Kavanagh of the Association of Learned and Professional Society Publishers (ALPSP), which supports these groups—which are often small and under-resourced—in this demanding environment, between commercial publishers on the one hand and the stretched resources of libraries and other customers on the other (not to mention the challenges caused through ongoing technological developments, causing changes in turn in both traditional reading habits, and also the rise of new scholarly publishing paradigms being developed by corporate megaliths such as Amazon and Google) by providing a number of support services: information, advocacy and representation, professional development and opportunities for networking. The lecture helped remind us that the issues that we discuss in lectures are not just philosophical or theoretical, but that they also affect entire real-world industries.