U Faces Changes in Access to Digital Science Journals

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In the west wing of the Marriott Library, there are bins stacked from floor to ceiling overflowing with academic journals and government documents dating back to the 1800s.

As printed publications trend toward the switch to an online format, most of these journals end up as digital copies only. More space on the Internet allows for more academic journals, which means institutions pay more money to access them, said Daureen Nesdill, research data management librarian for the Marriott Library.

The U currently spends more than $3 million to have access to academic journals, and print accounts for only $150,000 of that. Access to current research is something universities will always have to pay for, but the future might bring a different model.

In 2013, the White House issued a memorandum that requires scientific journal articles and accompanying data to be in repositories so the public has free access. They have one year from the date of publication before the articles go from subscription-only to total access. But Yuan-Pin Lee, a professor of mathematics, said that for a research university, it pays to know the most current data.

“In Newton’s words, ‘You stand on the shoulders of the giant,’” Lee said. “You can’t do everything from scratch, so to understand other people’s work and to build on that, it is important to us.”

Lee is a member of the U Department of Mathematics’s library committee, a group that reviews what math journals the library has access to and either requests more or removes those that are not used. Lee’s committee has requested only four new journals in the past eight years, but they have cut at least twice that number. The library sends out lists to several on-campus departments annually so they know which other scientific journals they can drop.

Part of the problem, though, is that many scientific journals have taken a commercial route and package one prestigious journal with ten bad-quality journals.

“They charge unreasonably high prices and they bundle up journals so that you have to buy junk journals,” Lee said. “You can see [the prices] double, triple, quadruple over the years.”

Some journals are also charging researchers to publish. Math professors all over the country have signed petitions against publishing or reviewing articles from these companies, such as Elsevier.

Cindy Burrows, a professor of chemistry, published in Nature Communications and was required to pay $5,200 because the journal releases all research publicly.

“It’s nice to say the whole world can read my paper immediately,” she said. “But we are all working on tight budgets here.”

As editor-in-chief of the journal Account of Chemical Research, Burrows knows all too well the struggle it is to balance tight finances with quality work that gets read. She is not sure how access and payment will be managed in the future, but she does see the current trends having a positive impact.

“Publications are what keeps us going,” Burrows said. “Sometimes it’s just a little insane. You’ve heard the old ‘publish or perish.’ Well, that is true for a lot of disciplines.”

c.webber@dailyutahchronicle.com

@carolyn_webber

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