Chapter 13: The evolving role of libraries in the scholarly ecosystem – Academic and Professional Publishing


The evolving role of libraries in the scholarly ecosystem

Keith Webster


This chapter outlines the ways in which libraries have been transformed by advances in scholarly publishing, by new patterns of student and researcher information behaviour, and by the emergence of new approaches to scholarly communication. It reviews the development of research collections over the past 20 years, and the emergence of online journals and books. The impact of government and research funder policies on libraries is discussed, with specific reference to research assessment, open access and data curation. Finally, consideration is given to the impact of new players in the scholarly information landscape.

Key words

Open access

online journals

the Big Deal

institutional repositories

learning spaces

research assessment



University and research libraries have long served a diverse client base: students, teachers, researchers, alumni and the wider community of which their parent institution is part. In the context of a book addressing the broad sphere of scholarly publishing, this chapter will focus upon the relationships between libraries and researchers, and, particularly, the part played by the former in supporting the broad pattern of information-related activity of the latter.

The traditional role of the library in supporting research involved identifying, selecting and acquiring books and journals, making them available and providing assistance to the researcher. In a specialist research environment (such as a government laboratory) this might represent the dominant picture of a library’s activity; in a broader university environment, the needs of the research community had to be balanced against the demands made by students and resource allocation optimised to provide the best overall service model. As libraries have made the shift to predominantly digital collections, those needs and demands have moved, offering libraries unprecedented opportunities to transform their portfolio of services. One view that can emerge from changes of the past decade is that libraries are better placed now to serve the often competing demands of different clients, and are able more fully to meet the heavier demands placed upon them by the research community.

The move to digital collections

In the print era, libraries supported research primarily through building collections of relevant materials and providing specialist support in their use. Collections of books and journals were selected, acquired and maintained, and were augmented by special collections relevant to institutional needs. Such collections would often take the form of archives and manuscripts, slides and, especially in engineering and scientific fields, grey literature in the form of technical reports, working papers and unpublished conference proceedings.

Many libraries, especially those in research-intensive settings, employed subject-specialist librarians to provide disciplinary-specific support to researchers. These librarians would work closely with their clients, ensuring that collections continued to be developed in response to information needs, and promoting the library’s existing services and collections. In the 1980s, this represented one of the fundamental roles of the research librarian, as researchers coped to struggle with an explosion in the volume of information available, coupled with imperfect discovery and retrieval systems. Concern was expressed at the volume of publicly funded research conducted in the UK which unnecessarily replicated work that had already been reported in the literature, but was not discovered by researchers (Martyn, 1987).

The widespread availability of online networks in the mid-1990s heralded new opportunities for the discovery and dissemination of scholarly publications. Publishers were alert to the opportunities to distribute content in electronic format, and their customers were equally receptive to testing the possibilities of new approaches to delivery. In 1995, the Higher Education Funding Councils in the UK had established a Pilot Site Licence Initiative (PSLI) through which funding was provided in order that materials from four publishers could be made available to participating universities. This central approach meant that British university libraries and researchers were early adopters of electronic journals. A review of the PSLI concluded that there was overwhelming support for ongoing access, and recommended bringing a much wider range of publishers into the fold (HEFCE, 1998).

Early acceptance and use of electronic journals was more widespread amongst academics in the sciences and engineering. This was considered inevitable: much early content was from those fields, and it was perceived that academics in the humanities and social sciences were less comfortable in using computerised technology. Other concerns were associated with archival access to journal content (in the event of a publisher going out of business or the loss of online journal access), the poor availability of usage statistics, the imposition of VAT on electronic content1 and the quality of photographic images and illustrations. However, the general view from librarians, academics and publishers was one of great support for provision of journal articles online. Against this backdrop of enthusiastic reception for electronic journals, publishers were quick to innovate, in terms of both the platforms through which their content was accessed and the business models through which libraries purchased content.

In 1996, Academic Press became the first publisher to offer academic libraries a subscription model which has become known as the Big Deal, and which now represents the dominant approach used between large publishers and major university libraries and consortia to license access to journal content. In essence, the Big Deal offers libraries the opportunity to subscribe, in electronic form, to large bundles of journal titles. This subscription model was widely welcomed at first: it offered an elegant response to the serials crisis of the early 1990s, and took advantage of the development of computer networks across many higher education systems.

The serials crisis had been brought about by the imposition of high annual price increases for scholarly journals coupled with stagnant library budgets. Until the late 1990s, academic libraries predominantly acquired collections in print form. Whilst practice varied from one library to another, broadly, subject or liaison librarians, in consultation with their academic clients, identified materials to be added to the collection. Journal collections represented titles which were subscribed to on an ongoing basis, with little change from year to year. Many libraries chose to constrain expenditure by creating separate funds for one-off purchases, such as books, and funds for recurring expenditure such as journals, abstracts and indexing services. A combination of constrained budgets and high price increases for journals in the 1980s and 1990s, however, forced many to cancel titles (Blake, 1986). Such cancellations were the focus of heated debate inside universities, and in many institutions academic staff voted on titles to be deleted. In such a climate, the addition of new titles to a library’s holdings was difficult to accommodate, and often was achieved only through agreement to cancel existing titles of the same subscription cost. Recognition of the impact of reduced numbers of subscriptions was exacerbated by a continued increase in the number of new journal titles being produced, in part to accommodate a growing volume of journal literature being produced in research institutions and universities.

Almost every academic library worked with one or more serials agents to help manage their subscriptions. Instead of dealing directly with many individual publishers, libraries would appoint a small number of intermediaries, companies such as Swets and Faxon, to act on their behalf. Agents would, in turn, deal with publishers, and invoice libraries, manage the subscription and cancellation cycle, and deal with the regular ‘claims’ process associated with locating or replacing missing issues of titles.

In this climate of financial constraint, and cumbersome serials management systems, the concept of a Big Deal was perceived as bringing great benefit to libraries. Generally offered to library consortia, publishers would make available to each member institution access to an extensive range of content, frequently the entire journal list, online, in exchange, typically, for the price of original print subscriptions plus an electronic premium (commonly known as p+e) of around 10 per cent. Such licences were often multi-year and provided for an annual price increase. In the early years of the Big Deal, these increases were generally around 6 per cent per annum.

The Big Deal was received enthusiastically by librarians and academics alike. Libraries, as we have noted, are in the business of providing access to scholarly publications, and the Big Deal reversed the trend of journal cancellations at a stroke. Many smaller libraries, historically able to provide a relatively small selection of titles, were now able to offer access to the same content as their research-intensive colleagues.

Researchers in particular were winners, because they wanted to access as much literature as possible, and as writers they welcomed an extension of the potential readership of their works. In the ten-year period to 2009, it was estimated that the number of journals available through academic libraries more than doubled.

Despite these evident gains, during the same period, librarians in particular began to challenge the operation of the Big Deal. As the cost of annual licences grew, almost always above the rate of growth of library budgets, library funding became squeezed. Almost all of a library’s serials budget could be spent on a small number of Big Deal licences, and in many cases, expenditure on books was reduced to ensure continued payment of Big Deal licences. This proved especially challenging for the humanities and social sciences, where traditionally book-reliant disciplines saw ‘their’ collection funds cut, ostensibly to maintain access to Big Deals which primarily served the sciences.

Librarians also recognised that bundles of journals would contain titles which received little or no usage, but with no opportunity to remove subscriptions to these to save money. In the title-by-title subscription model common in the print era, titles which were not used would be cancelled and funds released for higher priority needs, but the Big Deal precludes easy implementation of such an approach.

For much of the past ten years, libraries have coped through a combination of cost-cutting, and the cancellation of lesser used products, often indexing and abstracting services. They have also sought to secure discounts from publishers, for example by providing early payment for a subscription period, or by joining together in consortia to secure favourable pricing for large-volume purchasing. Such approaches have offered some relief, but the global financial crisis of 2008 has intensified scrutiny of the sustainability of the Big Deal. A number of studies have reported the impact of the crisis on public-sector funding, which has had a profoundly severe impact on many library budgets, and on investment returns, which has hit those libraries reliant on endowment income to provide some of their annual funding (CIBER, 2009; Research Information Network, 2010a). The Association of Research Libraries in the US (ARL, 2009) and the International Coalition of Library Consortia (ICOLC, 2009) were prominent in bringing the library funding shortfall to the attention of publishers, and seeking relief from the severe financial situation whilst maintaining access to essential research content.

By comparison, the acquisition of books appeared much more straightforward. Many libraries allocated their book fund by subject or academic department, and selection was seen as a shared responsibility between librarians and academic staff. Approval programmes were common: a bookseller would supply a selection of new publications ‘on approval’. Selectors would make choices with the advantage of being able to see the whole item, rather than brief details in a glossy catalogue. Those books to be purchased were retained, and others returned to the bookseller. In other cases, publishers’ marketing materials, book reviews and word of mouth, often from academics, would inform the selection process. However, there remained concern that many books were acquired, but never used: a recent study at Cornell (Collection Development Executive Committee, 2010) revealed that 55 per cent of books in the collection published since 1990 have never circulated. However, some libraries, often national libraries and highly prestigious academic libraries, have a responsibility to build collections irrespective of active usage, seeking to preserve the development of knowledge for future generations of scholars. That role is fundamental.

For many libraries, though, budget and space constraints mean that selection has to be more focused on what is actively in demand, complemented by judicious and informed selection to arrive at a rounded collection. In some instances that has meant a greater focus being placed on acquiring materials recommended by a library’s clients. In others, it has been informed by monitoring requests for inter-library loans (a mechanism by which a library will obtain a requested book from the collection of another institution) and acquiring rather than borrowing those titles in print (Allen et al., 2003).

With the advent of e-books, the involvement of library clients in collection development has taken on a new focus, through the advent of patron-driven acquisition models offered by aggregator services such as ebrary and Ebook Library. Through these models, a library is able to upload details of a wide range of books into the local catalogue (the books can represent all, or subsets of, the aggregator’s offerings). Library clients can access the full eBook through the service, and the library only pays for, and adds to its ongoing collections, a title when it has been viewed on a certain number of occasions – the number of views which triggers purchase can be determined by the library, with the purchase price varying accordingly. Many have welcomed this approach as an antidote to the perception that Big Deal bundles of journals contain much that is unread. A library’s clients can look at anything that might be of interest, but only repeated viewing will lead to addition to the ongoing collection. Variations on the model are also offered, notably in the student textbook market, for example through short-term rental of access to an item, paid for by the library, and rental of eBooks, paid for by the student, from commercial services such as Amazon, and in print from booksellers such as Barnes and Noble. These solutions are better developed in the US, where there is a culture of student purchasing of textbooks, than in the UK, where libraries have traditionally played a stronger role.

At the time of writing, the immediate future for library acquisition models is unclear. Funding shortfalls are very real, but so too is the demand for content from major publishers. The sustainability of the Big Deal in the long term will be a particular focus over the next few years. One certainty is that the Big Deal, and models of scholarly communication, form only one part of significant change affecting university libraries. It is therefore pertinent to reflect upon some of the broader changes, to understand their interconnectedness, and how each element might support the other.

The changing role of libraries2

In recent years, numerous changes in the ‘leisure’ information world have transformed high streets across much of the western world. Leading brands in the book, movie and music distribution business – for example Borders, Blockbuster and HMV – have closed stores in response to two broad phenomena. The first of these is competition from online retailers, who are able to offer deep discounts through efficient warehouse and distribution models and massive sales volumes. But increasingly, consumers choose also to acquire their books, music or movies in digital form, taking advantage of vastly improved computer network speeds. Affordable handheld devices such as Amazon’s Kindle and Apple’s iPad have allowed people to access and enjoy content largely independent of location.

In large part, this shift has brought little change to the academic information landscape – most scholarly material continues to be accessed primarily, albeit in electronic form, through university and other research libraries. However, the virtual access that has underpinned the transformation of scholarly publishing over the past 15 years has brought profound and enduring change to academic libraries, one of the key players in the distribution channel of research publications.

For almost the whole of the 20th century, interactions between students, researchers and teachers and library staff and collections have taken place within the physical boundaries of the library. The constraints of the print environment necessitated the construction of libraries which served as substantial warehouses of print materials and provided a place dedicated to the quiet and private study of books and journals. Service points were constructed to provide access to library staff for support in the use of library materials and to facilitate the borrowing of items that could be taken away from the confines of the library building. The nature of university teaching required little else, as it embraced a model where students attended lectures and tutorials, but demonstrated their learning outcomes in an assessment model that embraced solitary learning. The essay and the examination were the products of individual achievement.

In that era, access to information largely depended upon a visit to the Library, with hours spent copying or note-taking from print volumes. The Library loomed large as a physical presence at the heart of many campuses, with space pressures mounting in response to a growing output each year of scholarly books and journals. The introduction of computer facilities initially exacerbated space demands – print collections continued to grow, and were coupled with demand for space for online catalogue terminals in the 1980s, followed by end-user CD-ROM search workstations at the end of that decade. By the mid-1990s, student demand for library-based, general-use computer laboratories had grown immensely. In the UK, following the publication of the Follett Report (1993), substantial funds were made available for the construction, extension and modernisation of library buildings. This scheme was intended to allow libraries to respond to the opportunities brought about by new technology, and represented the first substantial investment in university libraries since the Parry Report in the 1960s (University Grants Committee, 1967). Almost simultaneously, academic libraries began to have access to substantial online collections of scholarly journals, bringing to mainstream academe the first real evidence of the digital library.

The arrival of electronic forms of scholarly information resources over the past 15 years, coupled with changes in teaching practices and comfort with technology, has brought rapid and significant change. Many libraries are full of increasingly unused print collections, and traditional activity such as the lending of books and answering of reference questions has declined rapidly. Meanwhile, all library clients have come to demand instant access, online, to all forms of academic information content. Students seek a wide range of study and social spaces inside libraries, coupled with access to technology to support information use. These broad trends have been seen as presaging a fundamental reinvention of the academic library (Lewis, 2007; Webster, 2010).

The challenge for libraries is inextricably linked at this moment in time with the need to make hard decisions about the future of legacy collections and the securing of sufficient funds to repurpose library space to meet the expectations of teachers and students operating in an academic world very different from that seen only a generation ago.

Library generations

It is worth reflecting briefly upon a generational model of library space design which maps out the movement in the concept of the library as place over the past 30 years (Webster, 2008).

In the Generation 1 research library the physical space can be considered collection-centric: all design was focused upon the building as a physical repository of library collections. Space was provided in which library clients could consult and work with collections, but the notable design features were very much structured to support the storage of printed materials. This is most instantly recognised by the appearance of many mid-20th century library buildings with narrow windows, designed to keep out light which might damage the collections, irrespective of the wishes of library clients.

The second-generation library coincides with the emergence of electronic information resources in the early 1990s, and a growth in customer care and quality initiatives which promoted a stronger focus upon and engagement with clients. The arrival of computers and CD-ROMs brought a degree of technological sophistication into the Library which was often ahead of the ability of library clients. Inviting spaces were created in which librarians and clients could work together, facilitating teaching and training and supportive exploration of new forms of electronic resources.

The third-generation library recognises the different forms of learning expected of students in the 21st century university and also acknowledges the different behaviours and learning styles of new generations of students. Whilst provision for ‘formal’, quiet study continues, it has been complemented, and occasionally supplanted, by group study facilities, open discussion spaces and social networking environments.

Finally, a fourth-generation library can be envisaged, one in which the Library forms part of a campus-wide learning environment and which is designed predominantly upon pedagogical principles.

The changing environment

As foreshadowed above, the nature of pedagogy in the university has shifted. A growing emphasis has been placed upon student-centred learning, and upon group work and collaborative forms of assessment. These changes have driven a vast demand for spaces which foster and support emerging forms of learning activity. It is worth noting that this shift has not replaced, but has generally supplemented conventional forms of student learning.

Secondly, the nature of the student body has shifted, with the arrival at university of students frequently characterised as the net generation or Generation Y. These students have grown up surrounded by technology – most will have been born several years after the popularisation of personal computing and will have started school after the emergence of the Internet. They use technology to maintain contact with friends, are inquisitive and multi-tasking. The notion of sitting quietly in a Library for prolonged periods of time, reading and taking notes is as alien a concept as sitting motionless in a lecture listening and taking notes! As the environment in secondary schools shifts towards one which reflects the nature of today’s students, expectations of the provision of learning facilities in post-compulsory education will also shift.

We cannot ignore, either, the changing nature of library use. Conventionally, the Library existed to house printed collections and to make them available for consultation and borrowing. This mission was enhanced by the work of reference librarians who aided clients in the use of these collections. Such activity was conventionally measured by libraries in terms of numbers of loans per annum, numbers of reference questions answered and the numbers of visits to libraries per annum.

For many years, the library has been regarded as a core part of a university’s research infrastructure. At the heart of the university, a library with extensive collections built up over time and reflecting both a breadth and a depth of scholarship is regarded as a symbol of research excellence.

The research library as learning space

Whilst there are many great libraries in modest institutions, no great university is without an outstanding library. That status remains of tremendous importance, and few researchers would dispute the need for extensive collections of scholarly information and the support of experienced librarians in their scholarly endeavours, although with a strong preference for that support to be delivered in the school or laboratory rather than in the library. However, the notion of library as place in that dynamic has shifted. Academics report fewer visits to the library than was the case only a few years ago, and many predict a continued decline in years to come (Research Information Network, 2007). The importance of the library’s print collections is also diminishing, with desktop delivery of electronic information seen as a fundamental requirement (British Academy, 2005). Many report a reluctance to visit the library to copy a journal article held on the library’s shelves: the effort required is seen as disproportionate to the likely academic benefit (Research Information Network, 2007).

All of these strands can be brought together to form a hypothesis. We see lowered patterns of demand for conventional library services and collections, and a stronger emphasis upon the provision of information in electronic form.

However, we can also see a real need for a place on campus which offers a forum for student interaction with technology, information and their peers. On occasion, these interactions might be strengthened by the support of librarians, offering guidance on information searching and evaluation, and by learning advisers skilled in strengthening student academic skills.

I would argue that the path is clear: librarians need to take a long, hard look at the disposition of their collections, working collaboratively with colleagues to share the responsibility for maintaining lesser used material, much of which is available in electronic form. For example, The University of Queensland is part of an initiative of major university research libraries in Australia seeking to manage back runs of journals, electronic equivalents of which have also been purchased by those libraries. The project aims to identify a single print run of each journal title to be managed by a participating library, with each library looking after their fair share of titles. In turn, they will be able to remove from their collections those titles which are the responsibility of other libraries. Through this approach, a complete print archive will be maintained onshore for preservation purposes, but with library clients having access to the electronic version of the same titles. Initiatives such as this will provide an opportunity for libraries to reduce the storage space in library buildings, and redevelop the space released to provide support for learning activities. Whilst an approach of this sort might be less straightforward for monograph collections, immediate savings through responsible management of journal collections will yield considerable opportunities. As book digitisation projects, such as that managed by Google, come to maturity over the next decade, there can be little doubt that similar approaches will be adopted.

Although numerous studies show an irrefutable demand for library-provided learning space, what is not clear is how best to make this available. In many universities, campus space is at a premium and libraries are required to meet client needs from a static footprint. Library staff accommodation apart, that space is normally allocated to study facilities and teaching rooms, and to storage for print collections. Can librarians reasonably adjust that balance, by retiring legacy collections in favour of learning space provision? What part does the Library play in meeting the needs of its other core constituency, the research and faculty community?

The needs and opinions of researchers were addressed in part through a collaborative study conducted by Outsell Consultants on behalf of the Group of 8 (Go8, Australia’s eight leading research-intensive universities) university libraries, with support from the Council of Australian University Librarians.3

The focus of that study was to understand the benefits to academic research of the free provision at the point of use of information resources. In formulating a response to that broad question, the study (which was conducted at three of the Go8 member universities) sought to understand how libraries and their collections are used by researchers.

The survey was conducted using a web-based survey instrument, and attracted responses from all broad academic disciplines. Overall, 30 per cent of those surveyed were located off-campus more often than on-campus, and relied upon access to electronic resources to meet their needs. Journal articles were the most heavily used from of content, with 95 per cent of respondents using these in electronic form. On average, respondents spent 4.5 hours per week using print resources and 11.2 hours consulting electronic resources. There was overwhelming agreement that provision of information resources enabled researchers to access materials indispensible for research and to maintain a comprehensive overview of developments in their fields.

In general, there was clear signal of reliance on electronic resources, and whilst those in the arts and humanities made greater use of print materials than their colleagues in other fields, their use of electronic resources was at a similar level to those in the life and physical sciences. What emerged, overall, was a situation that supported evidence emerging from library use statistics, client surveys and other studies. These all depicted a pattern of information resources use by researchers and faculty members that was overwhelmingly electronic in nature, frequently off-campus and of immense value.

The triple helix, research funding and libraries

Over the past 20 years, academic research has been increasingly directed by the needs of government and by research funders more generally. The complexity of these relationships has been captured in the triple helix concept (Leydesdorff and Etzkowitz, 1996) which serves to depict the influence each has over the other. Research funders have been keen to target their limited resources towards high-impact research. Increasingly, this has been directed towards very large-scale problems, demanding inter-disciplinary and international collaboration. The very nature of this research has brought increased demands on libraries, in terms of both the spread of collection development and the need to provide access to their immediate clients’ collaborators elsewhere, and to help researchers navigate the information landscape of adjacent disciplinary domains.

Research funders have also introduced policies which have brought fresh demands upon researchers, and two of those have had profound impacts upon many libraries and their place in the scholarly publishing arena. The first has been the assessment of research quality, as seen in the British Research Assessment Exercise and the Excellence in Research for Australia initiative. The second has been the growth in mandates from research funders and governments recognising the importance of easy access to the data and publications arising from funded research.

Research assessment

In the UK the first Research Assessment Exercise (RAE) was conducted in 1986, and has been followed by a further six cycles, the most recent in 2008. In 2014, the RAE will be replaced by the new Research Excellence Framework (REF) intended to shape funding of research in universities, provide for benchmarking and impact assessment, and provide public accountability for the expenditure of public funds on academic research. Similar schemes now operate in a number of countries, including the Performance Based Research Fund (PBRF) in New Zealand and the Excellence in Research for Australia (ERA) scheme which commenced in 2010.

The Australian scheme endeavours to be comprehensive in its approach – all researchers employed on a given census date are eligible for assessment, and all of their publications in a six-year window are to be notified for this purpose. In the 2010 exercise, the Australian Research Council (ARC), which oversaw ERA, produced ranked journal and conference lists, deployed a range of bibliometric indicators and conducted peer review of a number of publications, especially those in the humanities and social sciences.

Although I have worked in university libraries during cycles of each of the RAE, PBRF and ERA, my most recent experience is with the Australian scheme, and it is used as a reference point for the impact on scholarly publishing and library provision in support of research. It is worth noting that there has been close contact between the agencies responsible for the Australian ERA and the new British REF. Experiences from Australia may therefore have particular relevance to those preparing for the REF in the UK.

At its simplest level, ERA was conducted on the basis of reviewing the research work of staff employed in Australian universities (and some other agencies) on a particular census date – for the 2010 exercise the census date was 31 March 2009. A range of factors were taken into account – research income, academic esteem and research outputs. It is in the area of research outputs that libraries felt the greatest impact, and which will be reviewed here. Those interested in the broader conduct of ERA will find relevant documents on the ARC website ( For the purpose of reviewing research outputs, all publications by researchers employed on the census date and published during the six-year period ending on 31 December 2008 had to be notified to the ARC. This reporting requirement applied to publications irrespective of the institution in which the research had been conducted.

The ARC procedures for assessing publications fell into two categories: most fields in the sciences were reviewed in part using citation metrics; in the humanities and social sciences there was a greater reliance upon peer review. A number of disciplinary panels, comprising Australian and international reviewers, were established to oversee the assessment and allocation of ratings to each field of research for each institution. There were minimum publication thresholds which meant that the number of research areas considered in each institution varied.

The impact on libraries was two-fold – helping to identify and gather publications for reporting, and advising on the metrics profile for different disciplines in their institution. In the largest research intensive universities in particular, the process of identifying all relevant publications was a mammoth undertaking, and the deficiencies of searching proprietary bibliographic databases by institutional affiliation became readily apparent. Instead, much work depended upon contact with individual researchers, especially those who had joined the institution during the six-year window and whose publications from previous institutions had to be identified and recorded, and where likely to be offered for peer review, copies of the publication obtained.

The ARC required that around 20 per cent of outputs in each field of research subject to peer review be made available for assessment. Where possible, publications were to be placed in an institutional repository, and libraries were allocated government funding to allow for the creation of suitable repositories. The government relied upon provisions under the Copyright Act to allow universities to make and deposit copies in a ‘dark archive’, accessible only to ARC reviewers. Whilst the primary focus was on deploying repositories to support ERA, the government indicated that it saw this activity as providing the infrastructure to support a wider move towards open access through institutional repositories.

One of the most controversial features of ERA 2010 was the creation of a ranked list of peer-reviewed journals. In excess of 20 000 titles were included on the list, with each being allocated to up to three disciplinary codes, and a rating on a four-point scale (A*, A, B or C). Although the list had been developed in consultation with learned academies and disciplinary bodies, the ranking of each journal, intended to represent the overall quality of the journal, provoked considerable debate and seemed set to shape academics’ publishing behaviours quite markedly. However, partly in response to criticism from the research community, the government announced that for future ERA rounds, the ranking element would be removed from the list.

Another, perhaps unintended, consequence of the journal list was the allocation of up to three disciplinary codes against each journal title [the coding system was the ANZ Fields of Research (FoR) scheme]. Publications are assessed at a disciplinary level, and the allocation into these groupings is pre-determined by the FoR code. In fields where assessment is based upon citation counts, there may be some scope for marginal gains to be made by seeking to publish multidisciplinary articles in journals where average citation counts are lower. For example, an article on the quality of research in genetics might better be served by being published in an information science journal than in a genetics title.

Open access and public access

One response by sections of the academic and library communities to the ‘crisis’ in scholarly journal publishing has been the evolution of open access forms of dissemination. The open access movement has emerged from the belief that the products of publicly funded research should be freely available, and the opportunities afforded by the Internet for such access to be made possible. Broadly, open access is achieved through one of two routes: articles are published in open access journals, or they are deposited in research repositories, freely accessible stores of articles maintained by universities or on behalf of disciplinary groups.

As noted above, research funders and universities have increasingly introduced expectations – and in some cases mandates ( – that data and research results from the work they fund should be made publicly accessible. Numerous studies have pointed to the gaps between those who are able to access subscription content and those who are able to access freely available content. It is worth noting that the gap has for some been widened by the shift from print journals to electronic access which is typically restricted to those with login credentials. Members of the public could, in some cases, visit university libraries to consult print collections held on open shelves, although libraries, especially in the UK, have restricted entry to those with university identity cards. It should be noted that publishers have generally allowed libraries to provide ‘walk-in’ access through which anyone can view electronic resources on computers inside the library’s premises. Some libraries have not taken advantage of this, either due to limited facilities or institutional policy towards authentication.

One of the most prominent examples of a funder mandate is that of the National Institutes of Health, which in a 2008 appropriations bill secured the following:

The Director of the National Institutes of Health shall require that all investigators funded by the NIH submit or have submitted for them to the National Library of Medicine’s PubMed Central an electronic version of their final, peer-reviewed manuscripts upon acceptance for publication, to be made publicly available no later than 12 months after the official date of publication.

We can distinguish between expanding access to support active researchers and those who require research results in the course of their employment, including policy-makers and professionals such as engineers and doctors, which we shall describe as open access, and that intended to reach a wider audience, for example interested citizens, patients and students, which can be referred to as public access. The mechanisms for satisfying the needs of both categories can be the same: a research output or report (subject to copyright provisions) can be made accessible through one of the open access channels mentioned above. However, the need for research to be made understandable to the lay reader is becoming increasingly important. The Patients Participate! Project, funded by the JISC, UK, is one example of an approach to overcoming barriers to understanding. The project recommended the publication of lay summaries for articles included in the UK PubMed Central archive, and noted the role that social media can play in the wider dissemination of research outside the traditional scholarly community.

Open access journals are very similar in form to paid-for titles: articles are frequently brought together into issues, are subject to peer review, have ISSNs, are indexed in citation and bibliographic databases, and are seen as a core element of the scholarly communication landscape. They are predominantly made available online, although some offer a print version, but the key distinction is that they are freely accessible at the point of readership. The Directory of Open Access Journals ( lists, at the time of writing, considerably more than 7000 journal titles, subject to peer review or editorial quality control. The Web of Science, one of the leading citation indexing databases, published by Thomson Reuters, indexes around 500 open access journals, allowing them to attract impact factors which in turn can serve to attract a higher selection of better quality articles.

Whilst many open access journals have adopted an article rate, acceptance policy and publication pattern similar to subscription titles, some have adopted a more transformative approach. The Public Library of Science (PLoS), for example, makes publication decisions in its PLoS One title on the basis of the technical soundness of an article, allowing it to accept and publish a higher quantity of items than conventional journals. After verification of a paper’s soundness, articles are published and exposed for wider discussion by the broader scientific community. PLoS One published 6800 articles during 2010.

Although early open access journal initiatives frequently came from the not-for-profit arena, commercial publishers have become increasingly active in the production of open access journals, either as standalone titles, or in association with learned societies whose subscription titles are produced by the same publisher.

Naturally, open access journals cannot exist without any income to support the costs of editorial work, page preparation, technology platforms and other expenses. In many cases, in the absence of readers’ subscription revenues, journals turn to authors to cover the costs through the payment of a publication fee. Fees vary, not only between publishers, but across journals in the same portfolio. In 2011, for example, an article in PLoS One will attract an author fee of $1350, whilst PLoS Biology and PLoS Medicine can command $2900 per article. Springer, one of the most active commercial publishers in the open access field, charges article processing fees ranging from $680 to $1695, with discounts and waivers for those authors whose institutions are members of SpringerOpen. Waivers are also granted to authors from many low-income countries.

Libraries have seen involvement in the open access journal space, both through promoting readership and in advising authors. Many have chosen to harvest records from The Directory of Open Access Journals for addition to local catalogues and search engines, seeking to ensure that open journal content is as prominent as subscription material. They have also sought to raise awareness of open access journals amongst their clients, highlighting the growing impact factors and academic standing of many titles. This has been particularly evident when reaching out to authors who will be bound by open access mandates imposed by research funders.

An alternative approach to open access is the deposit of publications in an institutional or disciplinary repository. In this situation, a variant of a publication from a subscription journal may be made freely available, typically based upon permission granted by a publisher. This permission may provide for the author’s manuscript to be deposited in a repository, before or in some cases after peer review. Publishers’ policies are helpfully collated by the RoMEO service ( The RoMEO service developed a colour-coding system to categorise publishers, indicating which archiving policy was adopted: for example, green indicated that a publisher permitted deposit of articles both before and after peer review, and in some cases the publisher’s version.

Another adoption of colour coding, independent of RoMEO, has been that of gold open access, used to signify an article or journal that allows full open access to the published version. This may refer to open access journals, described above, but also to articles published in subscription journals, but for which the author or their institution or funder has paid an open access fee. Wiley’s Online Open and Taylor and Francis’s iOpenAccess are examples of this approach.

The management of an institutional repository typically rests with a University Library. Platforms such as DSpace, Fedora and Fez provide the architecture for the organisation and management of the repository and its front end. Repositories are also harvested by search services such as Google and OAIster, providing an additional layer of discoverability. Many libraries have received special funding to establish or enhance their institutional repositories, for example through the ASHER scheme in Australia. The long-term costs and sustainability of institutional repositories is of concern, although as they become established as part of an institution’s enterprise system architecture, they will be seen as deserving of continued support. At The University of Queensland, for example, the institutional repository, UQ eSpace (, which is ranked amongst the top ten world repositories,4 served not only as an archive of publications deposited by academic staff, but also as the university system for the deposit of PhD thesis manuscripts for assessment. It also housed bibliographic information about all academic publications (even if the full publication was not present) for the purpose of annual returns to the government, and for the ERA research assessment exercise referred to above.

Many universities are now looking also to deploy their institutional repositories as part of their approach to data curation. Research funders and institutions have recognised that access to research data is increasingly important, and as with research outputs, many are requiring researchers to make data sets arising from research available for access by other members of the research community. The library is a natural participant in the process of data curation. Whilst many data sets require specialist storage, beyond the capacity of many repositories, librarians are able to argue effectively that their professional skills lie firmly in the curation space. They can advise on storage and access mechanisms, and many have used repositories as data registers or catalogues.

Where next? Discovery and the role of libraries

Studies have shown that researchers have turned almost exclusively to large search engines and portals such as Google and PubMed Central to discover journal content, bypassing conventional tools such as abstracting and indexing services, and ignoring, to a large extent, publishers’ own platforms (Nicholas et al., 2011). Many libraries have felt increasingly isolated from information discovery by their core client groups, and have adopted numerous responses. Some have chosen to support the move to Google, exposing details of their licensed journal subscriptions to allow direct linking to licensed articles. Others have chosen to implement an aggregator search system such as Summon from Serials Solutions and Primo from Ex Libris, allowing for the easy discovery of book chapters and journal articles, and easy links to online full text where available. Community initiatives have also been announced, such as the eCollections service developed by JISC in the UK (

These developments all serve to support greater end-user access to scholarly content, and reinforce a common observation that academic readers are seeking an interface that promotes the most straightforward access to the highest quality content. Whilst librarians on occasion take issue with the inadequacies of ‘popular’ tools such as Google, they have failed to deliver large-scale services that integrate seamlessly into the academic workflow. Those who work with – rather than against – new players are most likely to remain visible and viable partners in the research process.

Some libraries have sought to embrace Web 2.0 technologies, building services either in the hope of new forms of client engagement or as proof of concept. At this stage, there is little evidence to support widespread adoption by researchers (Research Information Network, 2010b).

Competition is not exclusively found in the discovery space, but also in the domain of information sharing and delivery. Services such as Mendeley, PubGet and DeepDyve are all offering low-cost, and often free, alternatives to academic libraries. Publishers and societies are launching mobile device apps, often with value-added content to supplement traditional content. And publishers are experimenting with new forms of journal articles, recognising that technology can offer much richer reader experiences than a PDF surrogate of a traditional printed article. All of these offer the potential for great advances in information delivery, and libraries must look to these if they are to develop sustainable service models.

In many areas mentioned above, for example in data curation, but also in the information landscape more broadly, there is a growing disconnect between librarians and researchers. Reports by the Research Information Network (2006, 2007) have shown that many researchers do not appreciate the skills that librarians can bring to the research process. Conversely, many librarians feel isolated and removed from their researcher clients. As researchers have moved online for almost all of their information needs, their presence in the library has declined greatly.

This must be of some concern to all concerned with scholarly publishing and communication. The tools and technologies of the digital age offer unprecedented opportunities to enhance research. But the advances they bring add a layer of complexity to the environment. Librarians have the skills and knowledge to help navigate this arena most effectively, but to do so, they need to leave the library and enter the laboratory, common room and clinic. Such a move will allow libraries to take their traditional role – set out at the beginning of this chapter – and transform it truly for the digital age. The many who have done so already can point to new relationships and great successes, and to a vibrant future at the core of research.


Allen, M., Ward, S. M., Wray, T., Debus-Lopez, K. Collection Development Based on Patron Requests: Collaboration between Interlibrary Loan and Acquisition. http://docs. lib. purdue. edu/lib_research/37, 2003. [Libraries Research Publications, Paper 37. ].

ARL (Association of Research Libraries). ARL statement to scholarly publishers on the global economic crisis. http://www. arl. org/bm~doc/economic-statement-2009. pdf, 2009.

Blake, M. Journal cancellations in university libraries. The Serials Librarian. 1986; 10(4):73–80.

British AcademyE-resources for research in the humanities and social sciences. London: British Academy, 2005.

CIBER. The economic downturn and libraries: survey findings. London: UCL; 2009.

Collection Development Executive Committee. Report of the Collection Development Executive Committee Task Force on Print Collection Usage. Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Library; 2010.

Follett Report. Joint Funding Council’s Libraries Review Group Report. Bristol: HEFCE; 1993.

HEFCE. Evaluation of the UK Pilot Site Licence Initiative – Phase II. Bristol: HEFCE; 1998.

ICOLC (International Coalition of Library Consortia). Statement on the Global Economic Crisis and Its Impact on Consortial Licenses. http://www. library. yale. edu/consortia/icolc-econcrisis-0109. htm, 2009.

Lewis, D. W. A strategy for academic libraries in the first quarter of the 21st century. College & Research Libraries. 2007; 68(5):418–434.

Leydesdorff, L., Etzkowitz, H. Emergence of a triple helix of university-industry-government relations. Science and Public Policy. 1996; 23:279–286.

Martyn, J. Literature Searching Habits and Attitudes of Research Scientists. London: BLRD; 1987.

Nicholas, D., Rowlands, I., Williams, P. E-journals, researchers – and the new librarians. Learned Publishing. 2011; 24(1):15–27.

Research Information Network. Researchers and Discovery Services: Behaviour, Perceptions and Needs. London: RIN; 2006.

Research Information Network. Researchers’ Use of Academic Libraries and Their Services. London: RIN; 2007.

Research Information Network. Challenges for Academic Libraries in Difficult Economic Times. London: RIN; 2010.

Research Information Network How Researchers Perceive and Use Web 2. 0. If You Build It, Will They Come?. RIN, London, 2010.

University Grants Committee. Report of the Committee on Libraries [The Parry Report]. London: HMSO; 1967.

Webster, K. The research library as learning space: new opportunities for campus development. In: Learning Spaces in Higher Education: Positive Outcomes by Design. http://www. uq. edu. au/nextgenerationlearningspace/proceedings, 2008.

Webster, K. The library space as learning space. EDUCAUSE Review. 2010; 45(6):10–11.

1In the UK, print materials are zero-rated for VAT, but electronic publications are taxed at the full rate.

2Elements of this section are drawn from Webster (2008, 2010).

3Outsell Consultants, Australian Go8 libraries cost-benefit study. Further details and a summary presentation are available at

4Ranking of World Repositories, July 2011,