Michigan State University

The Crisis in Scholarly Communication - More About the Crisis

In the future, why will there be less access for researchers and teachers to the published literature and more restrictions on using scholarship?

Rising costs for libraries affecting what they can purchase

  • Costs of subscriptions: The costs of institutional journal subscriptions for libraries has increased far beyond general inflation and continues to rise (see graph (pdf) from the Association of Research Libraries) This is partly due to electronic publishing (see below). Higher prices mean libraries cannot afford as wide and diverse a collection of journals as previously.
  • Commercial ownership of scholarly journals: Commercial publishers rather than societies or nonprofit publishers now control a much higher percentage of journals than ever before. Mergers between commercial publishers and takeovers of smaller publishers mean that a few major companies control a majority of scholarly publishing. These publishers are concerned primarily with profit rather than scholarly dissemination. Again, this affects prices for libraries.
  • Electronic publishing has brought new pricing schemes: Bundling of electronic journals is common, so that one must subscribe to a whole package to get access to a journal. Tiered pricing for access based on an institution's FTE, extra charges for remote access, for more than one user, and overall higher costs than for printed material all make it more difficult for libraries to afford electronic journals. Electronic books are a new addition to libraries that also have higher prices than printed materials.

Increasing restrictions on interlibrary loan

  • Libraries have always relied on interlibrary loan to get researchers access to materials that their institution does not have. With electronic journals, publishers have often required libraries to sign licenses that restrict interlibrary loan. With electronic books, only borrowing of single chapters is allowed. Over time these restrictions diminish the ability to make as much scholarship as possible available to researchers.

Increasing restrictions on using electronic materials for classes

  • Publishers often have many more restrictions on use of electronic materials for classes, coursepacks and reserves than they did for more traditional print materials. Ironically, this means that while the electronic environment could make access easier for students, in practice the access is more difficult because of publisher restrictions on creating electronic coursepacks and putting electronic materials on reserve.