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SIUC library to cancel some serials

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CARBONDALE - Southern Illinois University Carbondale spends about $450,000 each year on books for the library - but that's pennies compared to money spent on academic journals and serials.

About 90 percent of the library's $5 million materials budget goes toward purchasing scholarly journals and magazines - a tremendous chunk of change until one stops to consider the scholarly journal needs of every university department.

"Research at the university depends upon serials," said Susan Logue, associate dean for support services for Library Affairs. "Faculty depend on the journals to do their work and stay on top of their fields."

Logue is currently finishing a serials cancellation process, during which the library asked faculty members to choose from a list of the most expensive serials at the library which they absolutely must keep.

The library subscribes to about 30,000 titles, Logue said, and the price of the titles annually can run as high as $20,000. An engineering journal called "Proceedings of the Institution of Mechanical Engineers" costs $16,950, which is not an atypical cost for a journal.

Prices for serials can rise anywhere from 2 to 50 percent any given year, Logue said. These rising costs place a tremendous burden on the library's budget.

Although the library's $5 million budget hasn't decreased in recent years, it likewise hasn't risen, which means a decrease in buying power for the university, Logue said.

With only 10 percent of the library's budget going toward books, a 10 percent rise in the cost of serials - a realistic scenario, Logue said - could wipe out the library's entire budget for books.

"We've had to rob from the monograph (book) budgets to keep buying serials," Logue said.

However, Logue said the library has opted for the serials cancellation process instead of continuing to deplete from the books budget.

"We had to quit sacrificing the monograph budget in order to retain these increases," Logue said, adding that an ideal library budget is to spend 80 percent on serials and 20 percent on books.

The cancellation process has allowed faculty members to weigh in on which journals would be cancelled, Logue said.

Library staff put together a list of journals that have increased in 50 percent over the last five years, whether that represents an increase of 50 percent in one year or 10 percent for five years. Those journals were put on the chopping block.

If faculty in each department determined they had to keep a journal on the cancellation list, the department was responsible for choosing a journal that could be cancelled instead, Logue said.

Journal cancellations will be effective at the onset of Fiscal Year 2008, Logue said.

Although canceling serials is part of a short-term solution to juggling the library's budget, using electronic journals and packages of serials has played a role in keeping accessibility high while bringing costs down.

David Carlson, dean of Library Affairs, said aggregator databases that work like search engines have been another good tool.

"We've been able to subscribe to aggregator databases which are collections of journals full text from a wide variety of sources, but they come with no guarantees or permanence so it's like leasing a car," Carlson said. "Once your lease is up, it's gone. We can't count on them for any permanent archival reliability, but they are nice and very cost-effective."

There are a number of organizations - notably the Association of Research Libraries and SPARC, the Scholarship Publishing and Academic Resources Coalition - that advocate a complete overhaul of the scholarly publishing industry.

Such organizations advocate open-access journals and eschew the traditional cycle of a professor publishing in a pricey peer-review journal then being required to subscribe to that same journal for research purposes.

"Scholarly publishing initiatives are critical to changing the environment where research is published," Logue said.

Open-access journals with a rigorous peer-review system of research are cropping up, but it will be a slow process.

"I don't think the total solution to the problem is just to increase our budget," Logue said. "The solution to the problem is to break the cycle."

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