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UBC Reports | Vol. 49 | No. 3 | Mar. 6, 2003


Dear Editor,

“Putting an End to Expensive Print Journals” in the February 6, 2003 edition of UBC Reports brings up an important issue that UBC librarians have been struggling with for a number of years: the purchase of print vs. electronic journals.

With the advent of the Internet, the tradition of refereeing, printing, and distributing journals that had developed over the past century was turned on its head. No one today can deny the contribution electronic journals have made to facilitating ease and access to academic writing, but until we can be sure electronic journals are continuously available, the library will also purchase as many of their print equivalents as the budget allows.

I applaud UBC Education Professor John Willinsky’s efforts to seek other means of providing information and cut the costs of what are admittedly a huge drain on the financial resources of the university in general and of its library system in particular. But there are important issues to consider and discuss so that articles are available over the long term and in the most cost-effective manner.

Academic provision of journal articles free on the Internet is also not without challenges for both present and future access. Clifford Lynch, director of the Coalition for Networked Information and adjunct professor at Berkeley's School of Information Management and Systems recently spoke at UBC, saying that direct electronic access to academic research is occurring without an accompanying means of preserving it. There are countless projects on North American computers that have been abandoned and/or forgotten after a research grant has run out, after a leading researcher retires, after an operating system is changed, or after interest in a given issue wanes.

Also problematic is the more usual provision of electronic articles that come by way of third party providers (Gale, Ebsco, ProQuest etc.) that purchase rights to distribute individual journals. Unlike libraries, these private firms are not obligated and make no commitment to continue providing access to a given journal should it prove uneconomical to do so. Alternatively if one of these providers goes out of business or merges with another, any number of journals could be dropped and, at the stroke of a pen, 10 or more years of an electronic journal could no longer be accessible.

Ironically, the very journals that Professor Willinsky is sitting on in the photo accompanying this article may provide the only copy of an article he needs in five years’ time if electronic access to them is arbitrarily wiped out by the provider or if they are inadequately preserved.

- Donna Jean MacKinnon, Librarian
UBC Law Library

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Last reviewed 22-Sep-2006

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