Monday, February 9, 2009

A Question for All You Scientists and Engineers Out There

When was the last time you went to the library? What did you check out? Did you copy anything?

Our institution no longer has a print library for journals, and the only reason I see to keep them in some institutions is to access older stuff that has not yet been digitized. I have not made a copy of an article on a copy machine in probably 7 years, now.

If you had told me in grad school that the copy machine would be a thing of the past within 5 years of graduation, I would have looked at you as if you had just landed from the Planet Idiot.

These musings were prompted by this article.

I attend several large conferences each year, and get a subscription to several print journals as part of my society fees. I don't read them. I search the TOC of the on-line editions each month, instead. The only print issue I keep is the big, fat one with all the abstracts from that international conference, because it's still easier for me to look at a print version to see the other, related, presentations from that journal, which I might miss searching the conference CD using keywords.

I think moving to pure on-line publishing for most articles, with perhaps once-per-quarter print editions of the most important stuff is probably they direction that scientific publishing should be headed.

That being said, there will have to be sources found to replace print ad revenue, and pop-up ads in on-line versions are not going to be popular.


MWT said...

Hmmm... well, I haven't gone in as a scientist or engineer for a really long time.

The last time I physically went to the research library, it was to find materials on local history of a place. The publications in question were extremely limited edition (as in, for one of them there were only 30 copies made). This would've been summer 2007, I think.

The last time I physically went to any library was last summer/fall. Every three weeks I would go to the public library to check out their Terry Pratchett Discworld collection a little at a time.

The last time I made use of library services was a few weeks ago. I sent an email to our librarian describing what I wanted, and he sent me back some text documents.

The last time these were science related was last October when I was acquiring the Price et al 1970s papers. ;) They arrived as PDFs.

The last time I used a copy machine on scientific literature would've been 2005 or before. I don't remember when I finally gave up on the concept of publishing my one fish paper that has been sitting in my todo list for the past decade... >.>

Beth said...

As a current Master's student, I can say that I do use the library fairly often for research purposes. I dislike reading articles or books on computer screens. For most cases, I prefer to have a hard copy that can travel with me, and on which I can write or highlight. I also like to keep up on current books in my field by checking them out and reading them in the comfort of an armchair or at the park.

I haven't actually used a copier in ages, though. I typically pull articles up on Web of Science as PDFs, then print them. For newer articles, I either request them from InterLibrary Loan (they also arrive as PDFs) or obtain the print journal from a colleague. As for books, I typically read them for academic interest, not because I need a permanent copy, so I seldom copy them.

Of course, this is all for books or for articles I want/need to read. If I'm just double-checking a method or reference, I just run through SFX and find the specific information I'm looking for. I don't waste the resources to print and article for a few key sentences.

As far as "What did you check out [last time you visited the libary]," I must admit that it was a compilation of Nature archives, a copy of Gould's Punctuated Equilibrium, and the Planet Earth DVDs. Nothing pressing, just things I wanted to read and DVDs I wanted to rewatch. I also went in to my advisor's office to "check out" some old Am Nats and Animal Behavior journals, though that doesn't seem to count for purposes of this question.

Heumpje said...

I occasionally go there to get a paper that our institute did not buy the online subscription for. (typically older editions of journals.

Shouldn't the institute's fees be sufficient for the revenue?

My institution pays up to 30000 a year for acces to online material alone.

John the Scientist said...

"Shouldn't the institute's fees be sufficient for the revenue?"

Not hardly. Publishing has razor-thin margins, and there are not that many institutional subscribers:

One study looked at the revenue from journal advertising as a proportion of the total income of six non-profit making doctors' organisations that owned journals. Five organisations obtained more than 10% of their gross income from advertising in their journals, and in four cases as much (or nearly as much) money was generated from advertising as from members' fees and "other assessments".

Those ad fees are subsidizing your journal costs. Take them away and your fees will go up, or the number of pages published will go down, unless altruistic "free" (for which academics donate time instead of money, TANSTAAFL) journals step up to take their places. But every hour donated to that kind of publishing effort is an hour not used to secure funding, teach grad students, or anything else that carries more immediate benefit to the professor.

I don't count on a huge upsurge in grassroots publishing.