Quinn, Frank (Mathematics, Virginia Tech)

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June, 1994              _EJournal_  Volume 4  Number 2           ISSN 1054-1055
                      There are 886 lines in this issue.

                   An Electronic Journal concerned with the
                implications of electronic networks and texts.
                       2879 Subscribers in 37 Countries
              University at Albany, State University of New York

* This electronic publication and its contents are (c) copyright 1994 by      *
* _EJournal_.  Permission is hereby granted to give away the journal and its  *
* contents, but no one may "own" it.  Any and all financial interest is hereby*
* assigned to the acknowledged authors of individual texts.  This notification*
* must accompany all distribution of _EJournal_.                              *

                Frank Quinn
                Mathematics, Virginia Tech

  ABSTRACT: This is a proposal for direct involvement of libraries in
  the publication of scholarly journals.  The issues discussed are money,
  standards, copyright and access, and the roles of individuals.  The
  goal is a managed transition to electronic publication which does not
  sacrifice quality and is within current budgetary constraints.

THE PROBLEMS                                                                  
  Journal subscription costs have been rising rapidly and have absorbed
  all movable resources in many libraries.  Subscriptions are being
  cancelled, and access to scholars has been reduced.  Even so, shelves
  are filling rapidly.  Knowledge continues to grow, and more outlets are
  needed, not fewer.  Miraculously, a solution seems at hand: electronic
  communication is cheap, fast, and accessible.  Electronic journals seem
  a wonderful solution: pay less, get more.  Unfortunately serious
  problems with access, quality control, and financing have held up
  development of this medium.  The first experimental offerings by
  commercial publishers are unattractive in several ways: they restrict
  access; some of them shift traditional library functions (e.g.,
  archiving) to the publishers; and there are no indications that they
  will be much cheaper.  At the other extreme, preprint data bases and
  homebrew journals have sprung up on the network.  These are free, but
  have problems with stability, quality control, visibility, and
  acceptance.  It is not at all obvious how these disparate interests and
  forces will eventually come together.

  One approach to electronic journals is to simply wait and see what
  happens.  No doubt a satisfactory system will eventually evolve, much
  as paper journals evolved.  But there are strong motivations for
  implementing a consciously designed system, if a satisfactory one can
  be found.  First, evolution is slow and expensive, and the library
  crisis is here now.  Second, there are serious concerns that pressures
  from preprint databases and electronic journals, on top of financial
  problems, will cause a collapse of paper publication before a
  replacement is ready.  Third, evolution involves trying different
  systems and weeding out the ones which don't work.  But the failures
  will pollute the literature and impose a burden on the scholarly
  enterprise at a time when efficiency and effectiveness are more
  important than ever.  [line 113]

  Finally, important features of the current system are simplicity,
  credibility, and inertia.  Scholars write to high standards and submit
  to a relatively rigorous editing and refereeing process because the
  options are simple: do that or don't get published; they are used to
  the system; and they accept this discipline because they believe
  everyone else does, and everybody gains from it.  An unmanaged
  transition will lose much of this.  It will be complex, will have to
  earn its own credibility, and will have widely accessible outlets for
  substandard work.  No doubt some areas will manage to keep high
  standards, but many will not, and there will be a net decline in
  quality.  A key goal in a managed transition is not just to find a
  system that works, but also transfer the credibility and acceptance of
  the current system to the new one.


  The basic idea is that every research library should publish electronic
  scholarly journals.  However the terms "publish" and "journal" need
  clarification, and "why libraries?" needs an answer.  We give a first
  pass here, and add detail in the following sections.

  First, "publish": this would mean permanently maintaining a file of
  reviewed and edited papers, freely accessible over the electronic
  network.  It would also mean managing the editorial structure (see
  "Standards") to maintain standards.  It need not involve editorial
  work, keyboarding, file formatting, etc.  These, to the extent they are
  done, could be the responsibility of editors and authors.

  Next, "journal": this is a repository for primary scholarly work. In
  the beginning it should look like a paper journal, except for format.
  Some additions might be made, for instance attaching to each paper a
  list of errata, and forward citations approved by the editor.  But at
  present real experiments with the electronic medium should be left to
  the secondary literature, to preserve the credibility of the process. 

  This scenario does not address the secondary literature: texts, review
  and survey books, encyclopedias, many monographs, etc.  The basic
  structure for dealing with these does not seem to be in immediate
  trouble, so we can afford to let them evolve.  Technical issues such as
  file standards, formats, and access modes are also not addressed here.
  These vary from field to field, and information should be available
  from professional societies.  [line 157]

  Finally, "why libraries?": first, to maintain standards (and
  credibility) editors must be accountable to someone.  Now they are
  usually directly accountable to publishers, and indirectly to
  librarians who decide whether or not to subscribe to the journal.
  Ideally, publishers would continue in this role, but most are unlikely
  to adopt policies which would make this possible (see "Money").  So it
  makes sense for librarians to move forward a few steps in the
  quality-control chain.  The other reason is, to quote the bank robber,
  "that's where the money is."  Most scholarly journals are primarily
  supported by library subscriptions, paid from monies earmarked for the
  support of scholarly information needs.  It is not realistic to expect
  new sources of support, nor is it realistic to hope that library
  subscription budgets can be shifted elsewhere for this.  So research
  libraries are nearly the only places professionally managed electronic
  journals can be supported.


  The greatest problem is maintenance of standards of correctness and
  quality of exposition.  Not only to ensure that the material published
  is of good quality, but to provide ways for readers, authors, and
  librarians to be assured of this.

  The key to quality is, of course, the editor or editorial board.  But
  it is not satisfactory to rely on the reputation of the editor as a
  gauge of quality.  Librarians and readers often do not have information
  about reputations.  There are not enough people with appropriate
  reputations who are willing to do editorial work.  And it is unstable:
  a change of editors might significantly change the quality of the

  For a journal to have a reputation (and existence) separate from that
  of the editor, the editor must be accountable to someone.  In this
  proposal that person would be a librarian.  Files for the journal would
  be maintained in the library.  This would address important concerns
  about security and permanence, but the main point here is that it
  provides a mechanism for accountability.  In an extreme situation,
  analogous to the firing of an editor by a publisher, the librarian
  could deny write access to the file.  [line 197]

  In most instances librarians do not have the expertise to monitor the
  standards of a journal, or even the qualifications of editors.
  Further, they would lack the feedback (and discipline) that publishers
  get from subscription levels.  There are several ways to get expert
  advice, and distribute the responsibility for monitoring.  One is to
  have a "board of trustees" of recognized experts.  The editor would
  serve "at the pleasure" of the trustees: they appoint new editors and
  would have the authority to remove an editor if necessary.  Trustees
  would meet periodically--say yearly--for a report from the editor and
  to review standards and policy.  Since trustees would not be directly
  involved in editorial work it should be much easier to recruit eminent
  trustees than eminent editors.  And listing the names of trustees as
  well as editors would allow readers to use the trustees' reputations as
  guides to quality of the journal. 

  Another possibility for accountability is that a department could
  sponsor a journal: "The Wobegone Journal of Irony, published under the
  auspices of the Wobegone University Department of Ironical Studies, G.
  Kellor editor."  Care should be taken to ensure it is not a vanity
  journal for the department.  Finally, professional societies might
  respond to the electronic confusion by establishing accreditation
  boards for journals.  This would amount to a partial centralization of
  the "trustee" function. 

  There is actually not much new in this.  Editors of commercial journals
  are accountable to the publisher, and people often use the publisher as
  a guide to quality of the journal.  Professional societies usually have
  committees of de facto trustees to oversee editors of society
  journals.  The "trustee" mechanism for ensuring quality and stability
  is used by universities and major corporations.  And Universities,
  physicians, and barbers are subject to accreditation or licensing.  The
  only novelty is the location of the person to whom the editor would be

  It should be emphasized that the `standards' issues of concern here are
  correctness, reliability, and quality of exposition.  Importance or
  interest are not involved.  The first reason for this is that boring
  but correct and well-exposed work does not damage the integrity of the
  literature, and may eventually be useful to someone.  The other reason
  is that we already have a satisfactory way to grade papers according to
  interest: a large array of journals with varying degrees of
  specialization and standards of importance.  Electronic publication
  should preserve this diversity, and not be just one huge database.
  What we largely do not have now (particularly in the sciences), and
  don't want to have, are large numbers of journals which vary
  significantly in two dimensions:  standards of correctness as well as
  significance.  [line 246]


  Electronic journals based in libraries would lack most of the obvious
  expenses of paper journals: printing, mailing, bookkeeping costs
  associated with subscriptions, and publisher profit.  Keyboarding costs
  can be shifted to authors by requesting submission in standard file
  formats, and assessing page charges otherwise.  Copyediting can be
  abandoned, or reserved for extreme cases.  Most editors and reviewers
  of scholarly journals are already unpaid.  But some expenses would
  remain, and there might be new ones.  If a journal has trustees it
  would be appropriate to at least help pay their travel expenses to
  meetings with the editors.  A reasonable guess is that costs could be
  held to about 20% of the current levels. 

  In support of this guess I would like to relate my own experiences as
  editor.  In 1991-92 expenses charged to my publisher were $1,300 for
  postage and some secretarial support.  Postage costs have declined
  since then due to a nearly complete change to electronic mail.  During
  this time 154 papers were processed, and about 40 accepted for
  publication.  Most authors provided useable electronic files.
  Keyboarding services for the remainder were readily available locally,
  but I expect offering these services to authors at cost would have
  increased the number of author-prepared files to near 100%.  I would
  have wanted to support the keyboarding of a few third-world
  submissions.  There was essentially no copyediting: most rewriting
  involved technical issues and was done by the author.  In cases of
  linguistic difficulty it was usually effective to suggest seeking help
  from a colleague.  This experience leads me to believe I could have
  delivered complete electronic files for this journal-- lacking
  professional polish, to be sure, but completely usable-- for about

  Many economies are also available to commercial publishers.  We could
  stay with publishers and avoid this whole scenario if they would
  seriously address the cost and access issues.  For example, by offering
  scholarly journals electronically, with minimal restrictions on use, at
  25% the current price.  Less generous terms would just continue a
  process which will lead to the collapse of commercial journal
  publication.  In some fields this collapse is nearly certain within ten
  years, and possible within five.  [line 288]

  Expenses of library publication must be borne by the publishing
  institution.  Attempts to shift them to users will meet with the same
  problems of access and collection which make commercial electronic
  publication unattractive.  Shifting expenses to other departments in
  the institution would create conflicts of interest, and might create
  vanity presses.  Also the money isn't there.  But in research libraries
  these expenses would not be new, or unrelated to the mission.  These
  costs are already borne through subscription charges.  It will cost
  more to publish an electronic journal than to subscribe to a paper
  one.  But the proper perspective is that each library-published journal
  saves the community of research libraries 80%.  If a small fraction of
  subscription budgets were diverted to direct publication, the result
  would be a huge increase of easily accessible material.  And movement
  of a small fraction of existing journals into libraries would even
  render cancellations unnecessary for such a diversion. 


  Copyrights are currently used primarily to protect the revenue stream
  of publishers.  Library-based journals could be much more relaxed about
  this.  It would make sense to allow the copying of entire articles,
  with the original citation, in any medium for any purpose.  Other
  libraries might want to load them into their own archives, for instance
  to speed up searches.  Any user should be able to download and print
  them.  The local copy store or library could download and print copies
  for the electronically disadvantaged.  They could be included in
  specialized reprint collections, and accessible through commercial
  databases.  In short they should have all the functionality that
  preprint databases do.  The only remaining functions of copyrights
  would seem to be to provide legal recourse in cases of plagiarism, and
  to avoid having individual authors imposing restrictions on access. 

  Commercial publishers who want to retain a journal presence will also
  have to relax about access.  For instance, back issues over two or
  three years old probably should be freely accessible over networks from
  any library.  There is really not much benefit to "protecting" back
  issues, and it would be onerous to libraries and unattractive to
  authors and users.  The general principle is that functionality must be
  as close as possible to that of preprint databases: they are now the
  competition.  [line 331]


  If you are a librarian: work toward having someone in the library (with
  experience and integrity) designated as the "publisher."  Develop (if
  you do not have) the ability to access electronic journals and print
  out copies as needed.  Develop the capacity to securely maintain
  on-line journal files.  Make known your willingness to take on
  electronic journals, but insist on visible quality control through some
  mechanism like trustees: do not create a vanity press.  Cancel
  subscriptions to provide resources for this (this will cause temporary
  inconvenience, but is easily justified).  And work toward having this
  accepted in the library community as a professional responsibility
  rather than an option.  This is a community problem, and requires a
  community response: it will go very slowly if everyone waits for
  Harvard to do it all. 

  If you are a commercial publisher: if you can bring yourself to do it,
  slash costs and offer journals electronically with the freest possible
  access, at 25% of list price.  Offer unprofitable or marginal journals
  "free to a good home" in a library.  And shift your offerings toward
  monographs.  The end result of this scenario is that libraries will
  service their journal needs with a fraction of the current budget.  But
  a great deal of this budget was kidnapped from monograph budgets and
  would return there if freed.  Monograph sales can be expected to
  increase substantially, and should be safe well into the next century.
  In the short run this scenario offers lower profits than toughing it
  out until the collapse.  The advantages are control over the transition
  and a graceful exit which will minimize damage to the disciplines you

  If you are an institutional administrator: encourage your library to
  participate vigorously.  Encourage your University Press (if you have
  one) to transfer its journals to the library.  Encourage subscription
  cancellations, or provide bridge funding to support these journals
  until similar transfers elsewhere generate savings to pay for them.
  This transition will help with several very pressing problems
  (information access, library budgets and space shortfalls).  Vigorous
  and concerted action will bring relief rapidly.  [line 371]

  If you are an editor: encourage your publisher to participate
  voluntarily in this transition.  Explore the possibility of moving to a
  library.  You should be prepared to offer a visible accountability
  system, for instance by recruiting eminent scholars or previous editors
  to serve as trustees.  This will substantially increase the confidence
  of authors and readers in a smooth transition. 

  If you are a scholar: seriously consider publishing your work in a
  library-based journal, if you are satisfied an appropriate chain of
  accountability is in place.  Your work will probably appear more
  quickly, and may be far more accessible to most of the profession.  If
  you are thinking about starting a journal, approach your library (or
  someone else's library).  But be prepared to address the accountability
  issue.  And be aware that electronic publication does not avoid many of
  the problems of starting a journal.  In particular, gaining acceptance
  and having an impact still requires recruiting outstanding papers for
  the first few issues, and establishing high standards. 


  Change is coming, forced by rising production of knowledge and falling
  library budgets, and enabled by electronic communication.  Left to
  itself the transition will be chaotic and damaging.  A controlled
  transition has been described which would serve the needs of
  scholarship within current budgets and without sacrificing quality.
  The major features are a shift of primary journal publication to
  research libraries, and concentration of commercial publishers on texts
  and monographs.

                Frank Quinn
                        Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University

[[ This essay in Volume 4 Number 2 of _EJournal_ (June, 1994) is (c)
copyright _EJournal_. Permission is hereby granted to give it away.
_EJournal_ hereby assigns any and all financial interest to Frank Quinn.
This note must accompany all copies of this text. ]]