Council of Australian University Librarians (CAUL)

Australian Science Capability Review

Updated 24 November, 1999

24 November 1999

Ms Sarah Clough
Assistant Manager
Australian Science Capability Review-
A Chief Scientist Project

Dear Ms Clough,

CAUL wishes to thank the Chief Scientist for undertaking this review, and submits the attached document for his information.

The submission addresses the current state of information infrastructure to support scientific research, including strategies being followed by universities in Australia and elsewhere to deal with the inexorably rising cost of access to research journals.

We wish to emphasise that the ease of access to information in electronic forms is counter-balanced by the high cost of physical infrastructure and training, by increased costs and by limitations on distribution of information imposed by publishers' licences and potentially strong copyright regimes.

Yours sincerely,

Helen Hayes
President, CAUL
Vice-Principal (Information), The University of Melbourne


University libraries make a major contribution to the Australian society and the economy by providing the largest component of the national information infrastructure on which the whole community, including business and industry, depends. But university libraries have suffered deep budget cuts and their research collections are thereby placed at risk. In Australian university libraries over $9 million of cancellations of journals were made in 1998 and current estimates are of around $6 million in 1999. Sixty percent of these cuts have occurred in the science, technology and medicine (STM) disciplines. This paper suggests strategies which will enable Australian STM scholars to keep abreast and remain globally competitive.

Terms of reference of the review:
To examine and report on:

The Council of Australian University Librarians (CAUL) comprises the chief librarians of the tertiary institutions which are members of the Australian Vice-Chancellors’ Committee. CAUL is dedicated to improving access by the staff and students of Australian universities to the scholarly information resources that are fundamental to the advancement of teaching, learning and research. In pursuit of this objective CAUL ensures a common voice and representation for all university libraries, provides a forum for discussion, and works to promote common interests, both nationally and internationally. CAUL welcomes the opportunity to make a submission to the Australian Science Capability Review.

Why support STM?

Science, technology and medicine (STM) have the potential to help create wealth-generating industries, and provide solutions to environmental and other problems, but researchers need expensive database support. It is vital that Australia continues to have access to international scientific databases. International competitiveness is now seen as being driven by knowledge and innovation, rather than resources or cheap labour. Acquiring and using new knowledge means research, development and training involving a broad range of disciplines. Unless university libraries have the capacity to support broadly-based interdisciplinary research, we cannot ensure continuing social, scientific and technological innovation and sustainable national wealth creation. Academics are a major source of national basic research. In the US ideas for money-spinning research come primarily from publicly funded basic research - 73% of US patent applications cite research from public and non-profit organisations as the intellectual capital source of their work. Half of these are from the academic sector (Niland 1999).

Knowledge underpins innovation, which in turn drives the regeneration of industry. This requires close cooperation between industry and the university sector, but also requires greater investment in universities by the government. For Australia to advance in the information economy, we need a sound skills base. As Castells and Hall put it in their 1994 book, Technopoles of the World, "Research-oriented universities are to the informational economy what coal mines were to the industrial economy."

Throughout the world, nations are recognising the value of knowledge and the role of strong public funding of research as key to a nation’s future prosperity. Much of the economic growth in this decade is attributable to the growth of knowledge based industries, and returns on investment in basic research over the next decade are expected to be even greater than in the 1990s. The United States, United Kingdom, Japan, South Korea, Germany, and Finland have all recently increased their expenditure on research, including research infrastructure. On a per capita basis, each of these efforts leaves the Australian commitment in the shade. For example, the UK Government and the Wellcome Trust have committed £1.5 billion additional funding for research infrastructure and research over the three years, 1999-2001 (Niland 1999). The British Government also announced in October 1999 plans to make grants worth about $US40 million for new "Centres of Enterprise" at eight universities (Tugend 1999). The centres will focus on forging links between business and science and technology. Japan’s plan to double its investment in basic research between 1996 and 2000 is on track despite considerable difficulties experienced in recent years by the Japanese economy. The South Korean Government will increase R&D expenditure from 3.9% to 5% of total government expenditure by the year 2002 (Niland 1999).

In research Australia has several areas of international distinction (eg immunology, agricultural science). We produce some 2% of the world scientific literature and some 3% of the world’s technological literature, far exceeding our proportion of the world’s population (0.3%). Peer reviewed NHMRC funded research makes up 2% of the world’s top 1% most cited research (Final Report 1999). But we cannot hope to maintain the quality and quantity of our contributions if we fail to provide continuing access to research collections for our scientists. Knowledge is a critical element in the future prosperity of Australia.

Current state of Australian libraries to support scientific research and teaching

University libraries make a major contribution to Australian society and the economy by providing the largest component of the national information infrastructure on which the whole community, including business and industry, depends (CAUL 1997). There are strong links between the ability of the Australian research enterprise to succeed in a competitive global environment and the strength of the scholarly information infrastructure being provided through libraries and through electronic information networks (Coalition for Innovation in Scholarly Communication 1999). But university libraries have suffered deep cuts through reductions in tertiary sector funding and currency depreciations. In Australian university libraries over $9 million of cancellations of journals were made in 1998 and current estimates are of around $6 million in 1999. Sixty percent of these cuts have occurred in the science, technology and medicine disciplines.

Information technology infrastructure

The rapid advances in information and communication technologies have increased the amount of information which can be easily accessed and have provided the means for more effective research collaboration, nationally and internationally. There are inextricable links between the development of information infrastructure and the technological infrastructure needed to support information exchange in a global networked environment. There is a need for universities to maintain infrastructure such as libraries, information networks, and technical support on a long-term basis. The funding for this research infrastructure needs to be brought into alignment with international best practice.

Electronic access has the power to remove the tyranny of distance in scholarly communication and information delivery but its effective exploitation demands a huge and ongoing investment in IT infrastructure and skilled support staff.

High cost of STM information

Libraries in Australia are currently facing a crisis in relation to the provision of resources for teaching and research. The system of scholarly communication worldwide, particularly scientific communication, is under severe stress. Over more than a decade the number of journals published has increased and the price of journals has increased by roughly 10% per year, while library budgets have remained static or even decreased. The cost of some journals, especially in the sciences, has increased over 20% per year (see Table 1). According to statistics collated by the US Association of Research Libraries, scholarly journal costs rose by 175% between 1986 and 1998 (ARL 1999). The price increases, notably those of some of the commercial publishers, have for years exceeded that which might be expected on the basis of price increases in general, currency rates and the expansion of the market. A study by a US economist for the Department of Justice (McCabe 1998) has indicated that mergers and takeovers result in further increases in prices of scientific journals. This is not in the interests of the development of science or of scientific information provision: supply of information to scientists dependent on libraries is becoming poorer.

The cost of maintaining research collections has become unsustainable for most institutions as rising costs are opposed to shrinking budgets. Libraries are collecting the same core journals - the ones most requested on a daily basis - and relinquishing the specialised journals required for research, thereby diminishing the range of information resources available to scientific researchers. Australian academic libraries have suffered, with our international counterparts, high inflation rates and static or declining budgets, but have also had to contend with the volatility of the Australian dollar, since some 80-90% of scholarly information, whether in print or digital form, is imported, particularly from a small number of multinational publishers based in Europe. Australian and New Zealand libraries are particularly vulnerable, because we form such a small part of the market and have little bargaining power.

Library strategies to deal with market forces

Libraries have banded together in consortia to negotiate purchases, and have expanded resource sharing agreements in efforts to stretch shrinking budgets as far as possible. In Australia, CAUL is striving to identify and forge alliances with local and international partners (such as ICOLC, the International Coalition of Library Consortia) to negotiate collaborative purchases of electronic information. This concerted action helps to counterbalance the economic power of the commercial publishers and restrain the rate of escalation in journal prices. Libraries in Europe are joining forces to encourage dialogue with commercial publishing houses and other members of the scholarly publication chain in attempts to alleviate the pricing problems.

The academic community can help by not submitting articles or providing editorial or refereeing services to journals which have excessive costs. Those who are editors of journals published by the commercial houses should challenge the exorbitant increases in library subscription rates for these journals.

An international example of the scholarly community’s attempts to deal with the crisis is SPARC (Scholarly Publishing and Academic Resources Coalition), a consortial effort to create partnerships with professional societies and other nonprofit publishers to publish high quality, low cost online journals.

A recent initiative in the US has been the proposal to develop an electronic preprint server for the life sciences, to complement the successful Physics eprint archive at Los Alamos National Laboratory (LANL). LANL has been the inspiration for a proposal for this National Institutes of Health (NIH)-operated, freely accessible, web-based database (PubMed Central) for research reports in the life sciences, including plant and agricultural research as well as biology and medicine. The Universal Preprint Service Project is a similar venture. The aim here is to build on PubMed Central, the LANL archives and other discipline-based archives to create a method of unifying these sites to create a freely accessible source of scholarly information. If these innovative approaches succeed, the information environment will look vastly different by the year 2002, but these repositories will require funding from national governments to ensure the data they contain remain freely accessible to researchers.

The digital environment has opened up new opportunities for cooperative collection development. An Australian example is the Janus project. The Government has agreed to fund an amount of $455,000 from the Higher Education Innovation Program (HEIP) to develop a sustainable business model for an integrated, collaborative approach to research collections and information and to conduct a pilot phase to test the concept in three disciplines (agriculture, chemistry and philosophy). The project is the result of an initiative of the National Scholarly Communications Forum (NSCF), and brings together the Australian Vice-Chancellors’ Committee (AVCC), the Academies, the Council of Australian University Librarians (CAUL), CSIRO, the National Library, and the Council of Australian University Directors of Information Technology (CAUDIT). It is designed to maintain a broadly-based coverage of journals collected within the country by coordinating journal subscriptions between universities. The Janus project will give strategic direction to existing collaborations between universities, including other recently introduced collaborative projects (such as the LIDDAS interlibrary loan project which the AVCC is supporting) in the areas of information sharing between institutions.

In 1998 the Australian Research Libraries Fighting Fund was established to ensure a robust and sustainable future for Australian research in the global economy. It will commission research and conduct surveys that will explore issues associated with cost effective access to scholarly research and promote new business models.

Victorian examples of innovative cooperative agreements include an initiative which enables researchers at Monash, Melbourne and La Trobe universities to share resources through a project called READS (Regional Electronic Access and Delivery of Serials) where journals that have been cancelled at one institution but are available at one of the others have their contents pages available on the web. Academics can order online from contents pages and have the article sent by courier or fax to their offices. Such initiatives are viewed by librarians as a way of ensuring that science researchers remain internationally competitive by increasing the quantity, breadth and depth of the most current literature available to the research community.

Role of librarians

There is a wealth of information on the web (both free and for fee) to support research, and a large number of search engines available. Nevertheless, many researchers are deterred from using the web as it is slow and cumbersome identifying and accessing relevant and authoritative information from the vast amount of unstructured information of variable quality, authority and stability. Complementing their long-standing collection building role, libraries are becoming "knowledge centres", adding value by filtering and packaging reliable information (in all formats) for science researchers.

The need to systematically organise information resources to enable searchers to find relevant information quickly and with precision has led to the development of what have been termed "gateways". A subject gateway is a single focal point on the web for providing access to information of all kinds for that discipline, including print as well as electronic resources. It provides access to Internet information such as electronic publications, databases, research projects world-wide, data sources, software, online teaching modules, conferences, teaching departments, research institutes, etc. An important feature of the gateway is that each site identified is evaluated, described, classified and indexed. An efficient and effective means of locating and accessing up to date and relevant information is a key enabling infrastructure for any researcher. There will be an increasing role for highly skilled librarians in academic institutions to be partners in the research process, assisting with provision of IT support and information resources and teaching their effective use. These positions will need to be funded. The ARC is partially funding three Australian gateway projects to meet researchers’ information needs: MetaChem (for Chemistry < >), AVEL (Australasian Virtual Engineering Library, <>) and Agrigate (for Agricultural Sciences, <>).

Need to support international moves on reducing access costs for STM resources

Gaining access to scholarly information at a reasonable price is an ongoing challenge. There is a need for change in the nature of national and international patterns of scholarly research communication. Universities are paying twice over for research results. They subsidise research undertaken by their academic staff and they pay the salaries of scholars who do virtually all the writing, reviewing and editing of the journals. University libraries then buy this material back at ever increasing prices. Increasingly, scientific journals are being published by commercial multinationals, to which academics sign over their copyrights. University libraries are increasingly unable to afford the journals to which their institutions are giving their research results.

Need for government to fund national access to scientific databases

Of critical importance to the productivity of the research community is timely, cost effective access to global information. To remain internationally competitive Australia must adequately resource its research endeavour or risk becoming marginalised in terms of access to global information and knowledge resources, with a consequent decline in research productivity. The recent Academy of Science report, International Networks and the Competitiveness of Australia’s Science and Technology (1999), identified declining access to scientific information as a national problem.

Although the Internet makes technical access easy, licensing and copyright place limitations on the distribution of information that did not exist in the print environment.

Several countries have adopted coordinated national information access programs, eg UK, with its national site licensing initiative, and Canada. The Canadian Foundation for Innovation grant to academic libraries of $20m over three years is matched by $30m from Canadian universities for national site licences for science databases. The capacity to establish a national digital library will create a model for countries with similar higher education systems, such as Australia. An Australian national funding strategy needs to be adopted for securing national coordinated access to key scientific databases such as Web of Science.


Libraries in Australia are facing a crisis in relation to provision of STM resources as costs spiral beyond the reach of even the large and wealthy research libraries overseas. Australian libraries are making efforts locally, nationally and internationally to share resources and fight for better pricing structures for information resources. Alternative means of disseminating scholarly scientific information are being explored, in conjunction with government agencies and scholarly societies. But these efforts will fall short if they are not supported by Government funds to maintain and develop the existing IT infrastructure and to support nationwide electronic access to key scientific databases (such as Web of Science) in order to ensure Australian industry and research have a healthy role in the global knowledge economy.


1. That the Government assist a cooperative approach by universities and the CSIRO by funding nationwide access to key scientific databases so Australian researchers can continue to keep abreast of international ground-breaking research.

2. That the Government appropriately fund research infrastructure in universities needed to support information exchange in a globally networked environment - an infrastructure which includes the maintenance of robust IT networks and regular upgrade of equipment.

Table 1 Examples of journal price increases in STM areas, taken from the study conducted by University of Wisconsin-Madison Libraries and reported December 1998. [Online] Available:
Journal title Publisher $US Price in 1997 $US Price in 1998 % increase
Structure and Bonding  (VCH-Wiley) 265 565 113.1
Organic Reaction Mechanisms Interscience 315 396 25.7
Methods in Enzymology Academic Press 1811 2404 32.8
The Alkaloids Academic Press 82 312 280.2
Modern Physics Letters A World Scientific 1599 1778 11.2
Chaos American Institute of Physics 370 385 4.1
Advances in Physics Plenum Press 637 1150 80.5



Association of Research Libraries 1999. Monograph and Serial Costs in ARL Libraries, 1986-8 [Online] Available:  [October 8, 1999] See 1997 graph on following page.

Castells, M. and P. Hall 1994. Technopoles of the World: the Making of Twenty-First Century Industrial Complexes. Routledge, New York, p. 231.

CAUL 1997. A Sustainable Information Environment for Research and Study: a Submission to the Review of Higher Education Financing and Policy by the Council of Australian University Librarians (CAUL).

Coalition for Innovation in Scholarly Communication 1999. Submission to the Resources and Infrastructure Consolidation and Cooperation Working Group of the Innovation Summit.

Final Report of the Health and Medical Research Strategic Review Committee (Wills Report). Executive Summary 1999. [Online] Available: [21 November 1999]

McCabe, M. 1998. The impact of publisher mergers on journal prices: a preliminary report, ARL Bimonthly Report 200. [Online]. Available: [22 October, 1999]

Niland, John 1999. Australia Needs Australian Research: Address to the FASTS Symposium on the Research Green Paper. [Online] Available: [21 November 1999]

Tugend, Alina 1999. Britain gives university grants for science and business. Chronicle of Higher Education 46 (10) p. A78. [Online] Available: [21 November 1999]

Wood, F. and K. Boardman 1999. International Networks and the Competitiveness of Australia’s Science and Technology, Australian Academy of Science, Canberra.

From   Association of Research Libraries.  Statistics and Measurement Program.

[CAUL Home Page] [What's New] [Survey Register] [Conference Register] [Highlights from the Press] [Australian University Web Sites] [Other Web Sites] [Web Search Tools]

Send comments/suggestions/requests about this site ....

This site is written, compiled and maintained by Diane Costello, Executive Officer, CAUL.