To ensure the widest possible access for all Australian researchers and academics to research information in all formats from all national and international sources in a timely and cost effective way.
The volume of new academic publications increases every year. The per-unit cost of these publications increases at a rate much higher than other commodities. For example, the long-term average increase in journal costs is 10.9% per annum, while in recent years CPI has been only around 2 or 4%. The purchasing power of libraries therefore has been significantly degraded.
The move towards electronically accessible publications is reducing the need for print collections of journals in some disciplines, but is happening more slowly in areas such as the humanities. Researchers in the humanities and social sciences remain heavily dependent on monographic publications, which do not lend themselves to electronic delivery. Therefore, these researchers still require that quality print research collections be maintained and developed. It is clear that we will continue to draw on a hybrid information environment with some resources most effectively delivered via electronic media and others via print.
It should also be noted that, in the short term, the efficiencies to be gained from information technology must be balanced against the costs of network infrastructure (such as AARNet), the researcher's desktop equipment and the training required for its effective and innovative use.
Each university library collects and provides access to information resources which support its university's teaching and research program. Active collaboration among universities and their libraries is a necessary precondition for the formation of a quality research information infrastructure.
Active collaboration among libraries occurs already in the areas of inter library loan, purchase of expensive research materials and the consortium approach to electronic journal services. Further collaboration is inhibited by a reluctance on the part of academics, researchers and even library committees to share formal responsibility for collecting in specific discipline areas. Research funding agencies can compound the problem when funding research projects and establishing cooperative research and other centres.
The total expenditure on Australian university libraries in 1996 was $360 million compared with $247 million in 1989. When the cost increases of books and staff are taken into account, the picture looks less healthy. In 1996, there were 133 students per library staff member compared with 119 students per staff member in 1989. The libraries were able to purchase 1.8 new books per student in 1989 but only 1.31 new books per student in 1996. Major cuts to university expenditure in 1997 have already resulted in the loss of more than 200 library staff and the reduction of more than $1.3 million in expenditure on information resources.
The Australian Bibliographic Network (ABN) is of great significance when locating locally held information resources, both monographic and serial, but mainly non electronic. It is supported and managed by the National Library of Australia, and funded mostly by its users, the largest of which are the universities.
Subject gateways, i.e. web-based services in specific disciplines, are becoming increasingly important for locating electronic and non-electronic information resources, held locally and internationally. The gateway services identify, evaluate, describe and provide direct links to the best information sources available in the given discipline area. The sources may range from full text on the web, through directories of electronic journals, etc to catalogues of excellent print collections (libraries). The establishment and maintenance of gateways is highly labour intensive, requiring professional rather than clerical expertise for the evaluation of potential sites to be linked, and consequently demands ongoing commitment of significant levels of funding.
Intelligent Selection and Efficient Document Delivery.
High-demand journals in all disciplines should be made available locally, online, in full text. This would require commitment to a national facility to handle purchasing, storage, updating, maintenance and delivery of the data. Usage costs would be recovered from the users, i.e. some or all of the universities, according to their volume of usage.
Lower-use journals can be accessed through commercial or non-commercial electronic document suppliers, locally or internationally. Document supply is being continually enhanced through innovations such as the Australian initiated REDD (Regional Electronic Document Delivery) and JEDDS (Joint Electronic Document Delivery Software) projects. International commercial services such as the British Library Lending Division (BLLD), CARL UnCover, and Information Express, are continually being expanded and improved.
Locating and delivering monographs is currently the weakest link in the document delivery chain. It is, however, physically possible to deliver a monograph interstate within 24 hours; it requires a commitment to high priority on prompt delivery by both parties, and particularly the lending institution. This in turn requires adequate (real) recompense to the lending library for the service.
Active collaboration amongst universities is essential to the building of quality research collections. This would require the enhancement of current high level collections in given discipline areas, building on the current institutional commitment to collect research resources in the nominated area. This approach has been inhibited in the past by the reluctance of both academics and universities to commit to the principle.
Institutions with high level collections in a given discipline, may accept a responsibility for rapid document supply to any other institution. Examples are Asian studies from Canberra, or biomedicine from Melbourne.
A national information infrastructure, which underpins nationwide research activities, should be centrally supported. The national funding of highways is analogous to the support of a research information infrastructure: in the transport environment, all must have access to a high quality interconnected network of roads, bridges, ports, etc . Likewise, the most efficient use of the new technologies is dependent on adequate "roads" (i.e. the broadband networks) and related infrastructure which must both be sufficient to support the transmission, storage and use of large volumes of text and images between Australian institutions, and overseas.
The widening gap which exists between the number of academic works published and the number purchased needs to be quantified and evaluated. A national mechanism is needed to support the identification, purchase, and distribution of these works. It is expected that a large proportion of such material will be monographic.
A formal designation process is highly desirable: a system which enables recognition of a library which is a national resource in a major discipline area. The library (or its parent institution) would then receive a special allocation to support the library's adoption of multilateral responsibility for information collection and distribution within that discipline.
New central funding is essential to ensure the establishment and maintenance of the collaborative infrastructure which supports competition in research and teaching:
A quality national information infrastructure for research is the prize.
NSCF Working Group
21 August, 1997For further information, contact:
The National Scholarly Communications Forum (NSCF) is a body sponsored by the four Australian learned Academies, with a membership from a wide range of bodies representing academics, independent researchers, writers, librarians, publishers, together with specialists in copyright and in the new digital technologies. The aim of the Forum is to disseminate information changes to the context and structures of scholarly communication in Australia and to make recommendations on what a broad spectrum of participants see as the best developmental policies.
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