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July 6, 2000

Group urges measures to control skyrocketing cost of scholarly publishing

Group urges measures to control skyrocketing cost of scholarly publishing

Agreeing that "the current system of scholarly publishing has become too costly for the academic community to sustain," a group of university administrators, librarians, publishers and association leaders has issued a set of principles intended to guide the transformation of scholarly publishing.

Among the document's 36 signatories were Pitt Provost James V. Maher and Rush G. Miller, director of Pitt's University Library System.

The agreement, coordinated by the Association of American Universities (AAU) and the Association of Research Libraries (ARL), calls on universities, publishers and faculty members to:

* Contain and even reduce costs while giving scholars access to needed information — by using technology to streamline publishing functions, for example, and by purchasing electronic resources through library consortia.

* Use electronic publishing to provide wide access to scholarship, encourage interdisciplinary research and enhance searchability.

* Securely archive scholarly publications.

* Continue to include processes for evaluating the quality of scholarly work, and provide readers with information about evaluation the work has undergone.

* Manage copyright, in the digital age, in a way that assures faculty access to, and use of, their own published works.

* Negotiate publishing agreements that promote ready access to faculty members' work. Faculty are urged to choose journals that make scholarly work available at reasonable cost.

* Speed up the time it takes submitted articles to be published.

* Emphasize quality over quantity of publications in evaluating a faculty member's work.

* Assure privacy to scholars and students in using digital as well as print materials.

The document, "Principles for Emerging Systems of Scholarly Publishing," notes that increasing volume and costs of scholarly publications — particularly in science, technology and medicine — are making it impossible for libraries to meet the research needs of faculty and students.

Moreover, the pressure on library budgets from high-priced science, technology and medical publications has made it difficult for academic publishers in the humanities and social sciences to publish monographs or to find the money to invest in migrating to digital publishing systems, according to the AAU/ARL document.

"Numerous studies, conferences and roundtable discussions over the past decade have analyzed the underlying causes and recommended solutions to the scholarly publishing crisis," the document states. "Many new publishing models have emerged. A lack of consensus and concerted action by the academic community, however, continues to allow the escalation of prices and volume."

The AAU has urged creation of campus forums to discuss the scholarly publishing crisis. Provost Maher said he is considering holding such a forum at Pitt.

Maher emphasized that the AAU/ARL principles represent a starting point. "This is the opening of a discussion that will go on among the faculties of all the major universities during the next couple of years as they discuss ways to make their published work accessible to their colleagues, accessible to themselves when they want to use it, and yet to be published in prestigious journals," he said.

Tenure and promotion committees at Pitt focus on the substance of published research rather than on the sheer number of publications, according to Maher. "But there is a general perception that, at least at some universities, there's a tendency to count papers," he said.

The AAU/ARL agreement, published this summer, grew out of a by-invitation conference in Tempe, Ariz. last spring.

— Bruce Steele

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