Wednesday, February 14, 2007

Compositio Mathematica - a case in point

By their nature, journals take a lot of time and organisational energy for a library to provide. Back in the day (and well, still today) we had printed volumes to maintain - making sure we had sufficient shelf space, binding volumes to help keep continuous runs, keeping vertical files / spreadsheets / serials modules on a library management system up to date, contacting publishers or suppliers to claim for issues that are late or lost in the post or never arrive... a lot goes on behind the scenes to make sure that our subscription to a journal meant access to a complete resource for library users.

Today, in our library we have over 12000 journal titles to maintain online. It's a bit like doing your grocery shopping - lots of things you can get from the supermarket, but then you need to go to specialty stores for particular items. With ejournals, some of these are bundled into packages sold by publishers such as Blackwells, Taylor & Francis and Springer (the 'supermarkets'). Others are individual titles produced by Learned Societies and organisations, sometimes hosted on their own website, sometimes hosted externally on sites like Highwire Press. Sometimes publishers will make their journal backfiles freely available, sometimes they'll sell archives with a significant one-off payment, followed by smaller yearly access fees.

Clearly we're moving towards the provision of more and more journals online. Particularly in the life sciences, researchers prefer to download rather than photocopy. In order to maintain our e-journal access, the library periodicals department has widened to include the position of e-journals librarian. A significant proportion of this job goes into maintaining our subscriptions, including liaising with publishers and managing links. Journal titles that swap publishers and fall in and out of bundles also take up time. Take Compositio Mathematica as an example. We used to take this title as part of our packaged Springer collection. Then the journal changed, with the London Mathematical Society now making it available via Cambridge University Press. This required a separate individual subscription to the journal (rather than it being included in a package of journals). Once payment was confirmed we then had to activate access, which I'm happy to say has just happened today.

So to cut a long story short - access to printed journals or e-journals does take quite a bit of maintenance. E-journals allow access from your desktop, with improved delivery times and more consistent backruns. There are hiccups with our subscriptions, some of which we're aware of, some of which we realise when pointed out by students or staff. If you do come across a journal that's not allowing access, or asking you to pay per article, please do let your subject librarian know immediately so we can look into it, or email the Ask-A-Librarian service available from the library website.

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