January 11, 2008

Popular journal remains available in online archive

by Christi Mathis

CARBONDALE, Ill. — It's time for libraries and scholars the world over to celebrate, according to David H. Carlson, dean of library affairs at Southern Illinois University Carbondale.

The cause is the recent announcement that the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) will continue to offer access to its acclaimed journal "Science" through the popular nonprofit online archive JSTOR. That's good news for AAAS, JSTOR, the research community and libraries nationally and internationally, Carlson said. Libraries and consortiums worldwide joined Carlson in seeking the continued association after the July 2007 announcement of a planned year-end separation.

"This is as a direct result of the publicity and advocacy by the many libraries, alliances, consortiums and concerned people involved," Carlson said. "After making a public announcement that they were withdrawing from JSTOR, AAAS initiated re-negotiations. I'm thrilled and pleased the efforts of the library community, which I was able to lead, were successful. It's just terrific, very heartening. AAAS deserves a great deal of credit for reconsidering and revising a public announcement. They listened to one of their key constituencies – libraries – and to the larger research, science community. I give them great credit for the willingness to reconsider and revise a decision. It takes real leadership and courage to do that. Alan Leshner deserves recognition for his leadership on this issue."

Students, faculty and staff around the world peruse "Science" and other magazine back issues through JSTOR, a digital archive that hosts numerous research publications. JSTOR and AAAS are non-profits created to promote knowledge and provide access to research, Carlson said. Thus, plans to pull "Science" were of real concern to the library community as well as to researchers and scholars. Although it was likely libraries and individuals could still access the back issues, it would have required going through the original publisher, certainly at a higher cost than through the larger, comprehensive JSTOR database, officials said. Many libraries have eliminated print subscriptions due to space issues, meaning there were few options.

Carlson responded to last year's announcement with a letter to AAAS relating his concerns and he then drafted a resolution opposing the decision to discontinue "Science's" participation in JSTOR. The Greater Western Library Alliance and the Consortium of Academic and Research Libraries in Illinois adopted the resolution. SIUC belongs to both library consortiums. The petition even garnered the attention of the Chronicle of Higher Education, leading to a front page story featuring Carlson. Soon the International Coalition of Library Consortia adopted a slightly modified version of the resolution during its annual meeting in Stockholm.

At that point, a significant and wonderful change occurred in negotiations, Carlson said. Leshner, chief executive of the AAAS, became directly involved in the talks and that was a key factor in the turnaround, Carlson said.

AAAS is a membership-based, not-for-profit organization whose members are composed primarily of the higher education community. Carlson said "Science" is a premier source in the world for general information at a non-specialist level and often serves as a starting point for research. Any article published between the magazine's inception in the 1880's and five years ago has been accessible on JSTOR. The publisher retains five current years for profitability.

Similar to the way popular Internet search engines operate, JSTOR allows users to log in and then type in a research topic to get access to related texts dating back to the beginning of the print material's life. Carlson said it's a great multi-faceted resource and keeping "Science" in its fold was important because JSTOR searches frequently lead there. Created by the Andrew W. Melon Foundation in 1997, JSTOR's archives host more than 450 publishers and 900 academic journals. Subscriber institutions number in the thousands.

On the plus side, Carlson said that while details aren't available as yet, JSTOR and AAAS announced that not only will the host arrangement continue, but users will find an improvement. JSTOR will be including links from citations and other areas of its database to the "Science" online archive.

"It's not known yet how this integration will work but JSTOR has a very good record of producing high quality, so I'm sure it will be a success," Carlson said.

Carlson said while he and the rest of the library community around the globe are "very encouraged' by this victory, they remain cautious and watchful.

"I think it's one situation at a time," Carlson said. "In the last five or six years, we've seen many examples of organizations showing more concern about finances and being more restrictive, rather than focusing on the sharing of knowledge, access to research and the mission of non-profit educational groups. This is an example of a professional organization being true to its mission. It's sobering though as we think about how to persuade other organizations to follow suit. I hope it's the start of a trend. We're very pleased with what's happened with AAAS and JSTOR."