The Abbey Newsletter

Volume 22, Number 4

Chaos in Scholarly Publishing Makes Waves in Preservation

A number of trends and developments are converging to affect the way books and journals are published, how information is supplied to libraries and classrooms, what materials libraries will acquire, and, ultimately, the mix of materials that will need preserving. It is not as simple as books vs. computers, because some of the new players are not digital at all.

On-demand printing. Printing on demand, one book at a time, in minutes rather than in days or weeks, became feasible and commercially attractive this year. The headline for a June 4 New York Times story on the Book Expo America show in Chicago, called it "A High-Tech Rescue for Out-of-Print Books." State-of-the-art printing IBM printing equipment and software is used by Lightning Print, a division of a book wholesaler, which can print a 300-page book in 30 seconds. It would be expected to sell for $15 to $20. Printing companies that buy the equipment and software would build up a digital library, investing $100 to $150 per book, and sending the printed books out to booksellers who order them. The printing itself would cost the company only about $5. So far the books have been issued only in paper covers, but hard covers will be available in the near future.

Other companies that have gotten into this business are 1) Baker and Taylor's division, Replica Books; 2) Xerox's Book In Time service; and 3) toExcel, a New York City based company that plans to focus on specialized and foreign-language books. Publishers are being invited by instant printing companies to submit their titles for inclusion in digital libraries. Individuals will place their orders through bookstores or online sellers like, who will pass the orders on to the instant printers. This new printing and distributing technology will make o.p. books less of a headache for library preservation programs when replacement of a title is the preferred option.

Libraries go into the publishing business. Curators of rare books have begun publishing CD-ROMs of choice items from their collections, and selling them for a price (example: $500 for a two-disk set of George Catlin's Manners, Customs and Condition of the North American Indians, from the University of Cincinnati) or setting up a web site and selling license for access to the material it contains (e.g., $575 to $2000 a year for a license to access Cornell and Primary Source Media's web-based database, Witchcraft in Europe and America). Some of these projects are grant-supported.

Not all digital versions of rare books are as expensive as the Catlin two-disk set, and not all projects are initiated by the library. The company Octavo (whose Robert Hooke CD-ROM was described on p. 132 of the last 1997 issue) has now digitized 12 rare books from its own collection and from the libraries it works with, without cutting the spines off; and they are priced between $25 and $75. They include Shakespeare's Poems, Bodoni's Manuale Tipografico, Newton's Opticks, the Kelmscott Chaucer, and Vesalius's De Humani Corporis Fabrica. Latin texts are accompanied by an English translation.

The Director of the Special Collections Digital Center at the University of Virginia says that most large rare-books libraries now have web sites that promote the resources in their collections. He also says the only possible disadvantage of this activity is that donors might start to ask why they should support preservation of rare books when you can see them online. (This information is from the May 22, 1998, Chronicle of Higher Education, p. A28.)

The Daily Hampshire Gazette (Northampton, MA) ran an illustrated front-page story in November about a project to digitize all existing Yiddish literature so that copies can be printed on demand for people around the world who order them on the Internet. The project, which should take two years and two million dollars, will be carried out by the National Yiddish Book Center in Amherst. Aaron Lansky, who founded the Center in 1980, has been rescuing old volumes and now has 1.5 million of them at the Center. Digital masters will be made of 800 to 1,000 books a week--only duplicate volumes, because they have to cut off the spines. In effect, this is an attempt to save an endangered language, because there are so few readers of secular Yiddish literature. Only about 20 titles of Yiddish books are in print and no new ones are being created.

Publishing on the World Wide Web. Some academics have been presenting their ideas on their own web sites before submitting them formally for publication--and sometimes finding that the journal publisher will not accept them because they have been "previously published."

Nevertheless, informal drafts, called electronic preprints (e-prints), are increasingly being posted on web sites to make them available to colleagues here and abroad. These web sites, called preprint servers, are popular and seem destined to prevail. After all, as the editor of Nature Medicine says, papers are published which were previously given at conferences. (More information on this development can be found in the July 17, 1998, Chronicle of Higher Education, p. A27-A29.)

Despite this progress, interdisciplinary researchers are sometimes confused because scientists in one discipline can do things that scientists in another discipline can't.

Leadership from CLIR. Fortunately, the Council on Library and Information Resources is tracking developments and getting ready for whatever develops. In the 1997 Annual Report, CLIR president Deanna Marcum identifies the issues of greatest concern to decision makers: economics of information, responsible management of intellectual property, and assuring leadership of information organizations in the next generation. CLIR believes that "increasingly, information resources are acquired or leased by many university departments and divisions, not by the library." They plan to develop a tool that universities of different sizes and budgeting systems can use to analyze their own investments in information, and plan better for the future.

They do not see digital preservation as a realistic goal or concept. "Confusion abounds about what constitutes preservation in the digital environment. Despite pressure from all quarters to specify the requirements for digital preservation, we believe that digital surrogates can be justified only as a way of extending access." But they are staying on top of the issue, having commissioned a paper on emulation techniques and a study of risk-assessment in migration strategies.

Among other new projects, they have started publishing two new publications, CLIR Issues (about emerging issues, to help decision-makers) and Preservation and Access International Newsletter (about new as well as conventional preservation developments worldwide). For more information, contact CLIR, 1755 Massachusetts Ave., NW, Suite 500, Washington, DC 20036-2124 (202/939-4750, fax 939-4765, e-mail <>).

Serials prices increase. One reason digital information has grown so popular recently is the steep price increases for textbooks and scientific and technical periodicals (between 43% and 66% from 1995 to 1998, for the samples published in ARL, Feb. 1998). These price increases do not appear to be justified, because the publishers with the steepest price increases are making the biggest profits. Libraries are forced to cancel serial subscriptions just to make ends meet. Unfortunately, the prices of these same journals in electronic format have also escalated.

For a while, there was a movement to get more academic writings (including journal articles) published by university presses, but this now seems economically impossible, because the market for their specialized publications is so small. Because faculty and new Ph.D.s find it hard to get published by university presses, they wonder how they can qualify for tenure or find jobs. (There was a story in the New York Times for Nov. 18, 1996, on this topic, on p. A1 and B11: James Shapiro, "Saving 'Tenure Books' from a Painful Demise.") Now the universities in the AAU are discussing how to separate the process of getting tenure from the publishing process, perhaps by accepting electronic publications and papers given at conferences.

Libraries offer competition to scientific publishers. SPARC, the Scholarly Publishing & Academic Resources Coalition, was organized this year by the Association of Research Libraries for the purpose of reducing the cost of scientific journals by fostering competition. By the end of August, membership had grown to 98, most of them libraries, but a few affiliates like the Association of College and Research Libraries that are library organizations.

In June the American Chemical Society, which publishes 26 journals, joined as a partner. It will collaborate in creating at least one new ACS scientific journal each year for the next three years. The first one, tentatively titled Organic Chemistry Letters, was announced last July 10 in the Chronicle of Higher Education. It will be available both online and in print. A print subscription will cost $2,300 a year, compared with the $8,000 that Elsevier Science charges for Tetrahedron Letters, its principal competitor. (But Elsevier too wants to have a partnership with the libraries!)

The founder of a scholarly biological journal owned by a commercial publisher (Wolters-Kluwer), quit his job in protest, along with his entire editorial staff, when three successive publishers kept pushing the price of the journal higher. Founder Michael Rosenzweig said, "We want to disseminate knowledge; they want to maximize profits." He chose SPARC as the publisher for his new journal, Evolutionary Ecology Research. The price will be $290 for 1999, a bit more than a third of the current subscription price charged by Wolters-Kluwer.

Other partnerships with scientific, technical and medical publishers are being negotiated. SPARC is able to provide a good subscription base and marketing support to its partners, so cooperation should bring mutual benefits.

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