Select Committee on Science and Technology Tenth Report


Academic libraries are struggling to purchase subscriptions to all the journal titles needed by their users. This is due both to the high and increasing journal prices imposed by commercial publishers and the inadequacy of library budgets to meet the demands placed upon them by a system supporting an ever increasing volume of research. Whilst there are a number of measures that can be taken by publishers, libraries and academics to improve the provision of scientific publications, a Government strategy is urgently needed.

This Report recommends that all UK higher education institutions establish institutional repositories on which their published output can be stored and from which it can be read, free of charge, online. It also recommends that Research Councils and other Government funders mandate their funded researchers to deposit a copy of all of their articles in this way. The Government will need to appoint a central body to oversee the implementation of the repositories; to help with networking; and to ensure compliance with the technical standards needed to provide maximum functionality. Set-up and running costs are relatively low, making institutional repositories a cost-effective way of improving access to scientific publications.

Institutional repositories will help to improve access to journals but a more radical solution may be required in the long term. Early indications suggest that the author-pays publishing model could be viable. We remain unconvinced by many of the arguments mounted against it. Nonetheless, this Report concludes that further experimentation is necessary, particularly to establish the impact that a change of publishing models would have on learned societies and in respect of the "free rider" problem. In order to encourage such experimentation the Report recommends that the Research Councils each establish a fund to which their funded researchers can apply should they wish to pay to publish. The UK Government has failed to respond to issues surrounding scientific publications in a coherent manner and we are not convinced that it would be ready to deal with any changes to the publishing process. The Report recommends that Government formulate a strategy for future action as a matter of urgency.

The preservation of digital material is an expensive process that poses a significant technical challenge. This Report recommends that the British Library receives sufficient funding to enable it to carry out this work. It also recommends that work on new regulations for the legal deposit of non-print publications begins immediately. Failure to take these steps would result in a substantial breach in the intellectual record of the UK.

The market for scientific publications is international. The UK cannot act alone. For this reason we recommended that the UK Government act as a proponent for change on the international stage and lead by example. This will ultimately benefit researchers across the globe.

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Prepared 20 July 2004