Librarians Protest Skyrocketing Periodical Prices
Laurel Shaper Walters, writer of The Christian Science Monitor, The Christian Science Monitor
FACED with the escalating costs of scientific journals and periodicals, some university librarians are fighting back.
Late last year, Donald Koepp, librarian at Princeton University in Princeton, N.J., canceled 50 journals from one publisher. Mr. Koepp, who wrote to the publisher to explain the library's cancellations, called the subscription increases "shocking."
At the University of Tennessee in Knoxville, the price of one serial subscription increased from $17,000 to $19,000 in one year. Budget cuts forced the university to cancel $230,000 worth of subscriptions last summer.
In the past 15 years, the price of serial publications has increased 400 percent, according to the Association of Research Libraries (ARL) in Washington, D.C. Although universities have increased expenditures on journals by 240 percent during the same period, they haven't kept up with rising costs.
"Information is becoming a valuable commodity, and commercial publishing has become big business" says Richard De Gennaro, the librarian at Harvard College in Cambridge, Mass.
A few profit-oriented multinational firms have taken over scientific publishing, Mr. De Gennaro says. These journals are increasing in price most rapidly. One of the steepest recent increases was for a subscription to the "International Journal of Solids and Structures." The 1991 subscription price was $584. In 1992, the price jumped 169 percent to $1,572.
Publishers say the increases are needed to cover rising production costs resulting from the global recession and an upturn in the number of articles being published per issue.
"There's simply no relationship to reality," responds Duane Webster, executive director of ARL. "There seem to be patterns of exorbitant price increases on the part of certain off-shore, commercial, scientific publishers who have in the past found that they can increase their prices without resistance in the market."
Resistance is beginning to build, however. A group of librarians have banded together recently to take a stand against the skyrocketing costs of serials. …