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Número: 71
Año: 2002
Autor: Johann Van Reenen, Editor
Título: Digital Libraries and Virtual Workplaces. Important Initiatives for Latin America in the Information Age

Libraries, especially those in research and academic settings, are reevaluating their roles in view of the immense changes wrought by technology and the Internet. There is general agreement on the “common good” aspect of library missions. One of the best examples of this reevaluation at high levels is the so-called Keystone Principles developed by the Association of Research Libraries, the ARL Office of Leadership and Management Services, and the Online Computer Library Center (OCLC) in 1999. This set of principles and action items are intended to guide academic libraries’ efforts and establish a foundation for joint actions to create the library of the future based on traditional academic library values. The complete document is available at http://www.arl.org/training/keystone.html to augment the brief overview below:

1. Access to Information as a Public Good

Scholarly and government information is a “public good” and must be available free of marketing bias, commercial motives, and cost to the individual user.

This type of information is created at the expense of public and/or academic institutions and the public should have unhindered and unbiased access. This is not always the case when commercial interests mediate between the user and public information.

2. Need for Bias-free Systems and for Libraries to Create These New Systems

Libraries are responsible for creating innovative information systems for the dissemination and preservation of information and new knowledge regardless of format.

Academic and research institutions are forced to look for ways to create and disseminate knowledge in support of the learning and research programs that are more affordable and sustainable over the long term. It is important that the values that endured in academic circles over the years be incorporated in electronic solutions and that systems are developed that restore affordability, provide access for, and embody the values of this community.

3. Affirm the Idea of the Library as a Nexus for Learning and the Sharing of Knowledge

The academic library is the intellectual commons for the community where people and ideas interact in both the real and virtual environments to expand learning and facilitate the creation of new knowledge. Institutions of higher education are actively seeking ways to assess and improve the quality of learning and research programs. Libraries and their electronic presence should form the nexus for scholarly communities, communication, and lifelong learning.

These three key principles form a good starting point for a discussion of scholarly publishing and the action items following each principle is a blueprint for cooperation. Why do we need cooperative action? Because most librarians and scholars believe there is a crisis in scholarly publishing.

After the end of WW2 the production of scholarly information began to increase exponentially. This resulted in an excess of publishable papers, especially in Science, Technology and Medicine (STM), which in turn allowed commercial publishers to enter this new market and thus brought the profit motive into in the system. Most research libraries in the United States had to cut journal subscriptions between 1986-1998 by more than 6% and book acquisitions by around 26%. Latin American countries with developing economies and weaker currencies experienced even more severe cancellations.

Commercial publishing gradually took increasing control from scholarly societies and university presses. Due to excessive profit margins and growing use restrictions, the free exchange of information, which drove the system before WW2, are increasingly threatened. A straight-line projection by the ARL (2000) suggests that by 2015, the average academic research library will have had to cancel another 17% of its journals and cut back in other areas just to keep up with inflating prices. They also project that in a slower economy the reduction in subscriptions may reach 45% for the average research library. The 121 North American members of the Association of Research Libraries spend a total of US $480 million on journal subscriptions in 1999. By 2015, it is estimated that the cost to support these journal subscriptions will be as much as US $1.9 billion, while individual libraries will be paying nearly $16 million a year. This will only allow these libraries to keep their journal collections, not expand access!

Are commercial journals of less value to scholars than non-profit society journals? Possibly, as there is no evidence that more expensive commercial journals are of better quality than society journals and those from reasonably priced commercial publications. There is, however, evidence to the contrary that less expensive not-for-profit journals, on average, consistently outperform commercially published journals in cost-effectiveness, especially if measured against the revenue each generate. Stanley Wilder (Louisiana State University Library) studied this premise for a core set of chemistry journals and found that commercially produced journals account for 74% of revenue generated BUT contribute only between 22-35% of the value (Case 1998).

Electronic resources and services allow for totally new ways of working and collaboration in real time between scientists. These include speedier access, the ability to work with colleagues any time, from anywhere, in the creation and innovation process, and direct contact between scholars and their readers.

Unfortunately, this comes with a price tag at a time that libraries are already strapped for funding to support traditional services and collections. Other challenges include the preservation of electronic resources and restrictive licensing agreements that will limit the ability of libraries to share purchased information freely. It is therefor imperative that libraries, universities and scholarly associations work together to capitalize on the potential of new ways of working, doing research, and publishing offered by the electronic environment and especially the Internet. There is great potential for producing less-expensive competitors to commercial publications, as we will see below.

MAIN POINT: Digital Library (DL) projects depend on access to scholarly content in electronic form. If such content is too expensive and subject to restrictive licensing, the usefulness of digital libraries will be diminished. It is therefore an important aspect of DL development to explore and/or support initiatives that will return Scholarly Communication Systems to the rightful owners; the research community and the public they serve.