In Which Seemingly Unrelated Things Come Together

Brian Mathews, the Ubiquitous Librarian at the Chronicle, recently blogged about his friend Tara and her role in “forensic bibliographic reconstruction” in interlibrary loan.  A number of commenters were fascinated by this peek behind the ILL curtain.  From the Davidson library, I offer another:  That article you got on “interlibrary loan” may not have come from another library at all.  Joe Gutekanst and Jason Radcliffe are finding 100-150 items a week on the open web.  It’s happened to me; I always search before submitting an ILL request because it’s embarrassing to me as a librarian when Joe and Jason find something freely available that I didn’t, but they’ve skunked me more than once.  Mostly I’m just pleased to get the article quickly.

These articles find their way onto the web in various ways.  Some are in institutional or disciplinary repositories.  Studies have shown that articles in repositories get read and cited more than articles that appear only in the original publishing journal.  Davidson’s institutional repository (IR) is available to all faculty and staff whose author agreements give them permission to post a version.  Some articles were published in open access journals, which offer their content free on the web.  We’re not sure how other articles get there; it’s possible they were scanned and posted without permission.

Joe and Jason, with the help of ILLiad, keep a list of these articles.  We haven’t done much yet with this data trove, but it begs to be analyzed, and that project is on our list.  But the increasing availability of articles for free is related to another big project the library is undertaking right now:  the database and journal subscriptions review.  It used to be that the only way a library could guarantee journal content to its users was to maintain a subscription, but that’s not true any longer.  Much content is in full-text databases.  We can get articles from repositories and open-access journals.  We can also purchase single articles from the publisher or a publisher’s representative.  Any of these may well be more cost-effective than a subscription and almost as fast.  It requires a shift in thinking, and it challenges the notion of subscriptions as quality markers (as in, any respectable program in [insert discipline name here] would certainly have a subscription to [insert journal name here]).  But journal inflation has outpaced budget increases for decades now, and technology has enabled new options; we’d be foolish not to consider them.

This new world of journal content also underscores the importance of the choices scholars make when submitting articles for publication and signing author agreements.  You can expand the readership for  your scholarship by choosing an open access journal; librarians and researchers around the world will thank you for doing so.  You can also negotiate the terms of your author agreements (hint: retain your copyright if possible).  Most journals these days will allow you to place a version of your article in an institutional or disciplinary repository.  The agreement may require that you post the final submitted Word version, not the polished PDF of the published article, but the content is all there, and other scholars will thank you for sharing.  Curious about the IR?  Talk to Craig Milberg. Want to know more about open access?  Sara Swanson would welcome your questions.