STANDING AT THE EDGE OF THE ABYSS: Scholarly Communication in Crisis


Academic libraries throughout the country are experiencing a funding crisis due to the high annual increase in the cost of both print and electronic journals. This erosion of purchasing power has forced libraries to reduce their number of journal subscriptions.

According to the ARL Bimonthly Report 218, October 2001, “since 1986 the average annual increase in the serial unit cost for an ARL (Association of Research Libraries) library was 8.8 percent — amounting to a total serial unit cost increase of 226 percent” by the year 2000. A more practical example “suggests that an average journal title which cost $125 in 1986 will cost $1,158 in 2012.” The net result is that the Baylor University Libraries are unable to keep pace with the rapid, inflationary cost of scholarly journals. In fact, no academic library in the nation is immune to the high cost of annual journal increases.

Subsequently, libraries purchase fewer books as an increasingly larger percentage of the budget is earmarked for journal subscriptions. In ARL libraries, “monograph [book] acquisitions, for example, have fallen from a median of 32,697 titles purchased in 1986 to 27,059 titles in 2000 — a 17 percent decrease overall.” For a complete explanation see the ARL Bimonthly Report 218: This same website also provides “Average 2001 Prices for Journals in Selected Disciplines.”


Originally, scholars published their research results in order to protect (intellectually) and disseminate new ideas from which additional research could evolve — furthering the growth of knowledge. In fact, the original intent of copyright was to stimulate this growth. However, the original intent of scholarly publication is now distorted and largely controlled by commercial publishers who, since the 1960s, have found this area of publishing to be exceedingly profitable.

In truth, faculty at academic institutions and government-funded research institutes publish in professional journals controlled by for-profit publishers who use nonpaid peer reviewers, editors and board members from academic institutions. These professional journals are then sold to academic libraries worldwide for increasingly higher prices every year. Libraries cannot continue to pay high premiums for intellectual property that is often produced and funded by their institutions.


Taking back this intellectual property from commercial publishers raises complex issues that will not be easily resolved. It will take the persistence of scholars and librarians and a grass roots movement to reclaim this intellectual property that is the lifeblood of learning and scholarly pursuit in higher education. As vested faculty members and as members of numerous professional organizations, faculty are strongly encouraged to arm themselves with information about this issue and join with others at Baylor and throughout academe to find acceptable solutions. Currently scholars and librarians are actively investigating one potential long-term solution — open-access publishing.

Although variations of open access have been around since 1966, the current movement has escalated since about 2000. In the College & Research Libraries News, Peter Suber states that “Open-access literature is defined by two essential properties. First, it is free of charge to everyone. Second, the copyright holder has consented in advance to unrestricted reading, downloading, copying, sharing, storing, printing, searching, linking, and crawling.” Additionally, most open-access definitions also focus on scholarly, peer-reviewed articles.

However, open access does not equal “free.” As Rick Anderson states, also in C&RL News, “For information to be made freely and permanently available to the public, the costs of creation, publication, and distribution must be absorbed by someone other than those who wish to use it.” Open access is a complex solution for a complex issue. In order for it to evolve, even minimally, scholars have to be willing to publish in these new open-access journals; the tenure/promotion process has to acknowledge the validity of these journals; and a viable funding model needs to be developed.

The best known web-based “index” of open access journals is the Directory of Open Access Journals which can be found at Another excellent search engine that focuses on open-access and materials located in institutional repositories is OAISTER — Some other examples of open access publishing websites are: BioMed Central –; HighWire (free online full-text articles) –; PLoS (Public Library of Science) – To identify publications that allow authors to self-archive their publications, use Sherpa


Scholarly publishing issues including the soaring costs of serials and the open-access movement will be the topic of a forum sponsored by the Baylor Libraries. “Scholarly Publishing: Current Trends” will be held on March 9 at the Hughes-Dillard Alumni Center from 3:30-5 p.m. with a reception to follow at 5:15 p.m. Presenters will be Dennis Dillon, associate director for research services at the University of Texas; Dr. Bennie Ward, chair of the Baylor University Physics Department; and Bill Hair, associate dean of the Baylor University Libraries. A welcome will be offered by Dr. David Lyle Jeffrey, provost and vice president for academic affairs and Distinguished Professor of Literature and Humanities.

The libraries encourage all in the Baylor academic community to participate in what is hoped to be one of many opportunities for the entire academy to draw together in educating, evaluating and planning directions for the changes in the scholarly and research environment.

Billie Peterson-Lugo, Beth Tice and John Wilson, Baylor Libraries


Anderson, Rick. "Open Access in the Real World: Confronting Economic and Legal Reality." College & Research Libraries News 65.4 (2004): 206-8.

Suber, Peter. "Removing Barriers to Research: An Introduction to Open Access for Librarians." College & Research Libraries News 64.2 (2003): 92-94, 113. <>