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E-Yikes! The challenges of publishing in e-journals

There’s much to be said for e-journals. They save trees. Vast collections can be saved on a hard or flash drive, or on our newest shelf, the Cloud. Any of them can be read on an iPad or Kindle or a computer screen. Shipping costs are nil. Searching is incredibly easy. Entire libraries are accessible on line. An individual article can be purchased without a year’s subscription.

But e-journals have a couple of serious downsides: cost of publication and access, and journal issue preservation.

In the move to open online access to publicly funded research, researchers with federal grants are asked to report results in journals where public access is free after a period of time—usually a year.

During the restricted months, access costs both the author and the reader, with hefty publishing and download fees. TAA’s publication grant program seeks at least partly to help authors recover those expenses.

A second problem is emerging: preservation of e-journals. In the February 23, 2012 issue of Library Journal, the communication organ of the American Library Association, a study on e-journal preservation released by Cornell University and Columbia University is reviewed by News Editor Michael Kelley. The report indicates that “only about 15 percent of e-journals are being preserved,” with responsibility for preservation being unclear.

TAA member Kate Wittenberg, managing director of the digital preservation archive Portico (along with JSTOR, a part of ITHAKA), praised the report, noting that “We need to work together with publishers and libraries to preserve more content faster, and the report has jump-started this conversation.”

Unlike print journals, with multiple copies that are stored in those research libraries that subscribe to them, ejournals lack such physical preservation and reside only in electronic form. Should such an ejournal cease publishing, it is entirely possible that its back contents are no longer available. Further, a quarter of such journals are from “distributors or aggregators,” with the publishers retaining most rights and distributors not able to authorize third parties to archive.

A researcher may be attracted to ejournals for his or her publications: turn-around time between submission, revisions, acceptance and publication is quick, as printing, binding and mailing are eliminated. An untenured assistant professor needs quickly to establish a reputation so as to secure a decent citation record before that tenure review. A tenured professor seeking promotion likewise may find rapid publication in ejournals attractive.

But disaster looms if the ejournal ceases publication, because then review committees may be unable to access your publications, information about their frequency of citation, the impact factor of the journal, and other important measures of your work’s importance.

The 15 percent that are adequately preserved are by major publishers: ejournals with an ISSN or eISSN were being preserved by either Portico or LOCKSS, an alliance based at Stanford University. But it is the great majority of ejournals whose status is murky.

So as you debate where to send that most recent result of your academic labors, remember TAA’s grant in aid program. Find out whether your prospective publishers are participating in adequate preservation, and be aware of the potential problems of access when you need it most.

Richard Hull

E-journal report by Cornell University and Columbia University

“Potential Crisis May Be Brewing in Preservation of E-Journals”, Library Journal