Boston College Libraries Faculty Newsletter



“Journals in the Time of Google”: A Review of an Article

In mid-April each year Library Journal publishes an article providing a general overview and financial analysis of the state of scholarly journal publishing. At a time of severe budgetary constraints in academic libraries such an account is always worthy of note, even if the financial details are invariably somewhat disheartening. This year the article, “Journals in the Time of Google” (15 April), reveals, just as in previous years, that the average annual increase per journal title in most subject areas is greater, sometimes much greater, than the rate of inflation. In short, the article corroborates what the majority of librarians are already well aware of, namely that the ever-mounting annual increases in the cost of journals are playing havoc with acquisition budgets and are making it increasingly difficult for libraries to build balanced collections that meet the research and pedagogical needs of faculty and students.


Not surprisingly, journals in scientific and technological disciplines have the highest costs, with Chemistry being in the forefront with $3,254 as the average cost per title. Physics, Engineering, Astronomy, and Technology are next in terms of cost. However, while scientific and technological journals tend to cost the most in absolute terms, the actual rate of price increase over the past five years is often higher for journals in other subject areas. For example, journals in Political Science, Education, and History have, on average, been subject to higher price increases in recent years than journals in most other areas. It is perhaps ironic, at least to librarians, that the average cost of Library & Information Science journals has increased 53% since 2002, a rate of change higher than for most scientific and technological journals. The average cost of US journals is far from being the highest. Based on the international group of journals comprising the three Institute for Scientific Information (ISI) databases—Arts and Humanities Citation Index, Social Sciences Citation Index, and Science Citation Index – the average price of journals emanating from Russia, the Netherlands, and Ireland is the highest at over $2,500 per title. US journals, admittedly far greater in number, have an average cost of $713.


“Journals in the Time of Google”, is particularly interesting not only for its statistical breakdown of journal prices but also for its commentary on swiftly evolving trends in the dissemination of scholarship in both journal and monograph format. The authors, Lee C. Van Orsdel and Kathleen Born, briefly discuss the swiftly growing Open Access (OA) movement and the reactions of scholars and publishers. The Directory of Open Access Journals (DOAJ), numbering over 2,200 peer reviewed OA journals has grown by more than 600 over the past year. The journal PLoS Biology, only in its second year of publication, is already the world’s highest ranked general biology journal based on its impact factor of 13.9. The authors also point out that “five OA journals from BioMed Central ranked in the top five journals in their specialties.” Moreover, the authors report that OA articles garner between 25% and 250% more citations than non-OA articles in the same journal. Another topic briefly considered in “Journals in the Time of Google” is the bundling by commercial publishers of scholarly journals, a practice strongly disliked by librarians who “lament the lack of choice, loss of fluidity in materials expenditures, and nondisclosure agreements that prevent libraries and consortia from comparing purchase prices.” Other topics briefly considered in the article include: the proposed policy to mandate that peer reviewed journal articles that result from National Institutes of Health (NIH) funded research be archived in the openly accessible database PubMed Central; the growing need to archive digital content through such initiatives as Portico and LOCKSS; the attitudes of both publishers and authors to the posting of pre- and postprints of journal articles on the author’s personal web page or in an institutional repository. To read the full-text of the article click “Journals in the Time of Google”.


Brendan Rapple

Collection Development Librarian

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