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    Location: Aberystwyth, Wales, United Kingdom

    I am the owner and managing director of Information Automation Limited (IAL), a company that specialises in research, consultancy and training for the information profession. We are particularly interested in all forms of electronic information resources (e-journals, e-books, etc) and I teach a course in electronic publishing at the Department of Information Studies in Aberystwyth. Drilling down still further(!), my interests centre on the quality and evaluation of electronic information, and in the thinking that underpins activities in library and information science.


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    Saturday, January 28, 2006

    Russian dolls: containers in containers

    Carol Tenopir has written in The Value of the Container on Michael Gorman, journal articles, and journals. Michael Gorman - someone with whom I don't often agree - has suggested that we need articles but not journals, echoing the thoughts of OCLC's NetLibrary Vice-President, Rich Rosy, that in 10 years time there will be no such things as e-books (or, by extension e-journals) only e-resources. Carol Tenopir can see a case for journals as a container that bundles like with like, but is also accepting of Gorman's view. The recently blogged but long-understood long tail rule states that 80% of use comes from 20% (or 30%) of the journals, which suggests that if containers did not exist between 70% and 80% of articles would almost never be read. Anderson suggests that electronic distribution changes the logic, making fringe material locatable at least by the few that search hard enough. Tenopir says:
    Increased access means increased use and increased use can lead to lower prices, even for niche market items. That is good news for everyone.
    But is this true? Without mentioning open access, she has used the argument put forward by Stevan Harnad in support of self archiving - but there is only increased access if an article is accessible. Which it wont be unless either it is in an open access journal or open access is facilitated via institutional archives or the institution subscribes to the e-journal anyway.
    I agree with both Anderson (about the changing economic model) and to some extent with Gorman on the imporance of the article. But I think the containers of the containers of the articles should be facilitating this. I have long argued that e-journals do not need volumes and issues and that articles should simply be added as they are available and peer-reviewed. The other side of the coin is that readers do not subscribe to this journal or that journal, but to one or more profiles. The aggregator (the outer container) alerts the user to the availability of, or delivers, the articles that fit each user profile. This would reduce the cost of aggregator subscriptions for libraries by adding a pay-per-view or a pay-per-profile element. Libraries may find the model less predictable, but they should find it fairer as the long tail of paid-for but unread articles will vanish. Tenopir concludes:
    How much are we willing to pay to provide or obtain access to that long tail and how much is it worth? We need to know how much is lost when a reader stops at snippets of a book. We have to find out if some containers matter more than others.
    I think that I have suggested an alternative approach. The container that is important is the outermost one - the aggregator. My question is how much are we prepared to pay for a profile - a model incidentally that can work for individual subscribers as well as libraries - and who will be the first to dare to try it?

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