For small and medium-sized enterprises that rely on the academic and professional journals, access to the literature is good, although it could be much easier. These are the main results of a new report by Mark Ware commissioned by the Publishing Research Consortium (PRC).
The report, “Access by UK small and medium-sized enterprises to professional and academic information,” released earlier this month, details the results of a survey based on 1,131 responses.
Over 70% of these respondents described that they had reasonably good access to the literature, with 60% further reporting that access was easier than it was 5 years ago.
Not everything is rosy, however. Many respondents voiced frustration over access, stating that local academic libraries and pay-per-view were not viable solutions to their information needs. While many research libraries provide what is known as “walk-in access,” this was not perceived as a convenient solution.
“SMEs [small and medium-sized enterprises] want online access to content in the same way as do academic users of libraries,” writes Ware.
Some respondents felt the prices charged by many publishers for individual articles was excessive, considering that users can’t preview the full-text before purchase and that abstracts were often “uninformative or misleading,” requiring potential readers to “purchase blind.”
Ware is a careful, deliberate, and cautious writer. He is someone who reads and understands the literature and is willing to point out its deficiencies. For example, he describes the lack of credible work linking industry R&D and access to the scientific literature and cites the report by John Houghton on the economic benefits of open access as both underestimating the access enjoyed by industry and overestimating the efficiency gains of a full open access publishing model. (Earlier this summer, I critiqued the Houghton report on his estimates of the savings in OA journal publishing.)
The report itself is not without its own deficiencies. It’s based upon a convenience sample of businesses known to be users of the academic literature and sports a response of only 4%. It asks recall questions, the answers to which may not be possible to recollect with much accuracy, such as: “Approximately how many articles have you had difficulty accessing in the last 12 months?” and then makes back-of-the-envelop calculations based on the responses.
Still, the report sheds more light than heat, acknowledging and revealing sources of access problems for those in SMEs who do rely on the scientific and professional literature and proposes several solutions to improve their lot, all of which may be used in concert.