Issues in Science and Technology Librarianship Summer 1998

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Validating Journal Cancellation Decisions in the Sciences: A Report Card

Andrea L. Duda
Networked Information Access Coordinator
Davidson Library
University of California, Santa Barbara

Rosemary L. Meszaros
Government Documents and Law Coordinator
Helm-Cravens Library
Western Kentucky University
Bowling Green, KY


Few libraries have remained unaffected by the serials pricing crisis of the past several years.  The University of California, Santa Barbara (UCSB) Library has conducted five serials cancellations projects since 1987 -- 1987, 1989, 1991, 1994, and 1996. Each round of cancellations cut closer to the core journals in all of the  disciplines.  This paper uses almost ten years of interlibrary loan data for statistical and comparative analyses documenting the impact of these cuts.

Scholars in the sciences depend on current information.  In an effort to fulfill the need for science journal literature in an environment of serials cancellations, several science and engineering libraries in the University of California system began an experimental pilot project dubbed the "Fax Project."  Participating libraries are:

UC Davis Physical Sciences Library and UC Santa Cruz joined the southern campuses after the project had been operating for several years.  In addition, Reeves Library at Cottage Hospital in Santa Barbara faxes with the UCSB Library.

All of the participants agreed to accept fax requests for articles in science and engineering journals from each other and to return the requested articles via fax.  In order to provide quick service, faxed articles are limited to a maximum of 30 pages per article.  Faculty, staff and currently enrolled students may request articles by fax; they are limited to no more than 10 articles per person per week. Each library tried to fill the requests as promptly as possible, aiming for a turnaround time of less than 5 working days. Each library was also responsible for adhering to the fair use provisions of the copyright law or paying appropriate fees to the Copyright Clearance Center.

At the beginning of the project, the University of California Office of the President provided funds for each participant to purchase a fax machine. Equipment replacement and maintenance have been the responsibility of the participating libraries. Recently libraries have started to make use of Ariel terminals. Ariel has the advantages of providing better quality images and, since it uses the Internet to transmit articles, there are no long distance phone charges. The project has weathered the storms of equipment failures and other quotidian problems.  Though, it is still referred to as the "Fax Project," it has assumed a raison-d'etre all its own. 


The Fax Project started slowly for UCSB, with only 147 articles requested the first year. The number has increased substantially. (Note that since this article focuses on journals, only journal articles were counted. The Fax Project also can be used to request articles from conference proceedings.)

[Image: Chart showing number of articles

There are a number of reasons for this increase. As the Fax Project has become more established, it has become common for reference desk staff to recommend a fax request when an article is unavailable at the UCSB Library. Once patrons have experience with using the Fax Project, they come to rely on it and request articles via fax. A big jump in the number of articles requested took place in 1993 when the UCSD Biomedical Library joined the program; prior to that time, biomedical articles were generally unavailable through the Fax Project. Finally, as successive cancellations have taken place, it has become necessary to rely on other libraries to provide needed materials.

The number of biomedical journals requested is noteworthy. In the first major serials cancellation project in 1987, the decision was made to target biomedical journals. The reasoning behind this decision went this way: since UCSB does not have a medical or nursing school, these titles would be in lower demand than those in other areas of the sciences. On the whole, undergraduates felt the impact of journal cancellations in the biomedical area more keenly than anticipated. They often use the MEDLINE database rather than using MAGS (Expanded Academic Index) for their research papers. UCSB holds most of the titles in MAGS, and an increasing number are becoming available as full text articles. It was not until 1993 when UCSD's Biomedical Library joined the Fax Project that UCSB was able to fulfill patrons' requests for cancelled biomedical journal articles more quickly.

Most Requested Titles

Over the life of the Fax Project, these are the titles that have been most heavily requested:

[Image: Chart showing most heavily requested

[Image: Chart showing percentage of articles from
cancelled journals]

The number of articles from cancelled titles has changed over the years. In 1990 over half the titles requested were from cancelled titles. This may not be significant since only 147 total articles were requested, but it does foreshadow the data from 1996-97. From 1991 to 1995 the number of articles from cancelled titles stayed fairly low. In 1996 it suddenly jumped to over 40% of the articles requested by fax. It appears that the cumulative effect of the cancellation projects is being reflected in the Fax Project.

The Report Card

The big question is whether or not we cancelled the right titles. We estimate that the cost of a fax -- including staff time on both sides of the transaction, photocopying, long distance charges, and copyright fees -- is approximately $15.00 per fax. Looking at the most heavily used titles, we can develop this chart: "Total cost" is based on the 1998 subscription cost multiplied by the number of years since cancellation. "Fax cost" is based on the number of faxes multiplied by $15.00. "Total - Fax" is the amount saved by cancelling the subscription and faxing the articles needed. (Note that not all of the "most heavily borrowed" titles are listed here. This list includes only those titles that UCSB once subscribed to.)

Title Total Cost Fax Cost Total - Fax
Microelectronics and Reliability $9,875 $1425 $8450
Optics Communications $30,275 $630 $29,645
ENR $483 $555 -$72
Immunology Letters $13,951 $555 $13,396
Neuropsychologia $14,080 $540 $13,540
American Journal of Public Health $960 $495 $465
Journal of the American Dental Association $990 $465 $525
Journal of Chromatography $58,793 $465 $58,328
Journal für Hirnforschung $5,282 $465 $4817
Journal of the European Ceramic Society $12,544 $450 $12,094
Journal of the American Academy of Child & Adolescent Psychiatry $1,463 $435 $1,028
Stroke $1,870 $435 $1,435
International Journal of Obesity $3,066 $405 $2,661
Design News $1,045 $375 $670
International Journal of Eating Disorders $3,180 $360 $2,820
Neurology $2,547 $360 $2,187

The only title where savings were not achieved was ENR. Overall, it appears that the titles selected for cancellation were good ones where low use and high cost combined to make faxing articles cost effective.

There are, however, other factors to consider. As other campuses participating in the Fax Project also undertake cancellations, certain journal titles may cease to be available among the cooperating libraries. If UCSB is forced to use a commercial document delivery service, costs will certainly rise. In a larger sense, as more libraries cancel certain titles, publishers may raise royalties to a point where faxing is no longer cost effective.


Tracking changing and/or temporary research needs of the faculty proved to be the most difficult aspect of this project to document since we did not conduct a survey of the faculty. From anecdotal evidence, we can state that all journals are potential research tools. The increasingly interdisciplinary nature of research made it nearly impossible to track changing research needs through journal usage or through an analysis of the patterns of requested articles.

One thing that may help to ameliorate the effect of journal cancellations is the concept of the virtual library. UCSB is a participant in the California Digital Library (CDL). The first project undertaken by the CDL is the Science, Technology, and Industry Collection. CDL plans for this collection to include over 1,000 full-text journal titles by the end of 1999. While the holdings for most of these titles currently include only the current year or two, their usefulness will increase in time as the collections grow. One must be aware, however, that the electronic versions of journals are not necessarily identical to the print versions and may not include the complete cover-to-cover content.


As the chart on Costs: Subscription vs. Fax illustrates, the decision to cancel journal titles in the sciences has been cost effective.  The Most Requested Titles show that 15 out of 16 titles would have cost substantially more in subscription costs than in costs of faxing, which includes copyright charges, staff time and equipment expenses. In addition, the advent of the California Digital Library and consortial purchase and access provided thereby has mitigated the impact of individual libraries' cancellations. It is important to remember, however, that the decision to cancel journal titles based solely on cost-benefit analysis, compromises our mission as an academic research institution.  The realities of dwindling budgets and rising serials costs fueled unpalatable decisions.  The fax project was envisioned as a stop-gap measure.

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