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Campus Sees Boom in E-Journals

Sara Jayne Steen reads four professional journals on a regular basis and several occasionally.

If she wanted to-and had nothing else to do as a professor in the English department-she could read almost 6,000.

That's about twice as many journals as the university library offered a couple of years ago, and it's due to additional funding that enhanced buying power and enabled MSU to leverage access to electronic journals, says Bruce Morton, Dean of Libraries.

In addition to saving money, the switch from traditional journals to e-journals saves space in the library. Bruce Morton, Dean of Libraries, says one bound journal is about three inches thick. If the library receives 3,000 journals electronically, it saves about 750 feet of shelf space a year.

"The bottom line is that in about two years' time, the library has done about a 180-degree turn in what we have been able to deliver to the research community and how we are viewed on campus," Morton said.

In 1985, the MSU Libraries subscribed to about 5,000 professional journals, all printed on paper, the majority dealing with the scientific, medical and technical fields. But prices between 1986 and 1999 rose at an average of 10 percent or more-an extraordinarily high rate-while budgets either declined or remained static. As a result, the number of subscriptions had to be reduced to around 3,200.

"Even without cuts, when you have a large part of your budget inflating at 10 percent or higher, we had to cut journal subscriptions annually in order to balance the budget," Morton said. "We were perennially asking departments to give us guidance as to which journals in their field to cut. It was not pleasant."

MSU was able to turn the situation around with the advent of electronic journals, additional funding from MSU and membership in various consortial buying groups, Morton said. The MSU Libraries now offer faculty and students more than 3,000 electronic journals and another 3,000-plus in paper format.

"It has made a difference in terms of quick access to scholarship," Steen commented.

Wes Lynch, psychology professor, said, "I generally check the e-journal listing to see if things are available before I trudge over (to the library) to look for them or before I go elsewhere to try to find them."

Evel Knievel jumped over mountain lions, rattlesnakes, buses, trucks and cars. What could he have done with the shelf space the library saved by switching to electronic journals?

Ed Dratz, professor in chemistry and biochemistry, said, "I use a lot of e-journals on a daily basis and the libraries' greatly enhanced access has changed every aspect of my scientific and teaching life by far for the better."

E-journals aren't cheap, and the Office of the Vice President for Research, Creativity and Technology Transfer increased by $100,000 a year the money it was giving to the MSU Libraries, Morton said, with a promise of annual augmentation to keep up with inflation.

The process of buying has gotten so complicated that Morton compares it to going to a bazaar and haggling for the best deal. Despite that and the fact that MSU now has to buy suites of journals instead of individual titles, Morton is pleased with the value delivered and faculty and student response.

"We are buying some bath water to get the baby," said Morton. "But ultimately we are getting many more journals and at a lower cost per title."

Evelyn Boswell

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