Accessing journals and other things

In How to work better, Information industry on September 25, 2009 by Hanna Tagged: , , ,

A law library friend recently waded into debate with Ben Goldacre about accessing journals via Athens (access management system for those unacquainted with the oxymoronic lingo) whereby she tried and failed to communicate the info pro’s frustrations at not being able to make everything available, now, remotely etc. We are (and this includes me now being given journal subscriptions at work) the middle men and women controlling the spending of finite budgets on resources that meet the needs of our constituents (are you seeing the analogy with the NHS as a whole??). Ben argued that if something wasn’t accessible via Athens (or whatever because quite rightly who cares what it’s called) then it was a massive fail. Indeed. I used to work on helpdesk in academia and had to explain that even if something was listed in our holdings we might not have access to what they wanted (common in NHSland where there are multiple embargoes for recent content). This situation is indeed ridiculous in a context where we promote evidence based medicine. If we don’t have access to information then how can we work? Richard Smith of the BMJ writes how in the third world this is tantamount to criminal. Unlike the NHS procurement process there are solutions. The open access debate is where commerce meets morals, where free distribution via the web is slowing denting but not diminishing publisher’s stronghold on subscription based journals. What are we to do, refuse to subscribe en masse? This clearly needs to be communicated to users that we are on their side and that we do not wish to restrict use to articles or any information. I am not convinced we can make this argument alone and people like the trustees of Biomed Central will have to push for this.

Publishers seem to become a little more relaxed about allowing freedom of information in its truest sense if there is a crisis, thus resources such as Ebsco’s Influenza evidence based portal is accessible.

It is arguably not just clinicians but the public who should be able to access information. I went to a debate with the aforementioned Ben Goldacre and the Science Minister Lord Drayson about whether science journalism is any good and it was clear from the journalists there that they were confused about why it was not a good idea to report single trials which may be contradictory (Ben tried in vain to explain systematic reviews). Lord Drayson argued that reporting is good and hype has a place in science reporting. However without access to original data (and the source being made clear in said pun laden article) then it would be difficult for people to make up their own minds about the quality and believability of a study. Ben praised Behind the Headlines, available via NHS Choices and NHS Evidence (I feared it had disappeared but the Cancer Specialist Collection at least has this higher up the page than the news which is promising).


5 Responses to “Accessing journals and other things”

  1. One of the risks of mediating between users and publishers is that of being dis-intermediated, and I fear this could happen to librarians as soon as a service like Mendeley, ResearchGATE or even Clinical Reader starts linking to article delivery services and archives.

    It is difficult but vital that librarians start challenging publishers and support the evident need to simplify access to full text by whatever means they have open to them.

    The purpose of introducing Athens to the NHS was to begin to simplify access mechanisms and represent user interests at NHS scale. It should be built on – by supporting open access, challenging publishers and introducing a resolver, so that anyone connected with the NHS could be seamlessly routed to full-text associated with a bibliographic reference.

    In this respect IP based authentication is a retrograde step. Achieving the sort of thing Ben Goldacre is calling for is quite difficult, but not impossible.

  2. Access management is one of the areas under review as part of the arrival of NHSE. In the mean time I am trying to get involved with local efforts to integrate all manner of passwords into login / smart ID card access.

    Some NHS organisations are signing up for non NHSNet internet access so this may open up possibilities for them.

    The NHS has a resolver (it sits behind the journal A-Z on NLH and provides article level linking in Search 2.0) and while the knowledge base is not always what we might want it works pretty well. Unfortunately the developments we might want to make to it are once again – stuck waiting on NHS Evidence. When the shutters came down we were discussing document requesting at the point of retrieval. Combined with the NHS Copyright Licence we could then e deliver on a same day / next working day basis. A few people would need to get copier upgraded (on a lease they would likely save money) and we would deliver a major step up in the quality of service to the user.

  3. I’m not a librarian so I don’t pretend to understand, but why do we expect all content to be made freely available? There is a cost to producing content and therefore isn’t it only reasonable to expect there to be a cost to access it (unless it’s paid for through advertising, or financially supported by some philanthropic body)? And if there is a cost then the NHS will of course have to decide what to spend their money on, and what not to. It seems unreasonable to expect the NHS to pay carte blanche for everything. I’m sure they can find other ways to spend their money – cake, for example.

  4. And why can’t the British Library spell out some of their codes? I noticed this following up a list of articles that they couldn’t supply. A list, I might add, that had been sent by snail mail. ‘NOP’ means basically that they do not have an item, but you may ask them to extend their search. Yet, when they couldn’t supply an electronic version, they spell it out ‘ELECTRONIC FORMAT CANNOT SUPPLY’. It is like receiving instructions from Yoda, but better than an acronym.

    Lucky for me that a couple of Google searches managed to find 4 of the 5 articles free on t’internet. The fifth drove me to a website that just plain didn’t work. Stymied at last.

  5. The BL have some fairly prehistoric systems. We recently moved to receiving the notifications in electronic form rather than paper. I think they are phasing them out in paper form.

    The likely reason the electronic format message is so much longer and clearer is that it has been added in more recent times. The others date from pre web interface days.

    Apparently they are modernising their systems so the old codes may soon be a thing of the past.

    NOP NPUR as they say in Boston Spa.

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