Wednesday, May 04, 2011

University to bypass expensive database - Prince Edward Island - CBC News

The University of Prince Edward Island has not renewed its subscription to a database long considered to be crucial to scientific research and is planning to work with other schools to create a new, free database of scientific research.

'We shouldn't be paying for this stuff.'— Mark Leggott, UPEI librarian

The Web of Science, published by the Institute for Scientific Information, has been the world's leading scientific research database for 30 years. UPEI cancelled its subscription because the cost more than doubled this year, from $15,000 to more than $30,000. Five other universities in Canada have pulled subscriptions for the same reason.

"All universities are having hard times fiscally; one of the first things that is often looked at are the library resources," head librarian Mark Leggott told CBC News Monday.

"The simple fact of the matter is we shouldn't be paying for this stuff."

It's a significant loss for faculty and students.

"It's unfortunate because it is a resource that quite a lot of students use," said Janet Martin, who is finishing up her biology honours thesis at UPEI this summer. She said research will be more difficult.

"How is it going to be possible to compensate for that?"

Universities rebel against publishers

The cancellation of the Web of Science subscriptions is part of a larger rebellion by libraries against commercial publishers over high subscription costs. A group of prominent universities in the U.S. have threatened to cancel subscriptions to Elsevier journals, the world's largest publisher of scientific journals. The University of California has made the same threat against Nature.

Leggott believes with databases that compile the work being published in journals, it is possible to bypass commercial publishers altogether.

"We wrote a proposal called Knowledge For All, which is a project to develop a Wikipedia-type version of the same database, so that it's a free, open index to the world's academic research," Leggott said.

"If the information that allows research to be done isn't available, then our society suffers."

Leggott is looking to partner with university libraries around the world to create the database. It will not be cheap. He estimates it will cost about $50,000 to get started.

He hopes to begin work on a prototype this fall and to have a finished product the following year.


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