Category Archives: Collection development

Australia abandons journal ranking initiative

Last year I reported how Australia ranked over 20,000 peer-reviewed journals. The Australian now reports that Innovation Minister Kim Carr has announced that the Excellence in Research for Australia initiative will no longer assign rankings to journals.

The Minister said  “There is clear and consistent evidence that the rankings were being deployed inappropriately within some quarters of the sector, in ways that could produce harmful outcomes, and based on a poor understanding of the actual role of the rankings. One common example was the setting of targets for publication in A and A* journals by institutional research managers.”

Instead of ranking, each publication will be provided with a “publication profile,” indicating how often it was chosen by academics in a given field. Hmmm, sounds like an impact factor…

Smother Nature

"Smother Nature"

Australia Ranks Over 20,000 Peer-Reviewed Journals

Australian Research CouncilThe Australian Research Council (a statutory authority within the Australian government) started their Excellence in Research for Australia (ERA) program in 2008. Part of their mission was to assess research quality within Australia’s higher education institutions. To that end, panels of experts evaluated 20,712 peer-reviewed journals and assigned a quality tier to each journal. The results are now available as an Excel spreadsheet. The list is huge, and covers mathematics, economics, education, law, chemistry, physics, earth sciences, etc. Readers of this blog will probably be most interested in the Medical and Health Sciences category, which has 4,368 journals. Journals within each category, along with their quality tier assignment can be found in html format (Medical and Health Sciences are category 11 and its subdivisions), or you can sort the spreadsheet. A detailed breakdown of all the categories and subdivisions is available, but be aware this document is 424 pages.

Journals were assigned to one of four tiers, briefly described below. Complete definitions of the tiers are available.
A* –  one of the best in its field
A  –  very high quality
B  –  solid, though not outstanding reputation
C  –  journals that do not meet the criteria of the higher tiers

This extensive, evaluated list could be very useful for measuring the quality of a medical library’s journal collection. How many of your journals fall into each tier? When it’s time to cancel journals, those in the C tier could become prime candidates, depending on local usage. When a new program is started at your institution, this list would be helpful in quickly finding the top journals in that field. (While Impact Factors from Journal Citation Reports are helpful, that commercial product has far fewer titles than this list.) Let’s hope this program can maintain such a useful list into the future. Good on ya, Australia.

Please see the May 31, 2011 update on this post.

Now a minor motion picture

Way back in July, I asked for help in putting together a presentation on dealing with collection development in these economic times. I finally had the time to turn my October 1 presentation at the UNYOC meeting into a QuickTime movie and dub the audio to it. The video is embedded below, but you can also go to Vimeo to watch it in a larger window or to download it if you want. The text is available separately at Scribd. Many thanks to my colleagues who sent in their ideas and tips. The spirit of sharing has always been alive and well in the library community, and the Internet expands that spirit exponentially.

In case you’re wondering, the presentation was done in Apple’s Keynote, not in PowerPoint.

Medical Hypotheses

The phone call started out the usual way. A research faculty wanted to talk to me about a journal. These calls are always about one of two things: they’re requesting a new subscription for the library, or they’re having trouble accessing our electronic version. But then the conversation took a strange twist. He wasn’t recommending a journal. He was asking us to consider canceling a journal. I told him in my 29 years of collection development, this was the first such request I had received.

The title in question is Medical Hypotheses, from Elsevier. Our library has subscribed since it began in 1975, and we converted to e-only in 2007. Our researcher’s problem with the journal is its apparent lack of peer review, and that it has become a place where fringe science can get published, thereby gaining credibility. His area is microbiology and immunology, and he sent me a copy of a letter he sent to the CEO of Elsevier, complaining about several papers published in the journal from AIDS denialists.

AIDS denialists do not believe that the human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) causes AIDS. The scientific community overwhelmingly believes it does. While this may seem to be a minor argument, or as harmless as flat-earthers, the denialists have been able to affect public health, particularly in Africa, by dissuading people from using approved AIDS treatments. Our researcher is concerned that Medical Hypotheses, by publishing papers from these denialists, is harming public health.

Other scientists and journalists are also concerned about this journal. Journalist Ben Goldacre, author of Bad Science, has several blog entries on what appear to be far less than scientific articles published in the journal.

The Neurodiversity blog calls Medical Hypotheses “a vanity journal that offers space to anyone who can write a marginally readable article on any medically-related subject — no matter how outlandish or scientifically insupportable.”

ScienceBlogs cuts right to the chase in a post called “Medical Hypotheses – just make shit up; we’ll publish it.”

Objectively, the journal doesn’t have much going for it. In Journal Citation Reports‘ category of “Medicine, research & experimental,” the journal has an impact factor of 1.416, ranking 57th out of 82 journals. This places it in the third quartile. Many of the articles are accepted for publication two days after being received, which certainly strains the definition of peer review.

I told the faculty member about the minimal cancellation allowances in our ScienceDirect license, and that I might not be able to cancel the title this year. In the meantime, I can’t track online usage because ScienceDirect’s usage report page has gone missing. Have other libraries canceled this title because of complaints?

Update July 27, 2009: I can now retrieve our ScienceDirect usage reports. Medical Hypotheses is within our top 200 Elsevier titles based on usage. (We get over 2500 titles in our license, shared with the main campus.) Based on usage alone, this title would not be considered for cancellation. I’ll share these numbers with our faculty person who recommended cancellation.

Collection development in times of diminishing budgets

I knew I was in trouble as soon as I hung up the phone. Diana had convinced me to speak at the UNYOC Chapter meeting in October on collection development in times of diminishing budgets. Oh sure, I have some things I do to deal with budget issues, but that couldn’t fill up 40 minutes. And most of them only work for academic medical libraries. So I’m asking the medical library community to send me the things you are now doing to deal with a diminished budget. I will put the best suggestions into my presentation, and make the presentation available for everyone. So consider this a joint cooperative publication, with me as the editor.

I suspect that many of us are doing the same things, but I will identify interesting techniques with your name, if you allow me. Please post your techniques, even if they seem obvious to you. Here’s what I’m doing (although some pre-date the current economic situation):

  • Join consortia (lowers pricing, saves on negotiation time.)
  • Partner with the main library (our annual share of the Springer ebook package is less than what we used to pay for print Springer books from our approval plan, and we get tons more.)
  • Substitute free “lite” versions for little used paid databases (AGELINE, AGRICOLA.)
  • Use those cancellation privileges in your big deal (every $100 helps. /sarcasm)
  • Go e-only whenever possible (although sometimes this is more costly, watch out.)
  • Cancel the approval plan.

Come on, show the world your brilliant idea. Let me know if I can credit your idea.