20 Dec 2011

ILL ills

The recent decision by the British Library to change the pricing and policies for their document supply service to certain overseas customers raises some interesting issues surrounding the future of inter-library loan facilities for journal articles.  The move follows pressure from publishers, who have contested the practice of the BL supplying documents to overseas customers under Library Privilege. Several cases have been taken in recent years including a high profile Subito case in Germany.

Under the terms of their new INCD (International Non-Commercial Document Supply) service, licensed copies can be supplied via a non-commercial library linked to an educational institution. However, all overseas national hospitals and public health service bodies now fall outside of this, reflecting the publishers' view that public health services outside the UK are mainly operated by private sector providers (this is not the case in Ireland however, where many hospitals are run by the State). Therefore, these institutions will in future have to use the BL’s service for the supply of articles for commercial purposes (even though they are not commercial operators!). This service involves an additional copyright fee, thereby increasing the cost of document delivery services for Irish health science libraries.

Publishers seem to be making it as difficult as possible for document delivery services and ILL services to operate, as these services are obviously not in their interest in terms of maximising profits. However, when journal subscriptions are so expensive in the first instance such that prices arguable already have this element built into them, it is difficult to comprehend. It seems that publishers are obviously hoping that sufficient pressure will push users towards downloading such articles on a pay-per-article basis directly from the publishers’ websites. An interesting lower cost model is also offered by Cambridge University Press who now offer a facility for ‘renting’ articles for 24 hours for €4.49. These articles cannot be printed but allow the user to access them as many times as desired during a 24 hour period. Is this the new model for document delivery, and will traditional ILL services for journal articles soon disappear under the weight of pressure from publishers?


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