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Biology Societies to Bring Journals Online

Biologists and librarians are joining forces to make a bevy of biology journals available on the Web at low cost. The American Institute of Biological Sciences (AIBS) will announce Monday that it will put many of the journals published by its 59 member societies online by 2001 with the help of major U.S. research libraries and a private publisher. Planners say the new Web collection, named BioONE, will help keep small journals affordable by keeping them out of the hands of profit-driven private publishers.

University librarians have become increasingly upset in recent years about the prices of scholarly journals, which have risen at least 169% (more than 3 times the rate of inflation) since 1986, according to the Association of Research Libraries (ARL) in Washington, D.C. Widely cited, "must-have" commercial journals that typically have less than 500 subscribers can now cost up to $15,000 annually. In a bid to keep prices down, ARL in 1997 organized the Scholarly Publishing and Academic Resources Coalition (SPARC) to promote competition in academic publishing. Over the last few years, this group has helped sponsor several new journals that compete head-to-head with pricier existing titles (Science, 30 October 1998, p. 853).

Now, SPARC and its allies want to help small, cash-strapped scientific societies jump into the world of online publishing. Together with the University of Kansas and Allen Press, both in Lawrence, Kansas, and the Big 12 Plus Libraries Consortium, a group of 23 midwestern research collections, SPARC plans to raise about $750,000 for BioONE, which could eventually provide access to 200 journals in the biological, ecological, and environmental sciences.

Most of the journals are published by AIBS member societies, which range from the 6000-member Ecological Society of America to the 500-member American Fern Society--groups that without help might eventually have to sell or lease their journals in order for the publications to remain viable, says SPARC's Rick Johnson. "What is motivating us is the plight of the small society," he says. "If their journals can't make the jump to electronic dissemination, [the societies] may get squeezed out."

Many university librarians are applauding the plan. "It is a new approach that will help keep the societies and the universities as a driving force in scholarly publishing," says Sarah Pritchard, librarian at the University of California, Santa Barbara. But she and others caution that BioONE faces a number of obstacles, from developing a workable pricing plan to resistance from librarians who may balk at having to buy access to the whole collection.