In April 2002, I moved from the Chiba University Library to the Scholarly and Academic Information Division of the National Institute of Informatics (NII). At the time, the Division was charged with two major tasks: (1) providing and developing NACSIS-CAT/ILL, a support system for cataloging and interlibrary services; and (2) providing and developing the Electronic Library System (ELS). In NACSIS, we explored and experimented with moving from the union catalog system for the print holdings of Japanese university libraries toward a database of metadata, including a union catalog of Internet-based information resources. In ELS, we developed services to digitize print media (mainly the journals of Japanese scientific associations and university bulletins) and provide online access to them, but by 2002 we were no longer involved in research and development of e-journal systems, i.e., digital systems for editing and publishing scholarly journals. NII had in fact been doing R&D in that area some years earlier, bsut after a debate over the roles of NII and the Japan Science and Technology Corporation (JST; now the Japan Science and Technology Agency), they had divided their duties, with NII handling scholarly information networks and projects related to university libraries, while JST handled science and technology information services and the e-journal systems of scientific associations. NII and JST had also instituted regular liaison meetings to exchange information.
NII as a whole was then conducting discussions and a review of its business administration as a prelude to incorporation, which was due to start in April 2004. The national universities were also about to be incorporated and improvement of their business management was no doubt pursued on the same timeline. In this article, I will reflect on the state of university libraries and the distribution of scholarly journals in Japan in this context during the early 2000s.
● The State of University Libraries
Figure 1: Foreign journal subscription costs and number of titles received by Japanese libraries. (Figures until 1982 include domestic journals.)
Source: Jōhō no kagaku to gijutsu (Information science and technology), vol. 53, no. 9, 2003, p. 431
In the 1990s, although Japanese university libraries were spending more on foreign journals, the number of foreign titles they received in print format was steadily decreasing (Figure 1).
This graph is based on the results of a NACSIS-CAT data survey by Professor Akira Miyazawa, who was then with NII. The phenomenon it points to was caused by the soaring prices of foreign journals, a situation that had come to be known in the USA and Europe as the “serials crisis.” The major overseas publishers had been merging and absorbing smaller presses throughout the 1980s and 1990s, giving rise to an oligopoly in the scholarly journals market. Elsevier, in particular, was on the way to becoming a global giant, and had also set its sights on networked distribution of journal articles as the Internet grew rapidly in the 1990s. Based on the results of a trial project, TULIP, in 1999 it launched an e-journal model known as Science Direct 21 (SD21). This subscription model ushered in the era of what has come to be called the “big deal,” as the practice of selling subscriptions to individual print titles gave way to selling a package which, taking maximum advantage of the merits of the Internet, allowed users to access all of a publisher’s titles. In order to maintain services, however, these deals required libraries to keep their total subscription spending at or above existing levels—a potentially fatal model for them, as it allowed prices to rise without limit in the future. In response, they began to organize e-journal consortia to negotiate prices directly with overseas publishers, rather than through domestic sales agents as in the past. In 2000, the IDEAL Open Consortium/National University (JIOC/NU) was formed to deal with Academic Press, Inc. After the latter was acquired by Elsevier, initiatives such as the E-Journal Task Force of the Japan Association of National University Libraries (JANUL) were established.
● The State of Science Policy
Against this background, the Science Council of Japan (SCJ) addressed the growing crisis in the nation’s scholarly communications in a report, “Urgent Recommendations for the Establishment of a Collection System for Electronic Periodicals,” issued on June 26, 2000, by the Expert Committee on Bibliographic Information of the SCJ’s Informatics Research Liaison Group.1 Then, in August 2001, the Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology (MEXT) established a Working Group for Digital Research Information Infrastructure within its Council for Science and Technology. The findings of this group were published in March 2002 as “Concerning Improvement of the Infrastructure for Scholarly Communication (Summary of Deliberations).”2 This contained six recommendations under the heading “Concrete Interim Measures to Facilitate the Distribution of Scientific Information”:
(1) systematic collection of electronic journals and related resources
(2) strengthening the role of universities and related institutions in disseminating scientific information
(3) strengthening the role of scientific associations in disseminating scientific information
(4) providing a support structure for overseas distribution of scientific information
(5) the role expected of the National Diet Library
(6) support by NII for the digitization and distribution of scientific information
The report noted, under point 1, that MEXT was already making budgetary provisions for universities to subsidize the “costs of introducing electronic journals.” Under point 2, it noted that academic libraries were expected to serve increasingly as portals, e.g., by providing metadata, and also to develop from a digital library structure toward institutional repositories. Under point 3, it encouraged a shift to e-journals by scientific associations, calling in particular for better editing and peer review systems using J-STAGE and other platforms. Under point 4, it stated that “NII will carry out measures to promote the international circulation of scientific information originating in Japan, centered on these scientific journals, in cooperation with academic libraries and with the American and European initiatives known as SPARC.” I joined NII right at the time when it was being called on, in the words of point 6, to support “the digitization and distribution of scientific information.”
● The State of Scholarly Communications in Japan
A study by Professor Masamitsu Negishi of NII found that, in 2000, “in the SCI for the natural sciences, Japan, with over 80,000 articles, ranked third after the US and the UK,” but regarding journals that carried these articles, “journals published in Japan made up only 3.8 percent of the (world) total” in these fields and, moreover, there was a striking “drain” of papers overseas, as “79.3 percent of Japanese-authored articles are published in foreign journals and only 20.7 percent in domestic journals.”3 Further, Journal Citation Reports (JCR) listed a total of 144 Japanese English-language journals, almost none of which were domestically published in electronic format. Apart from the journals offered on J-STAGE, operated by JST, there were only several dozen journals published on academic society servers such as the Business Center for Academic Societies Japan (BCASJ), the Institute of Pure and Applied Physics (IPAP), and the Japan Institute of Metals.
These findings indicated that, despite its researchers being active and productive, Japan was lagging far behind internationally in terms of the infrastructure to support the circulation and dissemination of their work.
In the United States, in 1998, largely in response to the soaring costs of commercially published journals, the Association of Research Libraries (ARL) had launched an initiative known as the Scholarly Publishing and Academic Resources Coalition (SPARC) project. SPARC Europe got under way in 2002. Together with Professor Jun Adachi of NII and Professor Shun Tutiya (Chiba University) of the Japan Association of National University Libraries (JANUL), among others, I was assigned to visit these organizations and study their work, as we at NII drew up plans and made an estimated budget request for Japan’s own infrastructure project for scholarly communications.
● Partnerships with Scientific Associations
Figure 2: Number of English-language electronic journals in Japan
Source: materials prepared for SPARC Japan Explanatory Meetings, 2003 and 2004
The work of a university librarian—my previous job—used to consist of information management: collecting, organizing, and storing published books and journals and making them available to users. But the Internet and electronic journals have transformed the way in which information is disseminated and the nature of publishing companies. Thus, to plan a project of this kind, one must be familiar with the digital distribution process at each stage from production (the writing of articles) to distribution (submission, review, editing, publication) and consumption (subscription, retrieval, and access), and one must also be closely in touch with international scholarly communication. We therefore visited the offices of a number of scientific associations and aimed to situate partnerships with them at the core of our efforts to transform scholarly communication.
At the time, according to NII’s research, there were just over 200 e-journals in Japan (Figure 2).
The Chemical Society of Japan and the Society of Chemical Engineers, Japan, in particular, were publishing actively on J-STAGE, the e-journal platform of the JST. BCASJ had its own platform, OlediO, which published the Japanese Biochemical Society’s Journal of Biochemistry. E-journals self-published by scientific associations on their own servers included the English journals of the Physical Society of Japan and the Japan Society of Applied Physics, which together formed the Institute of Pure and Applied Physics (IPAP); Materials Transactions, published jointly by the Japan Institute of Metals and other societies; and the English journal of the Institute of Electronics, Information and Communication Engineers (IEICE). Many associations outsourced their English journals to overseas publishers; of these, we visited the secretariats of the Zoological Society of Japan and a number of others to explain the plans for SPARC Japan and exchange views. English journals in mathematical fields, on the other hand, used university servers. Through our contacts with the office staff responsible for these various publications, we learned about the importance of digitization of the editing and peer review process and the financial structure for publishing scientific journals.
MEXT approved our estimated budget request for a project entitled “International Scholarly Communication Initiative (SPARC Japan).” In preparing to launch SPARC Japan in FY 2003, we asked Professor Emeritus Ryoji Noyori of Nagoya University and nine other experts in related areas to serve on the Board; we organized a steering committee with the participation of organizations including JST, JANUL, the Japan Association of Private University Libraries (JASPUL), and BCASJ; and we put out a call for partner journals to help promote the SPARC Japan project.
Broadly speaking, SPARC Japan’s program initially consisted of five points:
(1) support for digitization of the editorial process
(2) support for internationalization of Japan’s English journals
(3) activities to create a business model
(4) promotion of international cooperation
(5) surveys and public relations work
These five program areas would be pursued through cooperation with related institutions, university libraries, and our publishing partners.4, 5 Activities in each area have included:
(1) in cooperation with JST, improvement of J-STAGE and introduction of an editorial and peer review system that meets international standards;
(2) meetings to explain Project Euclid, the mathematical e-journal platform run by the Cornell University Library, to publishers of English journals in mathematical fields;
(3) creation of Japan’s first e-journal package, UniBio, consisting of biology journals, and licensing to university libraries through consortium negotiations;
(4) in FY 2004, presentations on the latest international trends by guest speakers Professor Stevan Harnad of the University of Southampton, a pioneer in the self-archiving movement, and Richard Johnson, director of SPARC in the USA; also, preparations for a memorandum of understanding (MoU) with SPARC USA
(5) surveys of scientific association members regarding their use of and submissions to English journals; visits to universities around the country, including Tohoku and Hiroshima Universities, to inform researchers about SPARC Japan and the state of scholarly communication in Japan.
● The Open Access Movement and Scholarly Communication in Japan
At SPARC in the USA at that time, the focus was shifting from the coalition’s initial purpose, counteracting high journal prices, to the institutional repository (IR) movement, and there was mounting support for open access (OA), which treats researchers’ results as their own property. SPARC’s parent body is the Association of Research Libraries (ARL), and as it emerged that starting rival journals to combat soaring prices did not necessarily lead to lower resource costs for libraries, there was much discussion of the IR and OA movements as initiatives to return control of the post-publication circulation of information to the authors of the papers.
In Japan, however, the transformation of scholarly communication had yet to reach maturity in the form of a cycle of editing, producing, and publishing electronic journals on a cost-recovery basis. Japanese scientific associations seemed instead to be totally dependent on government funding bodies and overseas publishers. SPARC Japan’s early initiatives thus fell into two areas: to gain acceptance in Japan for e-journals as an innovative scholarly communication system, and to ensure that Japanese research results, which ranked third in the world, were circulated appropriately within the global framework of scholarly communication.
A scholarly communication system must be sustainable on a long-term basis. In the new online information environment, it became clear that the various actors—the researchers who write papers, the researchers’ associations, the presses that edit and publish the associations’ journals, the academic libraries that subscribe to them, and the scholars who access them through the libraries—had direct relationships as stakeholders. In other words, they began to interact in ways that went beyond the negotiation of contracts between associations and publishers, and of license agreements between libraries and publishers. For the first time, researchers and their associations (the producers) were directly negotiating with scholars and libraries (the consumers) to determine how scientific information should be distributed. As I see it, the OA movement essentially means making scholarly communication self-sustaining by leveraging a business model based on appropriate price negotiations of this kind.
My own involvement with the project ended at that stage, but SPARC Japan continues to hold seminars, publish a newsletter, and hold consortium negotiations with university libraries.6 Although they may not be directly engaged in education and research, in the Internet era, university libraries will be deeply involved with providing the infrastructure for the process of scholarly communication, i.e., the production, circulation, and consumption of research results. While funding and physical facilities are of course important for creating this infrastructure, I believe that exchanges among the people involved are fundamental to any enterprise, and that, amid many contradictions and, at times, situations where there is no right answer, this infrastructure will be built by continuing to pursue a sustainable way through exploration and experimentation.
||Expert Committee on Bibliographic Information, Informatics Research Liaison Group, Science Council of Japan. “Denshiteki gakujutsu teiki shuppanbutsu no shūshū taisei no kakuritsu ni kansuru kinkyū no teigen.” 2000 (Urgent Recommendations for the Establishment of a Collection System for Electronic Periodicals) www.scj.go.jp/ja/info/kohyo/17pdf/17_44p.pdf
||Working Group for Digital Research Information Infrastructure, Committee on Information Sciences, Subdivision on Research Planning and Evaluation, Council for Science and Technology, MEXT. “Gakujutsu jōhō no ryūtsū kiban no jūjitsu ni tsuite (shingi no matome).” 2002. (Concerning Improvement of the Infrastructure for Scholarly Communication (Summary of Deliberations).
||Adachi, J; Negishi, M; Tutiya, S; Konishi, K; Oba, T; Okumura, S. “SPARC/JAPAN ni miru gakujutsu jōhō no hasshin to daigaku toshokan” (University libraries and the dissemination of scientific information as seen in SPARC Japan). Jōhō no Kagaku to Gijutsu (Information Science and Technology), vol. 53, no. 9, 2003, p. 429-434. http://ci.nii.ac.jp/naid/110002826866
||NII, International Scholarly Communication Initiative (SPARC Japan) Explanatory Meeting 2003,
||NII, International Scholarly Communication Initiative (SPARC Japan) Explanatory Meeting 2004,
||NII (2009), “Kokusai gakujutsu jōhō ryūtsū kiban seibi jigyō (SPARC Japan) katsudō no matome, Heisei 15 (2003) nendo – Heisei 20 (2008) nendo” (Summary of the Activities of the International Scholarly Communication Initiative [SPARC Japan], FY 2003 – FY 2008) www.nii.ac.jp/sparc/publications/report/pdf/sparc_report_200903.pdf
Note: Names of committees and research groups, and titles of reports are our own translations.