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Why is college so expensive? Libraries!

Dr Archeville

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International Journal of Remote Sensing

1 year institutional subscription: $8,999.00 ( = a week-long luxury vacation for two to Saint Lucia)


1 year institutional subscription: $11,728 ( = the price of a Tiffany engagement ring)

Bioorganic & Medicinal Chemistry Letters

1 year institutional subscription: $18,942.98 ( = the price of sending an undergraduate student to NC State University for one year)

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Not even a handful of real books!

Those listed prices are for one year's subscription to the listed journal. It's for print + online, meaning you get one print issues per (month, week, however frequent the journal comes out) + online access to their electronic content (i.e., .pdfs of all the articles). That's the biggest part of the price (though peer-reviewed, scientific & technical journals have always been pricey, because they're how Science! works), and can be the trickiest part to establish, since the library would need to negotiate licensing rights with the publisher and/or the provider.

Another reason it's so price is that institutional subscriptions can be used by multiple users. If you can go to your local university library (or any comp on a university, in some cases, simply go to a university library's website) and access the online content to a journal, you're less likely to purchase your own individual subscription, so the pub jacks up the price.

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Yeah, I can access entire databases of scientific journals not by going into my library, not by going into my library's website, but just because I am one of the several hundred students in the school of medical sciences. They're paying for a lot of people to use that database. In the summer months when everyone is at home, that subscription can potentially cover people on the other side of the planet.

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Medical journals & databases are especially expensive & time-intensive, because if a doctor needs access to something while, say, in surgery (which happens fairly frequently, at least at the Vet Med school at my university), he'll need it right now. So the publishers, providers, and libraries all need to make sure that access is maintained and up-to-date. Which is costly.

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Hmmm... I should probably chime in here, seeing as this is my field of work, in the narrowest of senses: my job is limited almost exclusively to handling journals. Including the above. (Matter of fact, processed the International Journal of Remote Sensing just last week).

Yes, those are very expensive. It may seem that way even for something with the financial clout of a university. HOWEVER, the price is even further distilled in many cases even further. I said earlier that I worked with processing journals, but they're not just for UCLA (my university). They're for the entire University of California system, which is gigantic. So that $18,000 cost is really only $1,800 for all of the UCs. That's not even half my tuition.

Second, there are numerous kinds of journal collections that universities can subscribe to; the best example probably being JSTOR. These offer access to hundreds of journals dating back many years for a far cheaper price than directly from the publisher.

Also, we daily get at least a dozen requests to scan our massive collection of journals. The price is only $30 per article, so if someone really needs a journal article (especially the really expensive medical ones) its not that expensive.

So... yeah, journals are expensive. But they're critical to SCIENCE! and the humanities, and any kind of scholarly study; most profs. require journal citations for every single paper in a writing course. And without them, its hard to communicate SCIENCE! to other researchers (That's their entire point). So, yup, they're costly, but its far less costly than the cover price seems.

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