SPARC: An Answer to Costly Scientific Journals
There has been much lively discussion of late in scientific and library journals regarding the crisis in scientific periodicals.  Staggering price increases for such publications combined with very modest increases in academic library materials budgets have led scientists and librarians alike to question the status quo of the scholarly publication process and to look for new alternatives.  Many factors have been adduced as factors in the equation: massive increases in the number of scientific articles submitted to journals and concomitant growth of them in number of volumes and pages;  predatory pricing tactics on the part of commercial publishers seeking greater profit margins and societies seeking increased revenue streams;  fluctuations in exchange rates which radically affect prices from year to year, and so on.  One major factor which has been noted is the lack of competition in the marketplace to pricey titles in specialized areas--the idea that in some cases individual journals are virtual monopolies in certain fields, leading publishers to charge what they will.
As an answer to some of these questions, the Association of Research Libraries (ARL) has created SPARC, the Scholarly Publishing and Academic Resources Coalition.  The immediate goal of SPARC is to introduce competition in the publication of scientific information. SPARC encourages partnerships with publishers who share the goals and values of the coalition, to produce lower cost alternative publications to what already exists.  In doing so, SPARC intends to promote the use of new electronic technologies such as the Web, as well as traditional print mechanisms, to promote the creation of alternative scientific journals.  The SPARC coalition seeks members among libraries (especially academic and research libraries), regional consortia, and affiliates. Each member commits a relatively small amount of its materials budget to the purchase of SPARC-partnered new publications.  This provides a ready market for the publisher/partner, reducing risk of market entry, promoting faster breakeven points, and helping the new titles grow and gain market share against their more costly counterparts.  Based upon endorsements and support, SPARC must be considered a substantial success so far.
Already SPARC membership has doubled since its launch in mid-1997.  It numbers over 150 institutions and library consortia--including the University of Florida--and has been endorsed by such luminary groups as the Association of American Universities, the National Association of State Universities & Land Grant Colleges, and international groups from the UK and Europe, Canada and Australia.  Recently the Medical Library Association and a major group of health sciences library directors have joined the coalition.  The collective purchasing power of these supporting groups is huge, attesting to their overall concern for the scientific serials crisis and their backing of the creative SPARC market model to deal with it.
Initially, three new journals in varying stages of publication have decided to partner with SPARC.  Evolutionary Ecology Research has been launched by a former editor of a more expensive title from the commercial sector.  PhysChemComm has emerged from the Royal Society of Chemistry in the UK, as a unique, refereed, rapid communication alternative journal which is available in electronic form only, as HTML text on the Web, and with perpetual access.  The new title Organic Letters will be coming in mid-1999 sponsored by the American Chemical Society, a society well known for high quality publications.  Additional significant titles are sure to come.
But what of the initial question of the crisis in scientific journal publication?  Are there equally important issues regarding which University of Florida faculty should become involved?  Indeed there are.  Faculty members may need to re-examine current publication patterns in their fields and seek a reduction 
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