APS News

Public and High-School Libraries Provide Access to APS Journals

A year after the announcement by APS that public libraries can access its journals free of cost, the number of libraries participating and the number of journals downloaded have both been growing incrementally but steadily.

The policy allows anyone to access any article from the APS journals, as far back as their founding in 1893, from any library enrolled in the program. People can freely download articles from library computers with approved IP addresses, whether they are members of APS or not. Any public or high-school library can participate for free.

APS has been keeping track of the number of downloads since the public library program since January. While the number of papers downloaded is still relatively small, the program has been gaining in popularity. By the end of May, 1,611 papers had been downloaded from public libraries, the most popular journal being Reviews of Modern Physics.

The total number of libraries participating has been steadily increasing as well. At press time, 573 public libraries and 161 high school libraries from across the country had signed up.

“I think it’s great that we were able to find a way to make our journals accessible and do it in a way that doesn’t hurt our business model,” said APS treasurer and publisher Joseph Serene.

The inclusion of high-school libraries occurred shortly after the beginning of the public library program. Several high schools approached the Society and requested if they could have access to the journals as well. Shortly afterwards, APS announced the start of a new program specifically targeted at high schools.

The schools that have signed up for the program are a mixed bunch. Many are private academies and magnet science and engineering schools. However, several regular public high schools are participating as well.

“We’re trying things and seeing what people like,” Serene said about allowing open access to journals in libraries, “It’s a great thermometer for gauging the public’s interest in the physics literature.”

In recent years, APS has been working to increase its open access portfolio. Physical Review X is APS’s newest journal, an online-only open access journal that publishes research across all disciplines of physics. The online-only journals Physical Review Special Topics: Accelerators and Beams and Physical Review Special Topics: Physics Education Research were the first open access journals published by APS.

Though many publishers are understandably cautious, as an industry science publishing has been trending towards the introduction of more open access journals. The biomedical community has been in the lead in pushing for open access. The National Institutes of Health, under its former director Harold Varmus, made open access a priority by requiring that published NIH-sponsored research has to be freely available after a year. Other organizations and publishers have similarly been exploring new open access or hybrid access models. Perhaps understandably, physics journals have not been in as high demand from the public as have biomedical journals.

“There is no question that there is going to be more open access publishing. How much more and in what form nobody knows,” Serene said.


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