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BioMed Central Strengthens Research Library Connections
Posted On May 20, 2002
BioMed Central (, the innovative commercial venture that offers open access to peer-reviewed biological and medical research, continues to expand its connections to research libraries. The Association of Research Libraries' (ARL; Scholarly Publishing and Academic Resources Coalition (SPARC) has named BioMed Central as a SPARC partner. BioMed Central has also expanded its connections to the National Institutes of Health (NIH; Besides its close ties to the National Library of Medicine (NLM), an NIH institute that archives, indexes, abstracts, and integrates BioMed Central content into its offerings, BioMed Central now has opened institutional membership to the NIH Library, which serves in-house NIH researchers.

Through the partnership, SPARC will encourage member libraries to rely on BioMed Central's content and services and to join its institutional membership program, which advocates that scientists publish in BioMed Central. The Memorandum of Understanding between SPARC and BioMed Central includes a special clause that confirms BioMed Central's commitment to open access and precludes it from selling its assets to any publisher that does not promise to keep all of its journals available through open access, both retrospectively and prospectively.

BioMed Central and SPARC assured me that the language of the new partnership does not indicate any plans for selling BioMed Central. However, both parties said that concern over the past history of Vitek Tracz, BioMed Central's chairman, prompted the verbalization of the commitment.

SPARC is an alliance of some 200 universities, research libraries, and organizations worldwide that was built as a constructive response to problems in the scholarly communication system. SPARC and BioMed Central share the belief that conventional publishing models have reduced the dissemination of scholarship and have crippled libraries.

"Since its earliest days, SPARC members have been looking for alternative journal publishing models from companies and organizations that provide long-term open access. BioMed Central was founded on that commitment, and it is important to support its efforts, which have a potentially revolutionary positive impact on scholarly communication," said Rick Johnson, SPARC enterprise director.

Johnson described SPARC's role as a catalyst "to help partners and products rise above the fray by bringing them to the attention of librarians and encouraging them to get onboard sooner. BioMed Central is one of the largest such experiments in open access. We are eager to see it get a fighting chance to reach sustainability for its pioneering business model."

"BioMed Central's commitment to long-term open access to scientific research, its stance on copyright and licensing, and its low-cost institutional memberships bring real-world value to libraries testing alternative journal publishing models," said Jan Velterop, BioMed Central's publisher. "BioMed Central also provides a rich resource for societies, editorial boards, and authors seeking to better serve their community through rapid peer-reviewed publication and the broadest possible dissemination."

BioMed Central operates its open access publishing model through an institutional membership program, which it launched at the beginning of this year. Since the program's introduction, 21 institutions have become members, including the National Institutes of Health, Harvard University, Cancer Research UK, the World Health Organization, the Welcome Trust Sanger Institute, and the Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center. Institutional members pay an annual fee of around $1,500 to allow researchers to post their research studies on BioMed Central. According to an NIH Library representative, the fee was waived for NIH staff.

BioMed Central reports that the open access publishing activities it has launched have proved surprisingly successful. "Many publishers believed that the introduction of a processing charge would be the nail in the coffin for BioMed Central," said Velterop. "However, we have published more papers in the first quarter of this year, since author charges were introduced than in the last quarter of 2001. This month is set to be a record one for article submissions, and more high-profile institutions are signing up to our membership program every week. The future for BioMed Central and open access publishing looks bright."

Member institutions that pay an annual flat fee can have all their researchers publish at BioMed Central and pay no individual article-processing charge. Member institutions also receive a discount on subscription products (including Faculty of 1000 and images.MD). In addition, they can build a customized page on the BioMed Central Web site that lists all relevant published research articles.

[For background information and a historical review of the battle being waged around the publication of scholarly research, read Myer Kutz's article, "The Scholars' Rebellion Against Scholarly Publishing Practices: Varmus, Vitek, and Venting," Searcher, January 2002;]

Barbara Quint was senior editor of Online Searcher, co-editor of The Information Advisor’s Guide to Internet Research, and a columnist for Information Today.

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