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Last year a chapter I wrote was finally published.[1] The book came in the box to the right -

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Aimee, the cat, didn’t come with the book.

It’s massive tome, over 1200 pages. A print copy will cost something fierce, I’ve no doubt. Electronic copies of each chapter can be purchased too.

You’ll know that credit card advertisement where the packaging the valuable item came in was ‘priceless’. That box is like that. Months later it’s still Aimee’s place to be. She’s folded down one side, using it as a headrest. Hours on end are spent there doing not much at all.

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But I’m not writing to tell you about Aimee and the new bed the publisher sent.

Visiting the local university library over the past few years I have witnessed a loss of public access of research material.

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Many textbooks at the university library are now only available as on-line copies. Access to these is limited to staff or students of the university. Similarly, library access to many research journals is on-line only.

One role of university libraries is to provide a resource for all local residents, not just university staff and students. Members of the public can get a university library card and take out bound editions of books on the shelves or make copies of research papers available in print form.

But they can’t access the electronic copies. The licenses of the electronic copies are limited to those within the institution.

Is the burgeoning market for electronic books and journals cutting those outside of universities off from research material?

One solution is open-access editions. However, as much as these have appeal, we should accept that some will remain ‘pay-walled’ – at least for a few years to come.

Increasingly there are scientific research journals whose contents are open-access – once the research is published, anyone can read them and download articles from the internet.

Textbooks seem more problematic, however. Like printed books, their business model may more naturally fit being paid for by the reader.

Is a solution needed so that textbooks might be read with the local geographic region, not limited to institution staff or students? Or are those not directly affiliated to the universities going to be increasingly cut off from research textbooks?

(As well as the general public, this wider public will include scientists who work outside of the universities, students between degrees who are currently not enrolled at an institution and others.)

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1. Part B, Chapter 8, Exploring the Interactions and Structural Properties of Genomes by Grant Jacobs, in Springer Handbook of Bio-/Neuro-Informatics, 2014. Editor: Nikola Kasabov. Publisher: Springer-Verlag. ISBN 978-3-642-30573-3 (eISBN 978-3-642-30574-0).


Other articles on Code for life:

Is a genome enough? (Not Just DNA #1)

What does a chromosome look like? (Not Just DNA #2)

Coiling bacterial DNA

Sea stars and mosaics

Animating our DNA

Epigenetics, a confused muddle in the media

Epigenetics and 3-D gene structure

Frederick Sanger 1918-2013 Chemist who pioneered protein and DNA sequencing