The announcement that the Leibniz Association Senate has recommended terminating government and state funding for ZB MED – Leibniz Information Centre for Life Sciences has been met with shock and dismay. The news came in a press release issued by the Leibniz Association which can be read in full at http://ow.ly/ZEWa2.
The justification for the decision is that ZB MED has not made sufficient progress toward tailoring its services to wide-ranging changes in the specialist information sector – even though it has clearly been successful in some areas.
In its evaluation, the Leibniz Association Senate ignores the fact that ZB MED has made great strides in national and international markets with its digital services.
The news has come as a major shock to all ZB MED’s 119 employees, who find the decision incomprehensible. As recently as June 2015 an evaluation committee rated ZB MED’s work as either very good or good and encouraged ZB MED to boost its research activities. In collaboration with Cologne University, applications were invited in 2015 for a W3 professorship to head up ZB MED in 2015 as a joint appointment between the University and the information centre. The appointment process is already at an advanced stage and a successful candidate was due to be appointed in mid-March 2016. In addition, applications had been invited for a W2 professorship in knowledge discovery to be established jointly with Bonn University. This appointment was also expected to be made in mid-April. The recommendation which has now been issued by the Leibniz Association puts a stop to this expansion of ZB MED’s research activities. This makes the justification for closing ZB MED particularly incomprehensible. In other cases institutions in similar situations involving a change of management have been given a four-year grace period to get things on track.
ZB MED carries out a range of activities which guarantee the national provision of life sciences information, especially in the field of medicine. ZB MED has been successfully meeting this goal for 43 years. A total of 2,700 journals are exclusively held by ZB MED and are not available anywhere else in Germany – just one example of how closing down ZB MED will cause a drastic deterioration in the supply of information in the life sciences arena. It is difficult to predict the scale of the impact this will have on science, research and healthcare provision.
ZB MED is a highly successful open access publishing partner, but the fate of its productive collaboration with academic and scientific associations and individual researchers is now very much hanging in the balance. Scientists and researchers who have enlisted ZB MED’s publishing services will be left out in the cold.
Even more alarmingly, it is not clear what will happen to the 119 people who work at ZB MED from 2017 onwards. The goal will be for the federal state of North Rhine-Westphalia to find alternative positions for those involved, but unfortunately this is unlikely to be available to everyone.
Shutting off the funding to ZB MED will cause a genuine deterioration in the German science and research sector by cutting off access to a prestigious and important key player.
The decision has already led to a chorus of dismay and disappointment on ZB MED’s Twitter feed (see https://twitter.com/search?q=%40zb_med&src=typd).