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In Fall 2010, the Libraries went through the process of journal cancellations, with departments submitting their lists of 2012 subscriptions to be deleted. What was calculated to be a 3-year cut was extended to 5 years by the Library’s cost-saving measures. However, due to the Library’s share in the campus-wide budget cuts, we are now forced to cancel approximately 30% of our journals. Our journals and databases currently account for 85% of our materials budget, leaving only 15% for books, inter-library loan, and other expenses.
The Libraries have attempted to offset the annual price increases by participating in multi-year subscription agreements through large library consortia. These result in a much lower annual price increase for our subscriptions and also make many additional titles available to our patrons. The downside is that they lock us into keeping our subscriptions for the duration of the contract. These titles will show as “do not cancel” on the departmental title lists.
Libraries across the country are facing the same budgetary problem: the cost of journals increases far exceeds the average cost of inflation. Library Journal projects the average cost increases for titles in the Academic Search Premier database (one of the Libraries most subject-inclusive scholarly databases) at 6% for 2017. We expect that percentage to increase in the next few years.
There are number of factors which account for the rapidly rising cost of research journals:
- The prestige that follows from publishing in certain journals
- The number of scholarly papers increases each year
- The wide price gap between institutional and individual subscriptions
- Purchase of nonprofit society and university press publications by corporate publishers
- The profit motives of commercial publishers
- Cost recovery by publishers for income lost due to cancellations
- Mergers and acquisitions leading to a few publishers controlling many scholarly titles
- Bundled offerings from publishers to libraries
The librarians have been preparing spreadsheets which gather together the most important criteria with which to make these difficult decisions. Each department’s spreadsheet will list their subscriptions, with the cost, inflation rate, and citation impact factor (when available). The spreadsheet also has links to any electronic full text counterpart to which the library has access, plus notes the selectors think are relevant to the department’s decisions.
There is a librarian assigned to each discipline on campus, designated as that department’s selector. All currently-subscribed serials are assigned to one primary department, based on subject focus. The selector will have a list of journals assigned to that specific department from which the department’s cancellations will be made. Each selector will consult with his or her department’s liaison and be available to receive input from any faculty member in that department. The spreadsheet will allow the department’s liaison to add columns to assign each journal a specific value of importance if they wish. The proportion of the overall cut to be absorbed by each department will be based primarily on the average inflation rate for a department’s journals.
In January a complete list of titles to be cancelled from all departments will be posted at this site. Any department can pick up a title that is listed, providing that the department cancels another of roughly the same cost from its own title list.
The cancellations must be implemented for subscriptions beginning January 2018, so the decisions must be made during the Fall 2016 semester. By early October, the spreadsheets will be complete and selectors will begin to consult with the department liaisons. Final cancellation lists from each department will be due by the end of the Fall semester. By the end of February, we will need to have the final list of journals to be cancelled ready so the vendors can be notified in time.
The negative impact will be minimized as much as possible. We believe that many of the journals to be cancelled will have online access through our full text databases. Additional scholarly journals are available through our consortia-based publisher purchases such as Springerlink and the Wiley Online collection. For those titles not available online, our interlibrary loan services will be available to procure critical articles for faculty and students.
As long as the rate of journal price inflation exceeds the rate of increase of the acquisitions budget, the funding model to support acquisitions will fall short and serials costs will need to be reduced periodically. Short of unexpected new and sustainable budget resources, future cancellations will be avoided only with significant change in the scholarly communication process.
The world of scholarly communication continues to be in transition. Many society publications continue to be taken over by commercial publishers which exact a very high rate of profit. Publishers are changing their journal pricing for institutions, often in an attempt to discourage print subscriptions. Where print is available, it is often only as an add-on to the online subscription. Subscribing to online-only access carries its own set of problems, including possible loss of the content if a subscription is cancelled in the future.
Libraries and universities are exploring alternatives to the current model, in which faculty submit research articles to commercial publications, and the publishers then sell the journal content back to the university at high institutional rates.
One alternative that has become more common is Open Access, in which the publisher makes peer-reviewed articles freely available online. These publications are funded by advertising, grants, or in some cases by the author of the individual article paying to make the research available free of charge. In many cases, the faculty authors are able to fund the publication of their research from grant money. Open Access has shown promise, but use continues to grow too slowly. It needs to become more commonly accepted by authors in order to encourage more publishers to offer this model of publication. This would have a positive impact on access to many journal titles for all researchers, and would relieve the pressure of massive journal price increases on libraries on all levels.