By Rod Henshaw, Teri Koch and Laura Krossner.
This is the first of several postings that will address the significant developments within scholarly publishing and communication. Our purpose with these blog posts is threefold: 1) identity the major recent developments; 2) examine how do these relate to our collections and services, and 3) identify emerging scholarly publishing trends, especially emerging alternative constructs to the current system. We invite feedback and dialogue!
There are a couple of macro-factors to consider as we go forward. First is the reality that the rate of change is speeding up. In science fiction there is a term—the singularity—in which the pace of technological change rapidly accelerates (with both positive and negative consequences). We are approaching, if we haven’t already entered into, an analogous situation with scholarly publishing. Second, within any fluid change environment, there will be a variety of factors to consider. The number of players in the scholarly publishing environment is large, including, but not limited to: the research processes, faculty needs, publishers, scholarly societies, libraries, technology, governmental policy, open access, and the current financial climate for higher education. These various players are going to be in different states of evolution, responding as needed with their individual service needs and business models. One of the primary challenges as this change goes forward is making the best decisions for service at any given time.
For this first blog we want to address The Big Deal and why it’s getting to be an even bigger deal. And what approach we are taking for the time being.
Most of you are aware that the University of California system recently declined to renew their big package deal with Elsevier. https://www.chronicle.com/article/U-of-California-System/245798
This development has garnered a lot of press coverage beyond the library field and on into the academic and general press at large. This UC decision has led to strong support – with support statements coming from other institutions – including Iowa State. https://www.insidehighered.com/print/news/2019/03/27/librarians-prepare-take-harder-line-publishers
Clearly, the UC action has emboldened other major systems and institutions to review their current deals, to take a harder line with negotiations, and to potentially not review package contracts. Here is a summary from SPARC regarding Big Deal activities: https://sparcopen.org/our-work/big-deal-cancellation-tracking/
Below we review our current approach – especially with Elsevier, and why for the time being this approach makes the best sense for us – recognizing that this may change drastically when the contract is up for renewal.
First of all, you may ask what is a “Big Deal”? Why would a library subscribe to one? A Big Deal in the sense of libraries is where an institution subscribes to a large package of journals in a publisher’s collection, often at a substantial discount off the individual list price, rather than subscribing to only the titles the institution really wants/uses. It is usually a better deal to get the whole package than it is to subscribe to needed titles individually. Libraries can offer access to more titles, and publishers can get their lesser-used titles into the subscription package in order to boost their subscription numbers. Think of it like your cable package. You may only want CNN and ESPN, but you end up with a bunch of other channels that you may not really want or use.
One of the most important functions of the library is to provide access to the learning resources needed by Drake students, faculty, and staff. Obviously, with budget constraints, we cannot provide subscription access to all needed and desired content. Therefore, we aim to try to provide access to the most used resources in the most cost-effective manner possible. In recent years, this has entailed the library “breaking-up” most of the Big Deal packages offered by vendors, and instead subscribing to the most-used journal titles on an individual basis. We then purchase individual articles on an “as needed” basis through a document delivery vendor, primarily GetItNow. The cost is usually in the vicinity of $24-48 per article. This model makes sense as long as the cost of articles purchased as needed does not exceed the cost of the subscription.
Up until recently, for the vendor Elsevier, this model made the most sense. We subscribed to approximately $24,000 of Elsevier journals, and we let users download additional content on an as-needed basis via GetItNow, which the library then pays for on a monthly basis. What has changed in recent years is the skyrocketing use of GetItNow, and the library’s associated costs.
Beginning FY18, our document delivery costs began to grow each month as more patrons were downloading Elsevier articles for their research. This was problematic for numerous reasons: first, we had already budgeted a certain amount for expected document delivery costs, and suddenly we were in the red on that budget line. We had to scramble to come up with the funds to pay for these invoices by cutting into the book budget and staff development budget. Second, it also became impossible to predict the cost of the monthly GetItNow invoice. This lack of budget certainty was a huge problem. Finally, it no longer made fiscal sense to rely on document delivery. The yearly cost of Elsevier’s Big Deal package (called the Freedom Collection) ended up being less than what we were paying buying content per article via GetItNow.
Via careful contract negotiation, Cowles Library was able to obtain favorable contract terms for the Elsevier Freedom Collection. We signed a 5-year contract with capped inflation rates, which also includes a “budget-out” clause. This means if our budget situation becomes so dire we are unable to pay our contracted invoice amount, we can get out of the contract with no penalties. We also managed to negotiate access to expanded backfiles: a standard Freedom Collection offers the current year of a journal’s content plus a 4-year rolling backfile (for instance, this year we’d have access to 2019 and the 4 previous years, 2015-2018; next year, we’d have access to 2020 and 2016-2019, etc.). Our collection gives us 1995-present content, with no rolling backfile. Each year that we continue to pay for Elsevier content, we maintain our holdings access back to 1995.
Finally, our contract ended up costing us less than had anticipated. It is our most expensive single resource expense (north of $100,000), but the amount of content we get access to (over 2300 journals and 23,000 books), plus now having predictable budget lines and the ability to pay less for the same content we were getting before, makes this instance of a Big Deal a great value for Drake University.
Below are the most requested GetItNow journals now included in our Freedom Collection subscription:
- Social Science & Medicine
- Computers in Human Behavior
- Research in Developmental Disabilities
- The Leadership Quarterly
- Drug and Alcohol Dependence
- Journal of the American Academy of Dermatology
- Psychiatry Research
In future posts we plan to address some of the other major developments in scholarly communication, and how they may impact us. Please feel free to provide feedback.