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minutes Gracemary Smulewitz 25 Feb 2004 21:31 UTC

In the body of this message are the minutes from the ALCTS-SS Research
Libraries Discussion Group Meeting at mid-winter in San Diego. When we
made the announcement about the topic several of you who could not
attend asked that we distribute the minutes. Thank you Laura for
excellent documentation of the meeting.

 The Price We Pay : An Open Discussion

ALCTS/SS Research Libraries Discussion Group

Chair: Gracemary Smulewitz, Rutgers University
Vice-Chair: Laura Kane McElfresh, Emory University

10 January 2004


The ALCTS/SS Research Libraries Discussion Group met at ALA Midwinter in
San Diego, CA on 10 January 2004 for an open discussion of the impact of
rising journal prices on academic libraries: the problems these
institutions face, and the solutions they are devising.

Prior to the meeting, the following announcement had been distributed
via various listservs:


Discussion hosted by the ALCTS/SS Research Libraries Discussion Group

Many research institutions are having tremendous difficulty balancing
the cost of research journals published in multiple mediums. Some
institutions have taken drastic actions, including boycotts and vast
subscription cancellation projects. What are some of the issues that
libraries are grappling with?

The ALCTS/SS Research Libraries Discussion Group is hosting an informal
discussion on "Research Journals: The Price We Pay". A few points to be
addressed are:

? Ease of Access
? Permanence of collection
? Usage by affiliated and non-affiliated patrons
? Cost, Cost, Cost!
? The impact of Humanities/Social Sciences and Science issues
? Consensus within the institution and how to get institutional support?
? Who makes the decisions and in what time frame?
? Experiences of libraries which have dramatically changed their
practices (what can they tell us so far?)

Please join us on Saturday, January 10th, from 9:30-11:00 a.m. in the
U.S. Grant, Georgian Room to explore this issue.

In response to this announcement, a rather large and enthusiastic group
gathered at ALA Midwinter 2004 to discuss these issues. Attendance, as
represented on the sign-in sheet, numbered 70 participants from 54
institutions (mostly colleges/universities and some companies). A wide
range of schools, in both geography and size, was represented.


Discussion Group Chair Gracemary Smulewitz of Rutgers University
convened the meeting, giving an overview of the two news items which
inspired the choice of discussion topic. First, the University of
Georgia Libraries announced in early November that, as a result of
budget cuts, they had undertaken a massive serials cancellation project.
In order to save money and in response to library patrons  evident
preference for electronic formats over paper journals, the UGA Libraries
would cancel print subscriptions for titles currently held in both
electronic and print formats, opting to go electronic-only for these
titles. The conversion would start in January 2004.

The second item on our menu of food for thought was the Cornell
University Library s decision, also announced in November, to reject
Elsevier s  Big Deal  that is, to quit subscribing to a journal package
in favor of subscribing to titles on an individual basis. The Library
had found that the Elsevier package caused an inordinate amount of money
to be paid for little-used titles; however, cancellation of the
little-used titles would break the journal package, making the remaining
titles more expensive. Hence, more cancellations would be necessary in
order for Cornell to free up money for more-needed titles from other
publishers. (The Cornell Library s statement on this matter, with
updates and with links to supplementary information, may be found at

Finally, Gracemary observed that these decisions had been made by way of
a consensus between the faculty and the libraries of each institution,
not by a library working in isolation.

Before the open discussion began, a show of hands indicated not
unexpectedly that most of the participants could identify with the
problems facing Cornell and the University of Georgia.


Gracemary remarked that Rutgers, like many institutions, was suffering
from repeated budget cuts; it was also added that UC-Santa Cruz had
cancelled all print where electronic subscriptions were held, as Georgia
had done. At the Emory University General Libraries, the policy (though
not a strict one) is to prefer electronic over print formats.
Apparently, while not universal, the practice of cancelling print
journal subscriptions in favor of online access is far from unusual.

Susan Barribeau of the University of Wisconsin, Madison went into more
detail here. UW-Madison s engineering library has cancelled all print
duplicates of electronic titles in their holdings, but has also taken
further steps in an attempt to help stop the journal price explosion:
for starters, they have identified faculty who hold positions on boards
of expensive publications and have begun dialogues with these faculty
members. Library-faculty communication goes well beyond this arena,
however. Liaisons interact heavily with their faculty; for example,
UW-Madison s Chemistry librarian keeps the faculty abreast by
maintaining a 5-year plan for cancellations. Furthermore, drastic
actions such as the print cancellation/online conversion are
accomplished through behind-the-scenes collaboration between faculty and
library personnel, followed by public announcements. This touched on a
theme introduced during the opening remarks: the phenomenon of
successful cost-cutting measures accomplished by libraries and the
faculty patrons, working in collaboration.

Karl Debus Lopez, also from UW-Madison, added to Ms. Barribeau s
remarks, saying that UW-Madison currently has a policy of adding journal
subscriptions a la carte also accepted by the faculty wherein no
subscription bundles or packages are considered. The Library Director
feels that the Big Deal is not a sustainable model; it  locks libraries
in,  hindering them from making the best possible financial decisions.

However, not all libraries feel free to reject the Big Deal, as Deana
Astle of East Carolina University pointed out. Schools like ECU depend
on the large numbers of titles and the pricing advantages provided by
the Big Deal; otherwise, they cannot afford the needed titles. Here, she
feels, the library is compromised not just by matters of finance, but by
matters of need and by the savings offered by journal packages.

ECU s switch from print to online was motivated not necessarily by cost,
but rather by the need for lots of remote access to resources (the
patron population is very spread out; there is much cross-campus use,
and the medical school is a couple miles away from the main library.
Additionally, East Carolina carries 1/3 of the Distance Education
classes in North Carolina, exacerbating the need for remote access.) We
cannot be dogmatic about these matters, Ms. Astle continued; the Big
Deal is not always a bad thing.

Returning to the group from UW-Madison, Gracemary asked: how does their
decision affect library operations? Is there a toll on staffing?
Response: one major ramification is the need to ensure the existence of
adequate document delivery systems for fallback, in case a patron needs
a title that has been cancelled. With a decentralized campus, they
currently have six ILL shops running; Susan (Barribeau) wishes they
could operate under one system, but this is not possible.

According to a representative from UCSD, between the ten campuses in the
University of California system, they hold subscriptions to all but
about 210 of Elsevier s titles, and they try to get the best possible
deal for online access. When negotiating contracts for electronic
journal formats, they try to stipulate a print subscription for central
archiving; this addresses the problem of ensuring access in perpetuity.
At UCSD, as with some of the other schools whose stories we are hearing
today, the libraries have also marshaled faculty support. (In fact, some
faculty members were willing to end access too radically!)

California State University, Fullerton, a master s-level university and
the third-largest school in the Cal State system, focuses on what its
library patrons want; and according to Fullerton s Teresa Malinowsky,
the patrons want electronic they will not use paper. Thus, Cal State
Fullerton has let go of paper at every possible opportunity; providing a
computer workstation on every faculty desktop on campus allowed the
library to move forward with the conversion to e-access. But what about
the titles that cannot be found online? In the current financial
environment, Ms. Malinowsky says, print-only titles may find themselves
on the chopping block.

Question: how can we balance the needs of our humanities faculty? Their
journals, often much less expensive than the science & engineering
titles, may tend to get lost in the shuffle.

Amherst College is currently evaluating their collection. Susan Kimball
says that after an initial period of online access being  free with
print  for humanities and social science titles, Amherst librarians now
find that publishers are starting to charge for online access, and they
are beginning to raise faculty awareness on matters of journal costs.
However, the difference in cost is less of a factor than patterns of use
are: patrons in the humanities and social sciences do use print, due to
their own reading patterns and the ease of browsing in print.

Electronic formats put us at the mercy of the publisher, Ms. Kimball
added; alternatives such as open access do not currently exist, so we
find more publishers jumping on the bandwagon and following the Elsevier
stranglehold model. Wen-Ying Lu, Linguistics librarian at Michigan State
University, added to these remarks, saying that her faculty did not want
print to be cancelled. She now finds herself unable to add titles
because Michigan State is locked into the Big Deal. Subject expertise is
no longer the extent of our work, Gracemary observed: librarians
increasingly need to understand the business side of things, such as
budgets and contract negotiations.

Referring back to Ms. Kimball s comments, Deana Astle of East Carolina
University cautioned the audience against  thinking of disciplines as
being monolithic  and introducing stereotypes into the discussion.
Scientists do not always favor electronic formats, and some humanists do
prefer online access over print.

Ivy Anderson of Harvard University said that like Cornell, Harvard has
cancelled the Big Deal; in addition to cancelling print, they have also
cancelled some electronic access. The Engineering library has worked
with the faculty to develop cancellation lists and try to  regain
control of the collections , another example of the vein of
library/faculty collaboration which seems to run through so many
successful collection reform efforts.

Two cultural trends consortia and flip pricing mean that we need new
ways of thinking about journal prices, according to a representative
from UC-San Diego; we have to get away from the idea of  how much will I
save  by cancelling a particular title or two. List prices have never
been a completely accurate indicator of a title s true cost (for
example, a print version may look $200 cheaper on paper, but the list
price does not include the costs of processing, binding, etc.), but
bundling only thickens the haze around journal prices. If a library buys
access to Brain Research and Ebony through the same journal package, she
asserts, then Brain Research and Ebony effectively cost the same amount.
And if a library has a consortial deal with a guaranteed limit on price
increases, added East Carolina s Deana Astle, they might actually be
paying less than the list price.

Members of the audience had some difficulty with this idea; for example,
one participant wondered what would happen to the price and value of the
package (and hence its constituent journals) if Brain Research were
dropped. Furthermore, Kay Granskog of Michigan State pointed out, what
if a library tracks its subjects by cost? In this case, an African
American Studies librarian would be very unlikely to accept the idea of
Ebony and Brain Research having the same price! But there is no better
way, replied the UCSD participant.

At UW-Madison, they do track at the subject level wherever possible,
they are able to break out the costs of print and surcharges for
electronic access. It takes time and effort, but is useful for
collection management librarians; and perhaps some participants found
this surprising, but Elsevier does provide UW-Madison with a list of
prices. Additionally, UW-Madison has a new class code for Access Fees,
helping them to track these expenses. To contrast, many other libraries
have difficulty tracking cost per subject information through class
codes, because they do not have this type of machinery in place (for
example, Rutgers has their electronic journal packages on a generic fund

Continuing in this same direction, Lynda Clendenning of Indiana
University talked about how her institution lets vendors handle their
Elsevier bill. The vendors track it like a print subscription, so they
do get subject tracking on their invoices for everything, not just for
print subscriptions. Of course, there is an added fee for this service,
but IU does not find it onerous. Now, while subject tracking is an
interesting idea, subject breakouts break down with aggregators such as
LexisNexis; however, for many libraries, aggregator access is not seen
as an acceptable replacement for print or an online subscription. At
UCSD, LexisNexis is used as a substitute for print only in some
scattered marginal areas. The work force has changed a bit at UCSD,
according to Susan Starr: due to the need to track subscriptions and
costs,  we re getting very good at spreadsheets .

Carleton College hasn t changed its staffing, according to Kathy Tezla,
but work roles have evolved: in addition to the preservation work that
was previously part of one collection management person s job
responsibilities, this person is now also in charge of online access.
Cost and other analyses are done internally at Carleton, and then a
document is produced to show the findings.

When it comes to number-crunching, the  heavy lifting  at UW-Madison is
done by Acquisitions and Technical Services; they then pass the
information on to Collection Management. Usage statistics are also
gathered, with the intention of tying them in to costs. Here, there is a
gray area a  large, tortuous change , as Susan Barribeau expressed
it where collection management and technical services are morphing into
e-resources coordination and it s not always clear who should do what.

Serials staff at UW-Madison were able to convince the higher-ups to
create a position to handle statistics and analysis, not wanting to
trust the data provided by vendors. Additionally, they need to have
staff in Acquisitions who can interpret this information and pass it on
to Collection Management, freeing Collection Management from being too
involved with the nuts-and-bolts aspects of this work; selectors at
UW-Madison have not always had to deal with Big Deal-type problems,
since some resources have been paid for with University of Wisconsin
consortial funds.

Once again, however, we must remember that not all institutions can keep
in-house statistics; some do have to rely on vendor-provided statistics,
which ECU s Deana Astle likens to  comparing apples & kumquats . Here,
librarians  hopes for the future may in part be pinned on the Project
COUNTER (Counting Online Usage of NeTworked Electronic Resources)
initiative, which seeks to create a code of practice whereby they can
get vendors to standardize their reported statistics. (Currently, the
Project COUNTER website is at but they
might be changing their domain name.)

Returning to an earlier thread of conversation, Carole Pilkinton of the
University of Notre Dame said that Notre Dame gets  lots of bang for the
buck  from journal packages; they have objections like the big schools
do, but do realize that they get a lot for what they pay. Costs for the
packages are largely covered by departments with historic subscriptions
to their most heavily-used titles, such as the Chemistry department;
these departments analyze heavily, and want to get out of the Big Deal
so that they can drop some expensive and little-used titles. This,
however, would destroy support for widely used titles in other areas,
many of which do not have the print or historic subscriptions. Here,
independent consultant October Ivins pointed out that Elsevier has
digitized their backfiles. She also mentioned that since there is so
much available in the backfiles, Elsevier will have extensive hits. Ms.
Astle observed that East Carolina University s humanists and social
scientists make heavy use of archival electronic content such as JSTOR.

Gracemary then posed another question: has anyone gone to a by-the-drink
plan? That is, has any library funded a certain amount for access to
individual articles from nonsubscribed titles? Kimberly Parker of Yale
University said that Yale did an analysis on some titles not contained
in their package, and found that the costs for by-the-drink access would
have exceeded $100K. This is far more than it would have cost to simply
subscribe to the titles; hence, by-the-drink pricing turned out to be
very impractical for them.

For our last major topic of discussion, we turned toward alternatives to
big publishers, such as open access. The Public Library of Science
(PLOS) was described as an attempt to get us away from being held
hostage by commercial publishers.

One salient point was the need to tie all sciences together. For
example, physicists are well represented by reliable alternative
publishers, so they sometimes express wishes to withhold their business
from large commercial publishers; but dropping the commercial publishers
would cripple the life scientists on campus, who do not have nearly as
extensive an array of alternative publishing options. Here, such new
publications and content carriers as PLOS Biology and BioMedCentral are
attempting to fill the life scientists  needs.

Of course, publications are only as good as their content, editors,
etc.; thus, in part, it is up to faculty to help  make  alternative
publishers. They can choose where to publish the results of their own
labor; as one participant put it, Big Publishing s stranglehold on
scholarly content  is only going to stop if [faculty] quit giving away
their research .

At Harvard University, in getting rid of the Big Deal, one of the goals
was to tie this move to discussions about scholarly publishing. Faculty
support for alternative publishing seemed strong; but after the
discussions, it has been much more difficult to actually galvanize broad
activity in this direction. UCLA has also tried to sell alternative
publishing to their faculty, hosting a faculty forum about the Elsevier
Big Deal and about open access, and targeting the fact that these same
faculty members are on editorial boards of journals and may be able to
help solve the problems libraries face. But as representatives from
UW-Madison point out, part of the perception problem with open access
lies in accreditation: when open-access titles become a requirement for
accreditation, it will help confer legitimacy (in the eyes of

For their part, Elsevier is definitely aware of the open access
movement; however, their reactions and the results of said actions
remain to be seen. Deana Astle mentioned that Elsevier s stock has
dropped in Europe, partially due to concern about competition from open
access publications (the story was published in several places,
including the Manchester Guardian; the January issue of the SPARC Open
Access Newsletter <> gives a link
to the version published in the Times Online
<,,748-930132,00.html>. On the
other hand, according to Susan Starr of UC-San Diego, there has also
been talk that Elsevier could take over open access.

Finally, institutional repositories can provide another means by which
control over scholarly publications can be wrested from Big Publishing;
faculty members can see their work as staying at home, rather than being
given away to commercial publishers who sell (or lease) it back to
libraries at high prices. MIT s DSpace, of course, is a big leader;
Rutgers is starting to get into the institutional repository business,
and while Lynda Clendenning was not quite certain of Indiana
University s progress in this direction, she remarked that they do have
someone whose title has  Repository  in it.

Some of the issues that we touched lightly upon were likely to be
discussed in the SPARC/ACRL Forum ( Open Access: Getting From Here to
There ), scheduled to be held later the same day. A description of this
forum, along with materials from the presentations given by the panel,
is available from <>.


One common thread running through the discussion was the idea that
successful library actions involved faculty/library cooperation and
collaboration. (The causality, however is unclear: is a cancellation
project successful because faculty are kept in the loop, or does the
library keep the faculty informed because they already feel the faculty
will be sympathetic and/or helpful? Conversely, does fear of upsetting
the faculty sometimes cause librarians to keep cancellation projects
under their hats?)

For those of us in consortia, it may be a good idea to have the
consortium contact a publisher; there is a need to present a united
front. Presenting a united front may prove difficult, however, as
pricing models which are good for one institution may be bad for
another. Additionally, as collection management efforts depend on access
to consortial materials, it is important for members of consortia to
keep in touch with what the others are doing.

Overall, this was a far-ranging discussion involving a wide range of
institutions (perhaps a bit too wide, and perhaps skewed towards the big
libraries; Shirley Rais of Loma Linda University expressed a desire for
a group for smaller libraries, whose problems are often the same but who
must solve them in radically different ways). Of course, we did not
solve all our problems or answer all the questions about serials in
today s academic libraries; but one may hope that this fruitful and
educational discussion can lead to more and better efforts towards that

lkm 2/23/2004

Gracemary Smulewitz
New Brunswick Libraries
Access/Collection Services
Rutgers University