To avoid a collections budget shortfall, the University Library will be cancelling two “big deal” journal subscription packages as of Jan. 1, losing immediate access to 3,684 electronic journals of the 40,000 they currently subscribe to.
The library was reportedly forced to take these actions after recurring deficits caused by unfavourable currency exchange rates and the continual inflation of subscription costs set by five major commercial publishers.
Melissa Just, dean of the University Library, says that the challenges of rising collection costs are universal and cuts like these are a common response to the current state of academic publishing.
“Even if our budget is flat, the buying power we have is reduced by however much inflation is,” said Just. “So every institution that has a flat budget or a modest increase will have to cancel something to continue to balance the budget.”
The University Library is cancelling their contracts with the publishers Taylor & Francis and Wiley-Blackwell then re-subscribing to individual journal subscriptions. The 171 titles selected to remain after the implementation on Jan. 1 were the most cost-effective. The library determined which titles are getting the most use and should remain, with input from faculty and graduate students.
Just says that the assessment period following the cuts will be critical to identify the journals that are in demand from faculty and re-subscribe to them with the funds remaining for readjustment.
“The challenge is that the amount of money we have now is very small, so the amount of correction we will be able to do is minimal,” Just said.
These big deals work “like a cable TV deal” where you get a discounted price for subscribing to the entire collection. Licensing for an individual journal has a significantly higher list price set by publishers.
“Publishers are trying to disincentivize us from breaking up these packages,” Just said. “We still had to make tough decisions and we did the best we could on the data we received to identify the ones that were really the most important.”
The University of Saskatchewan is one of the 74 institutions in the Canadian Research Knowledge Network, a consortium that uses the collective bargaining strength of its members to make individual licensing terms more favourable for each library.
Because other Canadian universities will continue to be subscribed to the cut packages, students will still be able to access them through interlibrary loans despite some wait times.
“I think it’s unfortunate that for some of the content we will no longer have immediate access because I know that can be a barrier for some people, but I’m not concerned about our ability to get our hands on things,” Just said.
Just says that the University Library will continue raising awareness on how a bigger budget will not solve the problem of inflation. Continuing to pay the annual increases would also not incentivize the big publishers to change their models.
“It feels like we’re almost on the precipice of a complete and total breakdown of the system as it currently exists,” Just said. “We have to start talking about [a] different way to publish and disseminate the research outputs that are happening at universities because the model simply seems unsustainable.”
Noah Callaghan/ Staff Writer
Photo: Wyatt Henley