Journal cancellations hinder access to research

Editor’s Note: This is the first in a series of articles exploring open access in scholarly communications.

You can subscribe to science magazines like Seed or Discover for $19.95 a year—the price of a couple burgers and beers at McMenamin’s. But the annual fees to libraries for certain academic journals can reach tens of thousands of dollars, the price of a brand-new ride—a Honda Fit, perhaps, or a Nissan Versa. And those rates have been rising as fast as 8 percent a year, outpacing higher-ed budgets by miles.

Faye Chadwell, Associate University Librarian for Collections and Content Management, said journal subscriptions are getting too expensive for libraries. Using interlibrary loans helps, but Chadwell believes the current model of academic publishing is not sustainable. (photo courtesy OSU Libraries)

Faye Chadwell, Associate University Librarian for Collections and Content Management, said journal subscriptions are getting too expensive for libraries. Using interlibrary loans helps, but Chadwell believes the current model of academic publishing is not sustainable. (photo courtesy OSU Libraries)

That’s why OSU’s libraries are cancelling $1.2 million in journal subscriptions over the next two years. The most expensive title going away is Surface Science ($13,399), followed by European Journal of Pharmacology ($12,444). Both are products of mega-publisher Elsevier. Another victim is International Journal of Quantum Chemistry (online license, $10,893), published by Wiley, another titan of the commercial academic presses.

Humanities will feel the pain, too, despite the comparatively modest prices for liberal arts and social sciences journals. Philosophical Studies, a Springer title, is the priciest loss ($2,459) outside the hard sciences. In the social sciences, Elsevier’s Catena ($1,706) and Wiley’s Managerial and Decision Economics ($1,668) top the chopping block for cost.
Tough as the current cuts appear, they are only the latest round of a trend that began two decades ago. Journal expenditures nationwide skyrocketed 321 percent between 1986 and 2006, according to a recent study by the Association of Research Libraries.

“This crisis has been going on for 20 years,” says Faye Chadwell, associate university librarian for Collections and Content Management. “Just since 1998, we’ve cut about 3,200 titles totaling roughly $1.75 million to $2 million. We cut out all the fat years ago. Now we’re losing access to core content.”

Library faculty worked closely with academic departments to identify high-value journals to safeguard. They also orchestrated interdisciplinary feedback across colleges.

“People took it very seriously,” says Chadwell. “There wasn’t a lot of unnecessary grumbling. It was more a sense of resignation. “
OSU Libraries have joined forces with University of Oregon and Portland State University to fight soaring journal costs. This year for the first time, the three state universities—which subscribe to many of the same journals—have made a concerted effort to jointly cut titles. By working together, the consortium is paring duplication across the Oregon University System while retaining unique content within the state. OSU students and researchers can access journals from sister institutions through Interlibrary Loan.

Such cost-cutting measures, however, won’t solve the underlying problem, according to Chadwell.

“The current model of academic publishing is just not sustainable,” she says.

As a steering committee member for the international Scholarly Publishing and Academic Resources Coalition (SPARC), Chadwell is a leader in a growing global movement to change the whole approach to scholarly communication. There’s something wrong, she says, when publicly funded universities have to pay giant fees to access publicly funded research conducted by their own faculty.

“Because of the ongoing budget stagnation, libraries lose ground every year and are able to buy less and less with their materials budgets,” Chadwell notes in Collection Management, which she edits.

She advises library collection managers “to demonstrate the vital connection between the serials content to which our users are losing access and the need for those same users to take control of their scholarship.”

~ Lee Sherman

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