Library Committee Recommendations
Presented to the Faculty Senate May 13, 2004
The purpose of this report from Library Committee is to describe our understanding
of the current and growing crisis in scholarly communication. The problem
is one research librarians have been grappling with during the last 20 years
or so. However, it is only recently that the situation at libraries, such
as OSU, has deteriorated to the point of cutting huge portions of serial
subscriptions. At large and small higher education institutions around the
country, the general university community, faculty senates, and individual
faculty researchers are beginning to recognize the gravity of the problem,
and have begun to take action to address what has become a dysfunctional
system of scholarly communication.
The Serials Crisis
The problem has to do with both the cost of journals and the fundamental
control of information. The focus of this report is on the costs as well
as the equally important question of control and ownership of scholarship.
Data collected by the Association of Research Libraries indicates that the
cost for serials by research libraries, such as the OSU Libraries, increased
227% between 1986 and 2002. (In the same period, the consumer price index
increased 57%.) These rising prices are driven primarily by journals dedicated
to science, medicine, and technology. During the 1990s, such serials
had annual price increases of about 12%, on average. OSU Libraries is typical
of other research libraries. The 2002 spending on serials was three times
that spent in 1986. The end result is a decline in the number of serial
titles purchased and directly available for faculty and students use.
Studies have suggested that this rise in journal costs results from the increasing
commercialization of science publishing. These commercially published
journals are much more expensive than professional society, not-for-profit
journals (although there are exceptions). Commercial publishing organizations
are publishing seven times more journals than are professional associations
(e.g., McCabe, 2000; also see Case, 2002), whereas 20 years ago there
were many more society-owned journals than commercially-owned journals.
In the last 20 years, many not-for-profit journals, strapped for money,
have been bought up by commercial publishers. Elsevier, the largest commercial
publisher, owns approximately1,400 journals. To bring this closer to home,
the OSU Libraries subscribes to approximately 400 Elsevier journals at
a total annual cost of $800,000. This represents 20% of the entire materials
budget and 25% of the serials budget. The essential problem is that the
rapidly rising cost of these journals is occurring in an economic context
of flat or declining funding for research libraries.
These rising serial costs are out of control, and way beyond the consumer
price index. Library budgets in general, and OSU in particular, have not
had corresponding budget funding increases to match the increases in serial
costs. It is unrealistic to expect the
OSU Libraries budget to increase significantly in the near future. However,
although we would all like to see a more robust funding level for the
OSU Libraries, the root problem here is not library funding. Even if library
funding were increased dramatically, the serial crisis would still be
The immediate and obvious strategy for this serials crisis is to cancel
journals; perhaps cut the most expensive and lowest use journals. Research
libraries everywhere are engaging in the painful process of terminating
subscriptions to large numbers of serials. In the 1990s, the University
of Wisconsin library cut more than 7,000 subscriptions to academic journals.
In the last five years, the OSU Libraries (with a much smaller collection
than Wisconsin) has cut approximately 1,500 journals. And the cuts go
on and on.
However, there is a consensus in the research library community that canceling
large numbers of journals and buying fewer monographs are reactive, superficial,
and short-term solutions to this problem. In fact, buying fewer serials
only intensifies the problem for researchers and publishers. Scholars
find it harder to find articles they need in their library collections,
and publishers simply raise the prices of surviving journals to offset
the loss of revenue from eliminated journals (Branin and Case, 1998).
Given the growing crisis in serial subscriptions and dissemination of
faculty scholarship, the OSU Libraries has responded through a variety
of avenues--with the goal of providing faculty and students with
the best information in the most efficient format. For example, membership
in consortia such as Orbis/Cascades and the Greater Western Library Alliance
have enabled the OSU Libraries to join others in negotiating better pricing
agreements as well as increasing access to monographs and document delivery
of journal articles. Membership in the Center for Research Libraries gives
OSU faculty and students access to those more obscure but critical publications
that the OSU Libraries would simply be unable to purchase. A recently
concluded agreement with the University of Oregon's Knight Library
will not only improve delivery of journal articles between schools but
will also establish a protocol whereby the two libraries will reach an
agreement on shared journal collections and retention. On the national
level, OSU Libraries is a full participant of SPARC (Scholarly Publishing
and Academic Resources Coalition) and a support of the Budapest Open Access
Finally, there is another, broader question energizing resistance to
the current business model of scholarly communication; namely the control,
ownership, and sharing of information. In the current system, researchers
are usually supported by their universities or through public money of
some kind, such as federal grants. With this taxpayer support, faculty
conduct the research and write their results for publication. Researchers
submit their work to publishers, who accept, edit, package and disseminate
the articles in their journals. Most publishers request that the author
give them copyright ownership. Publishers then turn around and sell back
to the scholars and universities the research paid for the by public sector
funding agencies. Throughout the process, the publishers, increasingly
the commercial companies, are "in control of the (process), with
the ownership of scholarship and with the right to sell it as a commodity"
(Branin & Case, 1998).
Resistance and Alternatives
Resistance to the increasing domination of commercial publishers, the
excessively high costs, along with a loss of control over our scholarship
is happening and spreading throughout the country.
For example, biologists at the University of California, San Francisco called
for a boycott of several popular Cell
journals in response to the
outrageous pricing of its publisher, Elsevier. Cornell University just cancelled
150 Elsevier journals and refused to accept a bundled deal (Reed, 2004).
Several editorial boards of high status journals in the sciences have resigned,
en masse, in protest to the escalating cost of their journals. There is
the well-known story of University of Arizona professor Michael Rosenzweig,
who in 1984 started a biology journal, Evolutionary Ecology
a small English publisher, Chapman Hill. The journal changed hands several times, and it
finally ended up in the hands of publishing conglomerate, Wolters Kluwer.
By the late 1990s, the cost of the journal for libraries had risen from
$100 to $800 and so infuriated Rosenzweig and his editorial board that they
resigned. They proceeded to start up an on-line and affordable journal,
Evolutionary Ecology Research
, at one-third the cost of Evolutionary
In the United States, many universities have been taking proactive actions
to address the growing problem. Some have totally severed "big
deal" contracts with commercial publishers like Elsevier, while
others have passed faculty senate resolutions calling for the overhaul
of the culture and business of scholarly communication. In the last
year, the following universities in the United States have taken some
action in response to this crisis: Duke University; University of California,
Berkeley; University of California, Santa Cruz; University of California,
San Francisco; Harvard University; Cornell University; University of
California, Los Angeles; North Carolina State University; University
of North Carolina; University of Connecticut; Stanford University; University
of Maryland; and Indiana University.
Leading librarians and scholars around the country have begun advocating
what many believe must be a radical restructuring of the system. Selected
commentary from these individuals follows:
...the goal is not to simply "negotiate more effectively
with Elsevier" (but instead) "to change the fundamental nature
of scholarly communication in the journal industry." --Michael
Keller, Stanford University Librarian
"The subscription model where the library pays is beginning to break
--Carol Tenopir, Professor of Information Sciences, University of
"...Recognizing that the increasing control by large commercial
publishers over the publication and distribution of the faculty's
scholarship and research threatens to undermine core academic values promoting
broad and rapid dissemination of new knowledge and unrestricted access
to the results of scholarship and research, the University Faculty Senate
encourages the library and the faculty vigorously to explore and support
alternatives to commercial venues for scholarly communication."
--Resolution adopted by the Cornell University Faculty Senate, December
"This is not a serials crisis, but rather a broader crisis in scholarly
communication.... The current method of scholarly information exchange
is not sustainable...." --Ross Atkinson, Collections Librarian,
(Once we have the beginnings of an open access system in place) "then
we have to proselytize and educate academics. Foment freedom! I must tell
you that academics have no idea what's going on. They do not know
what libraries are going through just now. They have no sense of what
a publisher does or how inexpensive it is to do it. They don't even
know about their own rights and privileges. When it comes to publishing,
they are an uninformed herd, fed, milked and slaughtered at will. And
happy to be of service." --Michael Rosenzweig, Editor,
Evolutionary Ecology Research, and Professor, University of Arizona
Some commentators argue that we should work within the existing paradigm
of a subscription-based system, by continuing to negotiate lower prices
with publishers and to continue to form consortia and shared collections
with other libraries. However, most librarians and involved scholars
argue for a more fundamental change, a real paradigm change, to an open
access system of on-line journals that charge no subscription fees.
Reflecting an open access, free to users approach, there are an increasing
number of major initiatives to establish a new paradigm in academic
Such initiatives include:
Publishing and Academic Resources Coalition
is an initiative of the
Association of Research Libraries. SPARC has helped in the development
of new on-line journals that compete with established commercially published
journals. There are currently around 300 on-line journals that are associated
with SPARC. The OSU Libraries is a member of the coalition.
is a group
that offers access to over one hundred biomedical journals.
The Public Library of
(PLoS) is a grassroots movement led by a large group of scientists,
notably Howard Varmus. Dr. Varmus also established PubMedCentral, the
first free on-line library that gathers and catalogues published biomedical
research. OSU Libraries is a member.
is an e-print service in the
fields of physics, mathematics, non-linear science, computer science,
and quantitative biology. The contents of arXiv conform to Cornell University
academic standards. ArXiv is owned, operated, and funded by Cornell University.
(Note: Cornell is both a public and private university.) ArXiv is also
partially funded by the National Science Foundation.
Stanford's Highwire Press
is the largest on-line archive of free life sciences articles in the world.
Currently, Highwire Press has about 400 journals, and OSU Libraries subscribes
to this press.
The Budapest Open
has been signed by a growing number of individuals
and organizations from around the world that represent researchers, universities,
laboratories, libraries, foundations, journals, publishers, learned societies,
and kindred open-access initiatives. They invite signatures, support,
and participation of the entire world scientific and scholarly community.
In addition to the above consortia, there are individual, free, peer-reviewed
on-line journals. One example is Ecology
(formerly Conservation Ecology) at http://www.ecologyandsociety.org/Journal/
Proposal to Establish a Library Task Force
The Faculty Senate Library Committee believes that the current system
of scholarly communication is dysfunctional and ultimately unsustainable.
Therefore, the Library Committee proposes the establishment of a task
force to facilitate the University's examination of this issue.
It is proposed that the task force be comprised of an individual from
the OSU Libraries staff, an individual from the Library Committee, and
one individual each from Liberal Arts and Science and two-three individuals
from the other colleges. It is also proposed that the task force have
a one-year charge to do the following:
- engage in studying the existing problems associated with scholarly
publication (including data and statistics), and with emerging alternative
- educate the University community about this issue;
- work collaboratively with the OSU Libraries to analyze and propose
alternative publication methods for both scholarly periodicals and monographs;
- consider strategies to evaluate alternative modes of publication relevant
to promotion and tenure; and
- report its work and recommendations to the Faculty Senate at the end
of the 2004-05 academic year.
Association of Research Libraries (2003). Association of Research
Washington DC: ARL.
Branin, J. J., and Case, M. M. (1998). Reforming scholarly publishing
in the sciences: A librarian's perspective. Notices of the AMS,
Case, M. M. (2002). Igniting change in scholarly communication: SPARC,
it's past present and future. Advances in Librarianship,
McCabe, M. J. (2000). Academic journal pricing and market power: A portfolio
approach. Paper presented at the 2000 American Economic Association Conference,
Reed, C. (2004). Just say no to exploitative publishers in science journals.
Chronicle of Higher Education, 50(24),