Academic journal article Library Technology Reports

Chapter 6: What Can Be Done

Academic journal article Library Technology Reports

Chapter 6: What Can Be Done

Article excerpt

Abstract

There are two fundamental aspects to Big Deals as a problem: the extent to which bundling distorts and limits library collection policies and can distort the growth of serials publishing, and the continuing growth of serials costs at much higher rates than inflation, which forces many libraries to reduce other acquisitions and other spending. Chapter 6 of Library Technology Reports (vol. 50, no. 4) considers some possible approaches to improving the situation.

There are two fundamental aspects to Big Deals as a problem: the extent to which bundling distorts and limits library collection policies and can distort the growth of serials publishing, and the continuing growth of serials costs at much higher rates than inflation, which forces many libraries to reduce other acquisitions and other spending.

The first step to solving the problem is accepting that there is a problem. If your library believes that it's doing just fine with the Big Deal and other serials prices, and if this discussion hasn't changed your mind, then there's not much more to say.

You may be one of relatively few libraries that do seem to be prospering in other areas while still accommodating current serials pricing. I would suggest that you read the section Spending per Capita later in this chapter. If you come out in good shape there as well (as more than 400 libraries do), then I salute you--and hope you'll help the rest of America's academic libraries find appropriate solutions.

I am not an academic librarian and have no inside knowledge of budgeting procedures or whatever magic is likely to happen. Thus, the suggestions that follow may be naive or unworkable--but they may also offer some real possibilities.

Transparency in Pricing

When I walk into a bookstore, I can find out what my prices will be, and any discounts should be obvious. When libraries and groups of libraries subscribe to bundles of e-journals, they frequently have to sign nondisclosure agreements before they can get a price. The result is that publishers, including the four that dominate the STM publishing field, have the upper hand: libraries can't know whether they're getting the best available price and can't tell other libraries how much they're paying. I can only assume that libraries and consortia agree to nondisclosure agreements because they think they'll get better pricing as a result--but how can they ever know?

This situation should be intolerable, and I believe there are hundreds of cases in which it's also illegal. Every state has some freedom-of-information law. Some (if not most or all) of those laws should make nondisclosure agreements regarding contracts between publishers and public institutions, such as public universities and colleges (including their libraries), invalid.

It should be possible to build and maintain a database of actual contracted prices for journal bundles by public institutions--if necessary by filing the state equivalent of FOIA requests. Such a database might still leave publishers with more power than libraries in price negotiations, but it would at least begin to level the playing field.

Once such a database is in place, it would behoove other libraries to resist nondisclosure agreements: just say no. That's easy advice that's probably hard to follow, if you believe you're getting the right kind of special treatment for keeping secrets--but it seems clear that secrecy is harmful to libraries in general, and there's a good chance you're getting the wrong kind of special treatment.

Transparency in Costs

I believe that transparency in pricing is feasible and desirable. I believe that transparency in costs is achievable only if there's a revolution in scholarly article publishing. I can't imagine any of the big publishers being willing to be this open--and, frankly, I'd be surprised if the bigger open-access publishers with article-processing charges (APCs) were ready to open the books fully. …

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