Q: Why is the UI Libraries cancelling subscriptions?

A: This cancellation project is necessary because subscription price increases far outpace budget increases. In recent years and continuing today, scholarly publishing companies have levied annual price increases of 5% to 7%, while our annual budget for these materials has remained mostly unchanged for the last three fiscal year.

Such an environment diminishes our purchasing power, and these cost increases are simply not sustainable. Over time, price increases that outstrip budget increases create a severe imbalance in overall acquisitions efforts, which threatens the Libraries’ capacity to support the full range of university subjects and programs.

The University of Iowa Libraries joins a large number of peer institutions that have found it necessary to implement significant cancellations. The University of Iowa Libraries’ cancellation project is but another symptom of an ongoing crisis in the process of scholarly communication. It is likely to be a recurring feature of the landscape for the indefinite future as long as publishers’ prices continue to rise at rates beyond the general rate of inflation.

Q: Are other research libraries cancelling subscriptions?

A: Yes. UC-Berkeley, University of Missouri, University of Maryland, New Mexico State University, University of Massachusetts, Georgia State University, University of Alaska, to name a few.

Q: What is the goal of the journal cancellation project?

A: The project’s primary goal is to reduce the cost of current subscriptions by approximately $600,000.

Q: Which departments and programs will be affected?

A: This project will affect all colleges, departments, and programs. Subscriptions managed by the Law Library are not included.

Q: When will the cancellations take effect?

A: Canceled databases will be discontinued as early as July 1, 2019. Canceled journals will be discontinued January 1, 2020.

Q: Will each department or program be expected to reduce spending by the same amount?

A: Our strategy will be to reduce spending proportionately by discipline as follows:

  • 10% basic sciences, engineering, and health sciences
  • 7% social sciences
  • 5% humanities (including area studies and performing arts)

Q: How were these percentages determined?

A: The percentages are based on three factors: the number of journal and database titles, the funding allocated to purchase those resources, and subscriptions packages that cannot be canceled due to multi-year commitments (yet their inflation costs must still be covered).

Basic sciences, engineering, and health sciences are journal-heavy disciplines. Publishers tend to bundle titles in these disciplines as well as, to a lesser extent, in the social sciences.

Most of the humanities and some of the social sciences already saw a reduction in funding for resources earlier this year. (We reduced funds for one-time purchases to help cover the inflation rates for this fiscal year.)

Q: How will we decide which journals to cancel?

A: The most critical element of the decision-making process is consultation with faculty, staff, and students about the journals they consider most critical to teaching, learning, and research. Librarians making the final decisions will consider a number of other factors (and will share information about these criteria to the extent possible):

  • The cost and price history of the journal. This information is being provided to librarians with the list of journals.
  • The use of the journal, especially of current and recent issues. Our means for measuring use are imperfect, and this criterion must be applied with caution, but the data available in many subject areas provides some insight into proportionate use.
  • Citation behavior (for those fields for which we have sufficient information). The Libraries has reports on the number of times University of Iowa authors have cited (as well as published in) journals, year-by-year, in certain fields.  There are also reports indicating the frequency of citation of journals by all researchers.
  • Whether and where a journal title is indexed.
  • Whether articles from a particular title can be obtained quickly and cheaply via interlibrary loan or by other means.

Q:  What are the procedures for the 2018-2019 review?

A: The 2018-2019 review will happen in three stages:

Stage 1: Each liaison librarian will receive a list of titles charged to the fund he or she manages. These funds typically correspond to academic departments, colleges or programs. The liaison librarian (see lib.uiowa.edu/people/subject-specialists for a list by subject) will work with all constituencies to identify titles that can be eliminated with the least damage to teaching and research. Librarians will make a special effort to consult faculty and students who may not be based in departments or colleges most closely associated with a given fund. This process will take the remainder of fall 2018. The list will be posted online: lib.uiowa.edu/cancellations/timeline/updates

Stage 2: By the beginning of the spring 2019 semester, the titles identified in this process will be posted on this website, and the entire campus community will be invited to suggest specific titles to keep (bit.ly/lib-cancel-2019). The Libraries will make every effort to save titles recommended for cancellation that turn out to be of concern to members of the university community. However, depending on the balance between the number of recommendations and the number of concerns, it probably will not be possible to save every title receiving objections.

Stage 3: Librarians will analyze feedback from campus and make a final decision on subscriptions to cancel.

Q: Can graduate students and other researchers participate in the feedback process?

A: Yes, graduate students, professional students, postdoctoral scholars, and staff researchers at the UI are welcome to provide their feedback via the form or through liaison librarians.

Q: Is this related to the new budget model?

A: No. The need to reduce subscription costs is the result of steep price increases for journals, databases, and ebooks.

Q: Are we unable to pay for the price increases because of overall budget shortfalls at the University of Iowa?

A: No, the price increases are the result of a national trend that has seen a 521% increase in subscription costs for libraries since 1986. Such increases are simply not sustainable.

Q: Is this an across-the-board cut?

A: Ongoing review and evaluation of funds spent on subscriptions is a necessity in all fields. All of the University Libraries’ ongoing subscriptions (journals, databases, and ebooks) are subject to review as part of this process. Please note that this process excludes the Law Library.

Q: What issues arise for researchers in higher ed as a result of high prices for subscriptions?

A: High subscription prices result in reduced access to quality information as libraries cut resources. Researchers are then forced to spend more time finding the information they need, and they must also spend more time distributing their own published work that researchers at other institutions may no longer be able to access.

According to the Open Access 2020 Initiative (OA2020), “the bulk of scholarly articles are published according to a paywall system in which the latest research is only accessible to scholars whose institutions can afford to pay hefty subscription prices to publisher platforms.

“Scholars write research articles for impact, not for money; limited access means limited impact. The research process is further hindered as copyright restrictions block researchers from freely interrogating published research in ways that are now possible with new digital technologies. The paywall system obstructs the advancement of science.”

Q: What are some solutions to this problem?

A: A clear solution would be if publishers were required to reduce cost increases, not to exceed the national rate of inflation. Until such changes occur, it’s possible to pressure publishers with stop-gap measures such as open access to published research.

Over the past 20 years, many thoughtful strategies have been initiated to promote open access in scholarly publishing:

  • funders have issued mandates to require open access publication of results;
  • researchers have been prompted to deposit some version of their articles in an institutional repository (such as Iowa Research Online uiowa.edu) or a discipline-specific repository;
  • new open access journals and publishing initiatives have been established;
  • and efforts aimed at replacing scholarly journals altogether have been undertaken.

source: (https://oa2020.org/wp-content/uploads/pdfs/Open-Access-2020-Executive-Summary.pdf)

Q: If I state my objections to canceling a title, will it be automatically saved?

A: The Libraries wants to hear about concerns and will attempt to maintain as many subscriptions as possible. We anticipate, however, that there will be some level of concern about nearly every title proposed for cancellation, and we must meet the goal of canceling subscriptions totaling $600,000 in order to bring the available funds and the cost of current subscriptions into balance. In other words, the Libraries will not be able to maintain every title of interest to members of the faculty, staff, or student body.

Q: Why can’t we just cancel print subscriptions and use inexpensive or free online versions of the journal?

A: While publishers provide online access to journals, this access is rarely without significant cost. Publishers look to online journals to provide revenue, just as their print journals do; totally free access is rare.

In some cases, the online version of a journal is free to institutions that already pay for the print version. Canceling the print subscription results in losing access to the online version. In other cases, the library pays an additional fee on top of the print subscription to provide access online. If the print subscription is canceled, the price of the online subscription goes up to a rate comparable to the previous print cost, or higher.

It is important to note that publishers frequently treat institutional subscriptions differently than they do individual subscriptions. For example, a number of academic journals provide free online access to their individual print subscribers, while requiring that institutional subscribers pay to receive the same access. There are many variations on these themes.

Q: Have there been previous journal cancellation projects at the University of Iowa?

A: The UI Libraries has been forced to conduct general cancellation projects several times. In 1991, the Libraries canceled $237,733 in subscriptions; in 1994, $126,166; in 1996, $126,459; in 2000, $440,000.

Q: What can an individual faculty member do to help?

A: There are several ways faculty and others can assist the Libraries in addressing this problem.

  • Work with librarians in your subject areas to identify titles whose cancellation will do the least harm. We need the help of faculty and other informed users to make the best possible decisions under the circumstances.
  • Support efforts by professional associations and other groups to identify sustainable and affordable ways to distribute scholarly information.
  • Consider publisher behavior—especially in terms of pricing—when you are choosing where to publish articles, which editorial boards to serve on, and what you do with your copyright.
  • Take an interest in the future of publishing and communication within your field. Reduced access to information caused by high prices is a problem faculty can help solve.

Q: Can I help by donating a copy of my personal subscription?

A: Faculty often offer to provide their personal copies as a substitute for the nearly always higher-priced institutional subscription. While the Libraries deeply appreciates the generosity of such offers, there are several reasons this practice will not work in most instances.

In some cases, the publisher sells personal copies only under the condition that the subscriber not donate it to a library (or not do so for several years). Some publishers only offer a low-priced personal subscription if your institution maintains an institutional subscription. The more fundamental problem with this approach, however, is its unreliability and inefficiency. Libraries maintain most of their subscriptions through intermediaries known as subscription agents, or vendors, who manage the business and other arrangements with the hundreds of publishers we must deal with. While we pay a small fee for this service, it saves an enormous amount of staff time. If we were to replace this efficient process with an inefficient process involving donated copies, we would fail to meet our users’ information needs. We also know from experience that such arrangements are difficult to maintain, and often result in missing or delayed access to recent issues. Were the practice to become widespread, with hundreds of titles, it would likely require staff to be assigned specifically to manage the undertaking. Thus, while we are willing to consider this kind of arrangement in limited special cases, we do not see it as a broad-scale, sustainable approach to the problem.

Q: Who can I contact for more information?

A: The Library designates a liaison librarian to be responsible for collection development and management activities for various subject areas. The liaison librarian for your subject area will be working with your department and may be contacted for more information. If you don’t know who the librarian in your field is, see the list of liaison librarians by subject. General questions may be addressed to Linda Walton, associate university librarian, linda-walton@uiowa.edu.