Q: Why is the University of Iowa Libraries cancelling subscriptions?

A: This project reflects the challenges University Libraries’ faces in allocating its budget, in particular the portions spent on information resources versus that spent on personnel. Over the years, the Libraries’ budget has shifted toward larger expenditures on collections than staffing. This practice is out of line with most of its peer institutions. Approximately two-thirds of the savings generated by cancelling subscriptions will be invested in staff retention and recruitment. The other one-third will help to maintain other critical subscriptions in light of inflation.

The Libraries also provides support and services to the campus community with a staff smaller than any of its peer institutions, according to statistics from the Association of Research Libraries. Starting staff salaries for credentialed librarians at Iowa also are the lowest among that same peer group and Iowa’s state universities. About two-thirds of the total reallocation of funds would be focused on making improvements in those areas.

In addition, subscription price increases far outpace budget increases. In recent years and continuing today, scholarly publishing companies have levied annual price increases of 3% to 7%, while the Libraries’ annual budget for these materials has remained mostly unchanged for the last several fiscal years.

The cancellation project is a symptom of an ongoing crisis in the process of scholarly communication. Subscription cancelations are expected to continue for the indefinite future as long as publishers’ prices continue to rise at rates beyond the general rate of inflation.

Journal subscriptions have been the primary driver of increased expenditures for the Libraries over the last 20 years.

Q: Are other higher education research libraries cancelling subscriptions?

A: Yes. University Libraries joins a large number of higher education institutions around the country that have found it necessary to implement significant cancellations over the last several years. For instance, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Northwestern University, the University of North Carolina, and Creighton University are reducing collection budgets.

Q: What are considered the Libraries’ peer institutions when making comparisons?

A: The Libraries uses the UI Peer Group as defined by the university and approved by the Board of Regents, State of Iowa. For comparisons related to salary, the Libraries also looks to its Regents peers, Iowa State University and the University of Northern Iowa, because of geographic proximity.

Q: Have there been previous subscription cancellation projects at the University Libraries?

A: The Libraries has conducted general cancellation projects several times. The most recent project in 2018-2019 canceled $600,000 to address inflation. Since then, an additional $200,000 was cut primarily by eliminating duplicate content.

During the current process, cuts will also target duplication first since the dynamic nature of scholarly publishing can lead to the purchase of the identical content from multiple providers.

Q: When will the cancellations take effect?

A: Canceled databases and e-book platforms will be discontinued as early as July 1, 2022. Canceled journals will be discontinued Jan. 1, 2023.

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: What is the process to decide which journals and databases to cancel?

A: The most critical element of the decision-making process is consultation with faculty and graduate students about the journals they consider most important to teaching, learning, and research. Due to multi-year contracts, the specialty and research materials they use are typically more expensive than the general subject materials utilized by undergraduates.

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. The means for measuring use are imperfect, and this criterion must be applied with caution, but the data available in many subject areas provide some insight into proportionate use.
  • Citation behavior (for fields for which there is 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. Reports also indicate the frequency journals are cited 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 purchase.

Q:  What is the timeline and process for the 2022 review?

A: The timeline for the process will be:

  • The Libraries will share initial lists of proposed cancellations with colleges and departments via liaison librarians. The lists, based on subscription usage and cost data, will be organized by discipline. Faculty, researchers, and graduate students will be able to provide feedback to liaison librarians.
  • Faculty, researchers, and graduate students will receive a proposed cancellation list several weeks later, offering another opportunity to provide input.
  • A final list of canceled subscriptions for journals, databases, and e-books will be shared with campus in May.

The Libraries will make every effort to save titles recommended for cancelation that turn out to be of concern to faculty. 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.

Q: If I state an objection to cancelling a title, will it be automatically saved?

A: The Libraries wants to hear your concerns and will attempt to maintain as many subscriptions as possible. While we anticipate some level of concern about nearly every title proposed for cancellation, the goal of cancelling subscriptions totaling $1 million must be met in order to bring the available funds and the cost of current subscriptions into balance. The Libraries will not be able to maintain every title of interest to faculty, staff, and student body.

Q: Why is the process taking place from March until May?

A: The Libraries is working to decrease the amount it spends on annual subscriptions by $1 million for fiscal year 2023 and also accommodate the academic year schedule.

The Libraries gained significant experience and knowledge about usage of the collections and resources since the last time it went through this process in 2018-2019. Strong data and accurate recommendations about what is sensible to cancel already are available.

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

A: Yes, graduate students, professional students, postdoctoral scholars, and staff researchers are welcome to provide their feedback through liaison librarians or via a form shared in the coming weeks.

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 e-books) are subject to review as part of this process. A reduction of funds spent on print books also will be considered. Please note that this process excludes the Law Library.

Q: What are some solutions to this problem?

A: A clear solution would be if publishers were required to not impose cost increases that 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) 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)

The libraries of the Big Ten Academic Alliance are also collaborating to establish the “BIG Collection.” The BIG Collection will make it easier to share information resources across the libraries. The process involves working with publishers and making collaborative purchasing decisions to reduce duplication, ensure preservation, and improve discoverability of and access to information across 15 libraries.

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

A: Faculty and others can assist the Libraries in addressing this problem in several ways.

  • Work with librarians in their subject areas to identify titles that would cause the least harm if canceled. The help of faculty and other informed users is imperative to making 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 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 hundreds of publishers each year.

While the Libraries pay a small fee for the service, it saves an enormous amount of staff time. If this efficient process was replaced with an inefficient process involving donated copies, it would fail to meet our users’ information needs. 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 the Libraries is willing to consider this kind of arrangement in limited special cases, it does not see it as a broad-scale, sustainable approach to the problem.

Q: Why is the Law Library not included in this process?

A:  The UI Law Library reports to the UI College of Law and manages its budget independently.

Q: Who can I contact for more information about the journal and database subscription cancellation review process?

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