The Libraries are currently reviewing several of our biggest journal vendor contracts (often called “Big Deals”) to assess whether they provide good value and represent a sustainable part of our overall investment in information on behalf of the University. We want to ensure that our spending commitments are aligned with community needs and that we are being responsible stewards of our budget in an evolving information landscape. As part of this review, we are assembling, evaluating, and sharing some important data about cost, usage, and growth trends for our biggest commitments.
What are Big Deals and why have libraries supported them in the past?
Big Deals are multi-year journal bundle contracts sold by several major vendors (Elsevier and SpringerNature, for example) that provide access to all or nearly all of a vendor’s journal content for a bundle price that grows at a fixed annual rate for the life of the contract. Predictable annual cost increases and reduced staffing costs made these deals attractive in the past.
Why are some libraries breaking up Big Deals?
The growth in serials cost has outpaced inflation and the growth of most library budgets, including ours. This growth is often structurally incorporated into Big Deal contracts that obligate libraries to pay compounded-interest growth of 3% – 6% a year over a contract lasting from three to five years. When purchased a la carte, journal inflation is even higher and, in fact, outpaces any other sector of the U.S. economy. In addition, years of mergers and acquisitions among publishers and major vendors have created a handful of oligopolies that now dominate scholarly publishing and drive pricing. Because of these trends, library collections budgets are increasingly and disproportionately supporting Big Deals. The entire model is unstable and unsustainable.
Libraries are increasingly breaking up Big Deals because their budgets simply sustain them any longer. Others see the unsustainable trends in cost and are striving to adjust their budget priorities before things become even more untenable.
On a more positive note, trends favoring free open access to scholarship, including more robust funder policies and increasingly powerful tools for finding free legal versions of articles, have also helped provide alternative pathways to scholarship beyond these bloated subscription packages.
Can I still (legally) access journal articles if the Library cancels a journal subscription?
Yes, a wide and growing array of tools and services makes it possible to access research legally without a subscription. In many cases, JMU Libraries will retain access to some subscribed content from before the date of cancellation. The Libraries is also able to obtain access to some journal content through third-party aggregators. Interlibrary Loan (ILL) technology has vastly improved, making loans faster and cheaper for libraries, and new tools like the Open Access Button can find free legal versions of articles on the open web. Resources like Scholarly Commons provide faculty with a platform to self-archive – and thereby provide open access to – journal articles that would otherwise only be available to those with a subscription.
As the Libraries release cost and use data alongside information about local and national trends, we hope to start a conversation with the JMU community about the future of our investments in Big Deals.