Our “Sustainable Scholarship” response to rising journal costs

Posted on: January 30, 2020

Pie chart showing fiscal year 2019 journal costs and chart showing six year budget growth.

Bethany Nowviskie, Dean of Libraries, visited the JMU Faculty Senate on January 30, 2020, to discuss the economic, scholarly, and social impact of commercial journal costs and to begin a discussion on sustainable scholarship at JMU.

What’s the Big Deal?

Five commercial publishers control more than half of all journal literature across the sciences, social sciences, and humanities. These five also absorb more than 60% of our subscription budget at JMU. They do this by offering “Big Deals” to academic libraries: costly bundles of both high- and low- or even zero-use journals in (previously) unbreakable packages—often seeking NDAs to prevent price comparisons, and with steep contractual increases for libraries to bear—while profit margins for their shareholders approach 35-40%.

  • Unsustainable costs: Rising subscription fees (up 500% over the last 30 years and 3-4x the rate of inflation in the last six) stress our budget and crowd out other content, with deleterious effect on scholarly presses and tenure and promotion.
  • Unequal access to scholarship: Tying up taxpayer-funded research behind paywalls reinforces global inequality and runs counter to our mission as a public institution, hurting basic & applied research and problem-solving across fields. Open access to information promotes diversity and saves lives.

What’s Next?

A global movement of librarians, researchers, public & private funders, nonprofit publishers/societies, and government agencies is working to rethink our vendor relationships and foster more sustainable, values-aligned and faculty-controlled approaches to scholarly communication.

Locally, informed by our own data on value and use, JMU Libraries and partners at 6 other Virginia schools are preparing to renegotiate our shared Elsevier “Freedom Collection” contract, which expires in late 2021.

Our best leverage is our solidarity and our willingness to walk away.

No matter what, the JMU Libraries will continue providing access to the resources you need.

What Can I Do?

Learn more and share your views:

Take action:

  • Exercise your growing ability to publish open-access versions of your work. Help to inform and support positive change in academic publishing and government- and university-level policies.
  • Please stay alert for moments when expressions of support will be most meaningful.
  • Visit lib.jmu.edu/sustainable-scholarship/take-action for more actions you can take.

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