Message from the Dean of the University Library

As a direct result of the unsustainable rising costs of subscriptions set by publishers, in addition to the fluctuating value of the Canadian dollar and the monopolization of publishing companies, the University Library is facing growing constraints to its collections budget. As such, we are forced to evaluate our e-resource subscriptions in an effort to maintain a balanced budget.

Over the next couple of months, librarians will undergo a review of our online journal packages and determine those not to renew. We will then engage faculty and graduate students to help inform which individual journal titles from those packages to consider for renewal.

For any journals that we do not renew, we will retain access to content we currently have access to; only content published after 2019 will be inaccessible. The majority of titles that will not be renewed will still be available through other means, such as interlibrary loan. Open access versions of articles can often be located and accessed using browser extensions like Unpaywall. We will continue to collaborate across Canada to negotiate favourable license terms for our largest vendor packages, and work locally to negotiate more favourable non-consortial licenses. Additionally, we will review electronic resources and serial subscriptions as part of our ongoing collection management.

It is important to note that this financial challenge is not the result of insufficient funding or poor budgeting, nor is it a unique to our library. The unfortunate reality is that every academic library faces similar circumstances; many libraries throughout North America have already taken action in response to unsustainable subscription costs and outdated subscription models. One recent example is the University of California’s cancellation of Elsevier.

While this is not an ideal scenario, I assure you that we will work to minimize the impact of the cancellation through several key principles, including usage analysis, and maintaining core strategic resources for teaching, learning and research.

At a meeting with deans from across academic units on campus in March, I shared the current state of the collections budget and the challenges posed by exorbitant publishers’ costs. It was a productive and encouraging discussion. We are already scheduled to speak at a number of faculty council meetings to help raise awareness of the current situation and build an understanding of the library’s next steps. We also look forward to the opportunity for further dialogue with a variety of research, teaching and student groups on campus.

I encourage you to read the FAQs and related articles below to gain a greater understanding of the scope of this issue beyond our library and university.


Best,

Melissa Just
Dean, University Library

FAQ

The decision to not renew some online journal packages is in response to inflated publishers’ prices and the value of the Canadian dollar. The majority of publishers’ prices are in USD and foreign exchange is wildly variable. Many academic and research-intensive libraries worldwide have already addressed this same issue by reducing their own collections. In an effort to maintain our current collections, we delayed our decision to not renew subscriptions as long as we reasonably could.

It depends. We are projecting a shortfall of $750,000 - $1,200,000, based on these assumptions:

  • 0 to -2% reduction in the budget allocation from university
  • 3-5% annual inflation from publishers on the cost of electronic resources
  • Stable Canadian dollar at current level ($0.75)
  • Minimal financial reserves due to prior years’ budget reductions, limiting our current ability to cushion the impact of ongoing cost increases

Over the next few months, we will be undergoing a review of our online journal packages and determining those not to renew. We will then consult with faculty and graduate students to help determine individual journal titles to re-subscribe to.

We already do. The University Library is a member of the Canadian Research Knowledge Network (CRKN), a consortium of 74 Canadian universities, dedicated to expanding digital content for academic research and teaching in Canada. CRKN’s roots date back to 1999, when it was first established as the Canadian National Site Licensing Project. Membership in CRKN has been very cost-effective for over two decades to make essential research available to the USask community.

The unfortunate reality is that numerous academic libraries across North America have been forced to make this difficult decision in response to subscription costs. Database subscription cancellations are common. Recently, the University of California made news with its cancellation of Elsevier. Until publishers respond with creating reasonable costs and supporting open access, the current subscription model will continue to put academic institutions like ours in an untenable position. Our obligation is to be fiscally responsible and maintain a balanced budget, while providing the best academic resources to meet teaching, learning, and research commitments. Our decision-making will keep these objectives top-of-mind with the hopes of minimal interruption and inconvenience.
For any journals that we do not renew, we will retain access to content we currently have access to; only content published after 2019 will not be accessible. The majority of titles that we will not renew will still be available through other means, such as interlibrary loan, which will deliver electronic copies of articles and book chapters in as little as 1-4 days. Additionally, open access versions of articles can often be easily found using browser extensions like Unpaywall.

Over the next few months, we will be undergoing a review of our online journal packages and determining those not to renew. We will then engage faculty and graduate students to help inform which individual journal titles to consider for renewal.

Our principles include:

  • Maintaining appropriate balance among disciplines, and core strategic resources for teaching, learning and research to minimize the impact of cancellations.
  • Ensuring continued access to content we have already purchased.
  • Focusing reductions on ongoing subscription/licensing costs.
  • Using data and consultation to help inform decisions.

No. We have made many efforts to combat the financial challenges affecting our collections budget. Previously, we have evaluated our collections for duplications of print and electronic journals. Additionally, we have built inflation and foreign exchange factors into our budget projections.

We have helped mitigate the situation over the years through several actions – not renewing select databases; reviewing individual journal titles and not renewing as appropriate. These actions have saved hundreds of thousands of dollars.

The current system of commercial journal publishing is unsustainable and inequitable. Publishers’ profit margins are substantially based on content (articles) and labour (peer review) that our researchers provide to them free of charge, which universities then have to buy back in the form of journal subscriptions at highly inflated prices. The publishing landscape is dominated by conglomerates that monopolize academic publishing.

Furthermore, much of this research has been publicly-funded and it is unethical to have it behind paywalls for a privileged few in academia – especially when the impact of the research we do at USask can be far-reaching and transformative. USask researchers can continue to support open access efforts by submitting open access versions of articles to disciplinary or institutional repositories (including HARVEST) or by choosing to publish in an open access journal.

Stakeholder Discussions

We are eager to meet with faculty and student groups across campus to discuss the next steps in our evaluation of the collections budget.

Mar. 28, 2019
College of Kinesiology Faculty Council
Mar. 29, 2019
Edwards School of Business Faculty Council
Apr. 2, 2019
College of Nursing Faculty Council
Apr. 9, 2019
Graduate Students' Association Council
Apr. 18, 2019
Research, Scholarly and Artistic Work Committee
Apr. 25, 2019
College of Agriculture and Bioresources Executive Committee
May 1, 2019
St. Thomas More Faculty Council
May 3, 2019
School of Rehabilitation Science
May 8, 2019
College of Dentistry Faculty Council
May 9, 2019
Johnson Shoyama Graduate School of Public Policy Faculty Council
May 10, 2019
College of Education Faculty Council
May 10, 2019
School of Public Health Faculty Meeting
May 14, 2019
Western College of Veterinary Medicine Faculty Council
May 14, 2019
College of Pharmacy and Nutrition Faculty Council
May 14, 2019
College of Arts and Science Faculty Council
May 29, 2019
College of Medicine Faculty Council
June 19, 2019
College of Engineering Faculty Council

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