Message from the Dean of the University Library

August 21, 2020

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.

Effective January 1, 2020, the University Library withdrew from its big deal subscriptions from Taylor & Francis and Wiley-Blackwell to balance the library’s collection budget.

Throughout 2019, the library shared information with faculty and graduate student groups about the many factors we face related to the collection budget, including the monopolization of scholarly publishing companies and fluctuating value of the Canadian dollar.

We worked conscientiously and collaboratively to mitigate the impact of the journal titles lost through this cancellation of our big deal subscriptions. Feedback from faculty and grad students, combined with usage data informed our difficult, but necessary decision to re-subscribe to as many essential titles as we could after the cancellation.

Unfortunately, despite these proactive steps, the collections budget continues to face financial challenges.

Based on our multi-year projections, and assuming a flat budget and stable foreign exchange, we were projecting smaller cuts to 2020/21 collections budget. However, the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on the global economy was sudden, drastic, and unpredictable and had immediate implications for our collections budget.

As such, the library is forced to evaluate our e-resource subscriptions to maintain a balanced budget. In order to do this, not all subscriptions can be renewed and not all requests can be met.

When we factor in the budget reduction, inflation, and the decreased value of the Canadian dollar, our target spending cut for the collections budget is $500,000-$700,000.

This is not a situation that is unique to USask. Many academic libraries across North America are also struggling to maintain a robust array of subscriptions and have already responded to outdated subscription models and unsustainable subscription costs.

We know that there will be impacts on teaching and research as a result of these cancellations, but we are trying to mitigate these to the extent possible. There are several principles that are guiding our decisions:

  • Reduce duplication between resources and instead retain access to unique content
  • Focus content discovery through a smaller portfolio of discovery and indexing tools
  • Prioritize access to full text content
  • Maintain access to owned content for which we have perpetual access

To combat the unsustainable costs, the University Library has developed a collection of excellent resources to support teaching, learning, and research at USask in a cost-effective and fiscally responsible manner. We participate in a number of consortial licensing arrangements (including membership with the Canadian Research Knowledge Network) that provide significant savings; we use a wholesaler that results in discounts on our book purchases; we negotiate aggressively with publishers to get pricing that suits our budget; and we have reduced format duplication (print and electronic) to save on subscription costs.

Our objective continues to be protecting the maximum possible number of the high-quality resources required to meet teaching, learning, and research commitments.

I welcome any questions on how we made these decisions through the form below.

Charlene Sorensen
Acting Dean
University Library

FAQ

The decision to not renew some online resources 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.

We need to reduce the collections expenditures for 2020/2021 by $500,000 - $700,000. The shortfall is driven by a projected 4% annual inflation rate on electronic resource subscriptions, a Canadian dollar stable at $0.75 USD, and a 1.6% reduction in the library’s collection budget.

We used data collected from a variety of sources to inform our decision-making.

We know that there will be impacts on teaching and research as a result of these cancellations, but we are trying to mitigate these to the extent possible. There are several principles that are guiding our decisions:  

  • Reduce duplication between resources and instead retain access to unique content.
  • Focus content discovery through a smaller portfolio of discovery and indexing tools.
  • Prioritize access to full text content.
  • Maintain access to owned content for which we have perpetual access.

Our objective is to protect the maximum possible number of the high quality resources required to meet teaching, learning, and research commitments. However, in order to balance the budget:  

  • We will not be able to renew every subscription or fulfil every request for new material.
  • We are reviewing the collection in order to identify candidates for cancellation on an ongoing basis. 
  • We made a few immediate decisions to reduce spending this fiscal year due to the sudden drop in value of the Canadian dollar due to the pandemic.

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.

We also participate in regional consortia to take advantage of shared savings on ongoing expenses, and to take advantage of shared licensing opportunities. These consortia include The Council of Prairie and Pacific University Libraries (COPPUL), Health Knowledge Network (HKN), and The Saskatchewan Electronic Resources Program (SERP)

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.

You, as an author and reviewer, have considerable power to influence positive change in the publishing system – you are providing the content and labour upon which the system relies. By making choices as to where to publish your work and whom to donate your expertise in reviewing and editorial work, you can help progress scholarly publishing in a more sustainable, open, and equitable direction.

Here are some actions that other researchers around the world are already taking to promote this change:

  • Publish in ethical and innovative open access outlets. Open access to research is a good thing, but commercial publishers are co-opting this trend, charging excessive author fees as another revenue stream – this creates more inequity to authors who cannot afford these fees. Publishing costs money, but there are many innovative models to support open access publishing that do not charge readers or authors. And there are journals that charge reasonable or no author fees at all. Seek them out and support them whenever possible. No options in your discipline? Then start the conversation with your scholarly society to lead this change with their journals.
  • Ensure that a version of every article you publish is openly available. Even if you still wish to publish in a traditional subscription journal, you can almost always make a version of your paper open access legally and for free through institutional repositories like HARVEST or through disciplinary repositories. Many other libraries are cancelling journal packages too. Researchers at those institutions will not be able to access your work in those journals. If you ensure a version is openly available then your work will still reach readers and make an impact. To make this process even easier: negotiate to retain your copyright. See the CARL Guide to Using the Canadian Author Addendum for more information about negotiating to retain your rights to your work.
    Journals do not need wholesale transfer of copyright in order to publish your work.
  • Review and provide editorial work only for ethical and innovative open access outlets. Refuse to provide free labour to those publishers with unsustainable business models – and explain to them why you are doing so. Commercial publishers are able to make record profits on the backs of universities because of this freely donated content and labour. Your choices will encourage them to move in a more sustainable direction.
  • Reform tenure and promotion standards in your department, school, or college. Reliance on prestige journals and impact factors as proxies for the quality of individual articles is one of the main reasons the transition to a more sustainable publishing system has been so slow. Raise this issue at your next collegial meeting, you have a voice and vote in the creation of tenure and promotion standards and in the assessment of candidates. There are more responsible metrics and methods for evaluation of research.

No. We have made many efforts to combat the financial challenges affecting our collections budget. Previously, we have evaluated our collections and eliminated most duplicated 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.

Previous Steps

As the collection budget balancing is an on-going process, you can view the previous steps and outcomes on our archived page.

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