Message from the Dean of the University Library

March 27, 2019

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many libraries throughout North America have already taken action in response to unsustainable subscription costs and outdated subscription models.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 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.


Melissa Just
Dean, University Library

Steps taken



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.

We needed to reduce the collections budget for 2019/20 by $1.38 million. The shortfall is driven by a projected 4.2% annual inflation rate on electronic resource subscriptions, a Canadian dollar stable at $0.75 USD, and a 2.2% reduction in the library’s collection budget.

The library has cancelled “big deal” subscription packages for Taylor & Francis and Wiley-Blackwell, effective Jan. 1, 2020. This supports our principle of maintaining appropriate balance among disciplinary groups, as the packages collectively represent substantial content in the four broad disciplinary areas of arts and humanities, sciences, social sciences and health sciences.

In addition, both packages were either up for renewal or allowed us to cancel our subscription during the middle of a renewal cycle, and retain access to the content we have already purchased. The savings realized exceeds the amount we need to reduce our spending by to balance the budget, allowing us to repurchase individual subscriptions to some of the most highly used or important content from each package.

In September, we announced the individual titles we plan to buy back from each publisher to retain access. Re-subscription decisions were made in accordance with our principles, including using multiple data points, maintaining appropriate disciplinary balance, and incorporating feedback from faculty and graduate students.

Additionally, the library will maintain access to previously published content of more than 1,660 titles among both publishers through perpetual access agreements; this involves retaining content from 2019 and earlier. 

We used data collected from a variety of sources including overall cost of the journal, cost-per-use of the journal, usage, alternate access options, USask author publishing and citation data, and user priorities identified through the Library Journal Survey.

If you cannot access an article immediately through the library, there are other ways to obtain it:

Interlibrary loan (ILL)

Reliable and fast, the University Library’s interlibrary loan service provides resources from libraries across Canada and around the world.

Electronic versions of journal articles and book chapters can arrive in as little as 24 hours as a PDF file. Most article requests can be saved or printed, as long as copyright guidelines are followed. Once your document is available, a temporary link and instructions for document retrieval are emailed to your official USask email account (

For more information about the University Library’s ILL service, or to make a request, visit

Open access versions

Authors may make versions of their articles freely (and legally) available online through open access repositories. Install the browser extension Unpaywall, or search Google Scholar, to quickly find these free and legal versions.

Libraries elsewhere need to cancel journals too. If you want all interested readers to be able to access your work then consider self-archiving a version in HARVEST, our institutional repository, or a disciplinary repository (search the Directory of Open Access Repositories OpenDOAR for one in your discipline).

Contact the author directly

If there is a journal article you require that the library no longer has access to, contact the author directly and ask if they will provide a copy of their article. Many publishers permit this form of “scholarly sharing” for personal research purposes. 

Reaching out to these authors directly helps to build community, supports their work and ensures their important research is accessible to all.

For more information

For more information about these alternate access methods, or if you are an instructor that requires articles for distribution to your students, please contact your subject librarian or the library.

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.

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.

Impact Factor was not used as a data point in determining titles for resubscription. Impact Factor is one (imperfect) proxy for quality and it is not comparable across disciplines. Usage based on USask downloads, publishing and citation rates is a better measure of the overall value of individual journal subscriptions for our community.

Related information