Thursday, January 24, 2013

ARL report on bundled-journal packages

ARL released a pre-publication version of its report on licensing of bundled ejournal packages.  This is an update to surveys they conducted throughout the 2000's regarding the extent and licensing terms of the "Big Deals".  It's only 9 pages, so it's a quick read, but there are a few points that are of most interest.  What's disappointing is that they provide precious little information on the number and distribution of respondents.  It would be nice to know how representative (at least of ARL members) the results are.

First is the increase in uptake of ejournal bundles, at least among the respondents.  At least 85% of libraries had opted for ejournal bundles from 5 of the top 6 publishers (only 57% opted for Taylor & Francis packages).  This, however, is contrasted by a decline in the rate of those libraries which have access to the complete set of titles offered by the publisher.  Essentially, librarians have learned that access to everything is not the ideal collection development policy, especially when money is tight.

I was surprised at the extent of historical pricing, linked to costs of "print subscriptions grounded in an increasingly distant past."  Most of the contracts were based on historical pricing and only two of the top six publishers are changing (note that while ACS technically is moving to a tiered pricing model, it has a base-level price that negates the value of that model).  Having been in collection development only a short while, I am still learning the ins-and-outs of licensing, pricing, and budgets.  But I do not see how historical pricing can continue in this day and age, with both cuts in library budgets and greater expectations of accountability by campus administrations that are more and more coming from the business perspective.  What we are willing to pay for resources reflects our values, which may change over time, with changes in faculty, campus directions, and budgets.

The report does document a trend away from the "non-disclosure agreements" that have made research on this issue nearly impossible to conduct.  Nearly half of respondents noted that they have a formal policy for not signing such contracts, and many question the legality of such clauses in their states due to FOIA and "sunshine laws".  Indeed, when asked if their institutions had signed any such agreements, less than 1/3rd reported they did.  Now, all we need to do is start sharing the information that we can (or testing the legality of those that we have signed).

One issue that was only glossed over in this report that I was interested in was the ILL policies.  They provided ranges on such issues as sending printed articles, direct transmission of electronic articles, etc., but they did not go into any details.  Perhaps they want the libraries to purchase the final report?  Perhaps they are still crunching the numbers?

Well, the information in this report was enlightening on some issues, but, as mentioned above, I find it hard to generalize to the larger population of academic libraries, even those with a strong research basis.  What questions did it raise for you?

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