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?

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Analyzing changes to journal prices over time

I've finally gotten around to carefully reading the recent article put out by the AAP that suggests that prices of journals have not increased that terribly much over the last twenty years.  The first post I read that referenced this was the Scholarly Kitchen.  Kent Anderson supports the idea that we have, indeed, been looking at the wrong measure (price of print subscriptions when the vast majority of subscriptions are now online or print+online), which is a fair argument.  However, it is clear that, due to proprietary interests, publishers are not willing to share the deals that it makes with libraries, so it's really been the only data that is available to look at.

The author of the original article, Paula Gantz, starts with the fact that Library Journal's Annual Periodical Price Survey uses "list prices of print subscriptions to calculate the real increase in serials expenditures", which she notes is a "misleading and inaccurate method for tracking how libraries are spending their serials budgets and fails to recognize the increased value they are receiving from the print-to-digital transition."  Gantz presents a number of issues that I thought I'd address, from a library collections development perspective.

Measures of journal expenses
The primary issue Gantz addresses is the use of list prices of print subscriptions over time, which is not an accurate method of tracking costs to libraries.  I agree that list prices of print subscriptions are no longer relevant to libraries, particularly academic libraries, which are primarily licensing online journal content.  The difference between purchasing and licensing content is not addressed in this article, something which I will address later.  Focusing on the measure, it may be accurate (it is what the publishers provide), but it is indeed not a valid measure.  It is, however, the only one we've got.  Publishers are not willing to release what libraries actually pay for their subscriptions, and data on prices for online subscriptions is confounded by the "Big Deals" and "Small Deals" or subject-specific packages.

It is surprising that Gantz did not mention that for the last two years, the LJ survey included prices for online subscriptions (print+, online only and first-tier) for the titles indexed by ISI products.  Comparing the prices for the subject areas provided in both 2011 and 2012 reports, there was only a 1% increase in the price.  Of course, this is a very limited set of titles, and only 20 of 33 fields have data for both years.

Field 2012 2011 $ Diff % Diff
Chemistry $3890 $3676 $214 6%
Physics 3185 3492 -307 -10%
Biology 2070 1913 157 8%
Engineering 2009 2691 -682 -34%
Zoology 1842 1140 702 38%
Botany 1760 1620 140 8%
Health Sciences 1593 1406 187 12%
Geology 1485 1518 -33 -2%
Technology 1341 1306 35 3%
Math & Computer Science 1328 1133 195 15%
General Science 1261 892 369 29%
Agriculture 1075 1016 59 5%
Geography 973 1038 -65 -7%
Business & Economics 733 754 -21 -3%
Sociology 713 638 75 11%
Education 708 830 -122 -17%
Arts & Architecture 481 536 -55 -11%
Philosophy & Religion 405 490 -85 -21%
History 383 363 20 5%
Language & Literature 351 368 -17 -5%

Rather, Paula Gantz looked at what libraries actually spent on serials.  It is interesting that she used the Association of Research Libraries' (ARL) data, which is a very small subset of academic institutions, usually much larger than average.  But are expenditures a valid measure of journal prices?  If every title was purchased separately, then it is.  However, the effect of package deals distorts this relationship.  True, the per-title price of packages is less than title-by-title, the titles in the package do not reflect the true collection development decisions of the librarians.

Difficulties of Calculating Cost per Journal
Using library expenditures as a measure of cost per journal is confounded by the title packages, "Big" or little deals.  The value is based on the entire package, and usually is not distributed evenly nor the same for every library.  Libraries may provide access to more titles, but there are at least some titles that would the library would not pay for, if given the opportunity.  Gantz does mention how libraries have started rejecting the package deals are many are returning to title-by-title subscriptions.

Increased Access and Usage
This may be a point that publishers may believe is not well appreciated by librarians when it comes to pricing of electronic journals.  The tremendous increase in access has had a major impact on our patrons, as indicated by the equally impressive growth in usage.  I'd be interested to learn what the average usage per print title was just prior to ejournals overtaking print.  But I imagine that the usage was much more limited, given limitations in access and costs of copying.  Indeed, increased spending on ejournals have been associated with better research outcomes.  However, the increased proportion of the budget spent on journals, particularly by academic libraries, is evidence of the increased value librarians do see in providing extended access to them.

Similarly, with many (not all, though) online subscriptions, access is made available to an extensive archive, some all the way to the first issue.  The flip side of this is that this instant access can instantly disappear upon cancellation of the subscription.  Furthermore, unlike print, libraries cannot fill gaps in coverage through donations or one-time purchases of limited ranges.  This makes the collection much more ephemeral.  Librarians appear to be ambivalent regarding the impact of this on the quality of our collections.

Growth in Content
Paula Gantz notes that not only are there more journals being published out there, but that journals are putting out more articles.  The implication is that libraries are getting more content for their money.  The increase in journals, however, has no bearing on this argument because each journal requires a subscription. However, the increase of content provided by each subscription is important to consider.  Indeed, in STM journals, the annual article rate per journal has increased from 117 in 1988 to 139 in 2005 (if somebody has it, I'd be interested to see more recent rates).  However, content was already increasing in the print-years - from 83 in 1975 to 154 in 2005 in science journals.  These numbers come from studies of different sets of journals, but they are both referenced in this 2009 report from STM.  So it is clear that increased content is not the primary reason for recent (post-print-age) increases in costs.

Gantz also mentioned the growing amount of supplemental data or features that add to the growth in content.  Unfortunately, usage of these features is difficult to measure.  Most journals that do provide this additional content do not provide usage data.

Decreased Cost of Maintenance
In the summary, Paula Gantz provides recommendations for both publisher and librarians.  To the former, she essentially advises to be more open about pricing and work more with libraries.  To the latter, she recommends, essentially, to be prepared to fight for your budget and be careful when consider author-paid OA titles.  She also suggests keeping in mind the cost savings of going digital, in terms of space, staff and processing.  I'll concede savings in space, but that is all.  A good summary of differences in maintaining print versus electronic is here.  While a bit dated, most of the issues are addressed.  The differences in processes have essentially resulted in higher total costs (excluding subscriptions) due to the greater complexity and greater need for technology.  Instead of having low-cost clerks and paraprofessionals handle 90% of the tasks of managing print journals, we require higher-paid electronic resource librarians and librarians specializing in contracts and negotiation, as well as high-tech staff to handle data management to make the resources available and the data associated with evaluating usage.  Instead of 3-5 copiers, we require dozens of computer workstations, with concomitant color printers.

Conclusions? More questions...
So instead of being assured that prices of ejournals have, indeed not risen as steeply as we originally were led to believe, I am even more confused and have many more questions, including:

  • What is the best way to measure the costs of journals?  Per subscription? Per article? Per usage?
  • Where can we get this data?
  • How do library expenditures compare with listed prices?
  • How do we measure costs per title of journal packages?
  • What has been the trends in content growth per subscription?
  • What is the usage of the supplemental data?  How many journals provide it?  How many require a subscription to access it?  
  • Are we buying too much?  Is the growth in content truly worth our money?
  • What is the extent of content that is provided with each subscription?  How far back are the archives with the subscription?  How much are the archives used?
  • What are the true costs of maintaining ejournals?

Thursday, January 10, 2013

Ad hoc collection assessment

Today was a day for ad hoc assessment of our collection.  Yesterday, we received a notice from an ebook provider that certain packages are available. I was curious to see how many we already had in print and/or electronic.  I took a random sample, the size of which was to provide a 95% CI for the results, and looked each title up in the catalog, noting its availability.  I found out that we already had about 50% of the titles either in print or electronic.  Of those we already owned, about 25% were electronic.  So, purchasing the entire package would only have added about half the titles to our collection, at least as unique content.  However, we learned we could select individual titles, rather than only the entire collection.  So a library student worker will complete my work and we'll provide a list of all titles in that ebook package that are not at all available in the library.  This will then be used by the liaison librarian to select the best resources.

A little more complicated was looking at usage of back files of book series offered by another publisher.  The sales rep had already highlighted the titles to which we had current subscriptions, and offered a discount for these back files (good work on the part of the sales rep).  I wondered what usage there was of our print copies, which may provide a clue on the potential usage of the electronic back files.  This required running reports in our integrated library system, a skill I am only just starting to acquire.  The most efficient method I could come up with was this:

  1. Look up the title in our catalog and copy the bib ID number.
  2. Paste this into a query in the ILS that gathers the item records only for the bib record
  3. Run the query
  4. Look at the results and record the number of volumes, total circ, total renewals, and 2-year circ.
  5. Calculate a circ per volume stat
  6. Highlight the titles with the largest stats.
There were about 4 titles that had over .8 circs per volume.  These should be the titles that would give use the most bang for the buck.  However, given our budget situation, all of this may not matter.  

But, I was quite excited to do this work and provide this information.  It seems so much more informative and useful to our liaisons than requiring them to glance at long lists and expect them to make informed decisions.  While the first task was certainly something they could have done themselves, I doubt many would have had the time (let alone taken it).  The usage data should not be used by itself to select the back files, but I hope it helps narrow down the list of titles and stimulates the liaisons to consider the resources, rather than putting it in the "if we ever have money" pile.

Thursday, January 3, 2013

First Anniversary - Paper

Yesterday was the first anniversary of both my new job and my new blog.  Looking back at my postings (starting on January 1, 2012), I wanted to see what the pattern of my interests were.  Here are two Wordles created from my blog entries (split about mid-year):
Wordle: Being and Librarianship, part 2
^Through June, 2012^

Wordle: Being and Librarianship
^July-December, 2012^

They are quite similar, with the two most used words being "libraries" and "ideas".  Other common words include "circulation," "resources," "ebooks," "books," and "electronic."  I'm a little chagrined at the frequency of "rather" and "however".  Words that I expected to be more prominent were "value" and "collection".  However, "metrics," "model," and "measure" are pretty big.

I also looked back on my ideas that I was wanting to pursue, notably my "Top Ten Questions" and "What to Study Next".  Well, my eyes have always been bigger than my stomach, and I did not pursue a course of study in logic, epistemiology and professions.  I did, however, carefully read Ranganathan's Five Laws of Library Science (see postings), from which I had gained much insight into the history of librarianship.  My top questions, however, I think are still valid and worth pursuing, particularly those related to measuring the quality of a collection, and what impact the collection has on student learning and faculty research.

Ideas I imagine I will be pursuing over this next year include:

  • Library Impact Data Project - they have a toolkit that I'd like to look into using
  • Assessment in Action (ACRL)
  • More thorough overlap analysis of A&I databases (for yet another round of budget cuts)
  • Evaluation of accessibility of our resources for those who are print disabled

I also tried making a timeline from my postings using TimelineJS.  This was not as easy as I had hoped...But I got something interesting:

When I started this blog, I wasn't sure if it was something I could keep up.  I did not want to have a blog that laid fallow with rare postings.  Now that I know that I can write regularly, I need to decide if this is something that I want to continue doing.  And while I think it is perfectly valid to write for my own ear, my goal is to develop conversations and discussions.  While I want to contribute my voice, I would hope that others would want to listen.  So, I'm hoping to generate a little more interest in my work over the next year.