Subscription Cancellations and Securing Access to Information - Update

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Posted on: Friday, May 22, 2020 - 9:07am

Subscription Cancellations and Securing Access to Information - Spring 2020 Update

Over the last 16 months, Western Libraries and the Subscription Task Force have been engaged in the challenge of bringing subscription expenditures into alignment with the Libraries’ allocated collections budget. The final list of subscription cancellations for the 20-21 Academic Year (AY) is now available to all Western faculty, staff, and students on the Libraries’ subscription review webpage

This work involved the efforts of dozens of people, both internal and external to the Libraries, and was shaped by multiple outreach initiatives and tours through faculty and university governance channels. As was shared in January 2020, due to the combination of a flat collections budget and inflation of subscription costs, Western Libraries anticipated a subscriptions budget shortfall of more than $300K in the Fiscal Year (FY) 2020-21. This immediate pressure required a reduction to subscriptions which meant moving towards a more agile, access-based approach rather than focusing primarily on traditional modes of ownership. 

During fall quarter 2019, 252 titles were identified for potential cancellation based on scores acquired by applying 13 quantitative and qualitative criteria. Of these original 252 titles, 63 titles  will be retained. Forty-seven titles will be paid for using the originally planned buffer of $66,000, with an additional 16 titles funded from the Libraries’ carryforward funds. 

Given current financial uncertainties, there are no additional one-time funds to retain more than the 63 titles mentioned above. Further, any one-time funds applied this year would only increase the scope of reductions for AY2021-22, as those funds are not added to the base budget. In saving an additional 16 titles beyond original projections this year, the Libraries are attempting to strike a balance between mitigating this year’s losses and making next year’s worse.

The retained titles will remain available for one year, after which they may again be subject to cancellation. The remaining 189 titles from the original draft cancellation list will be cancelled; the end date for each subscription—and any post-cancellation retention rights—are listed in the cancellation spreadsheet. This list represents a total reduction of approximately $278,000.

Next academic year, all subscriptions up for renewal will again come under review. Budget pressures are still such that annual subscription reductions are necessary into the foreseeable future. These pressures include the unsustainability of funding inflationary increases combined with an increasingly competitive university budget, steeply rising subscription prices, and ongoing publisher consolidation. If the Libraries collection budget remains flat, projections are for $121,000 in reductions for AY2021-22 and roughly $94,000 each subsequent year. 

Future annual subscription review processes will follow the same basic schedule as the 2019-20 review. They will include a variety of quantitative and qualitative evaluation criteria, including a period for input from the university community. To help ensure the best possible outcomes for next year, the Libraries is looking for constructive suggestions about how the process might be improved. To that end, you are invited to complete a short survey about the AY2019-20 subscription reduction process. The Libraries will use suggestions gathered from this survey to inform future revisions to the process. The survey should take less than fifteen minutes to complete and is due by Sunday, June 14.

Western Libraries appreciates the interest and involvement of the many people who have participated in this process, and encourages faculty to continue connecting with their UPRC and Senate Library Committee representatives, the Libraries’ subject teams, and each other. In the long-term, the proliferation of journal titles, rising costs of library subscriptions, and for-profit journal landscape require a more forward-looking conversation about scholarly publishing. While these challenges are ongoing, collective efforts and commitment can influence a more sustainable future for subscriptions. Western has the opportunity to be part of these important efforts. For more information about Open Access and the future of scholarly communications, visit the Task Force webpage.

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