The Future of Access to Library Resources

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The Future of Access to Library Resources

The following message, from the Western Libraries Subscription Task Force, was distributed to university faculty on May 14. More information about the Qualtrics survey referenced in the letter can be found at the bottom of this page. Faculty should check their inboxes for a link to the survey; other members of the university community may contact the Libraries’ Director of Collections for access.

Dear University Colleagues,

The vision of our university calls on each of us to advance the ideals of exploration, critical thinking, connection, and creativity. Collectively, we seek to provide a transformational educational experience for our students, grounded in innovative scholarship, research, and creative activity; as well as justice and equity in our policies, practices, and impacts. Through these efforts, we hope to address the world’s most challenging problems, questions, and needs. The heart of the Western Libraries’ mission is one and the same: to advance these goals, connecting people to the resources, expertise, and spaces necessary for impactful teaching and lifelong learning, while advancing equitable and inclusive access to information in all its forms.

In this spirit, the Western Libraries continues to move forward in new directions, favoring broad access to information over more traditional models of ownership, challenging the narrative that knowledge can be owned, and seeking ways to keep information open to the community where it can best serve the greater good. We are not  alone in these efforts: libraries around the world are pushing for a more sustainable, open, and just approach to information, and the current moment represents an opportunity for all of us. Over the next year, the Libraries will be engaging the university in important conversations about our collective mission, the information landscape, and the implications for library collections.

The broader context of current events makes this conversation a timely one. On February 28, the University of California announced that they were terminating journal negotiations with the scholarly publishing giant Elsevier, walking away from more than 2,500 journal titles and $50 million in expenditures. At the heart of the decision: a growing tension between researchers’ desire for scholarship to be openly available and the starkly contrasting reality of skyrocketing journal costs and article paywalls. Add to this the fact that publishers increasingly lock their journals into massive “big deal” packages, and the result is an ideological and financial crisis. As researchers and libraries around the world strive toward the broadest possible access to information, rising publisher prices and content restrictions threaten the very integrity and inclusivity of our scholarly conversations.

UC’s decision to stand firm follows on the heels of similar negotiations in Germany and Sweden, and echoes a trend among academic institutions—including R1 universities like Cornell, Florida State, University of Iowa, and others—to break large journal packages. UC’s decision is one of boldest and most prominent in recent years, and since February other universities (including Duke University, the University of Minnesota, the University of North Carolina – Chapel Hill, the University of Oregon, and the University of Virginia) have weighed in, issuing statements acknowledging the magnitude of the moment. Meanwhile, the European Commission and eleven European nations recently committed to making all scientific studies funded by public resources freely available via Open Access by 2020.

Here at Western, we are part of the broader scholarly ecosystem and have an opportunity to help shape the future of publishing, libraries, and research. To that end, the Libraries will be working with the university community, via the Senate Library Committee and the newly formed Western Libraries Subscription Task Force, to explore our own future.

Over the coming year, we will be engaging the university in a variety of ways, including surveys, open forums, and conversations within each individual college. We will be talking about the scholarly publishing landscape, Western’s values, and the implications for both moving forward.

These discussions, which will shape library collections strategies, will be entwined with a second, more urgent conversation about how to manage library subscriptions in the current financial climate. Inflationary costs continue to threaten the sustainability of Western’s library subscriptions, and though the Libraries submitted an internal budget proposal to UPRC this spring to alleviate these pressures, we must anticipate the potential for budget shortfalls as early as AY2020-21 and lay the groundwork accordingly.

As a first step, the Libraries’ Subscription Task Force is looking for university feedback around two major themes: Open Access and subscription evaluation. In a few days, you will receive a link to a Qualtrics survey asking for your opinions on Open Access, subscription evaluation criteria, and library feedback processes. We strongly encourage all faculty to participate in order to ensure that our path forward adequately reflects the needs and values of every discipline, college, and department. We will also be reaching out to each department chair and offering to attend department- or college-level meetings for more in-depth discussion or Q&A. If you would like us to visit your department or college, please work with your chair and we will coordinate a time.

Lastly, throughout the next 16 months we will strive to maintain open and transparent communication via our Task Force and subscription review web presence, the Senate Library Committee, Western Today, and our team of subject librarians. As we work, we will share updates, resources, and calls for feedback. Stay tuned, and don’t hesitate to reach out if you have questions, concerns, or would like to schedule a one-on-one or small group meeting. You can contact the Libraries’ Collection Services division or the Director of Collections.

We appreciate your feedback and look forward to a robust conversation about the future of publishing, scholarly communication, and library subscriptions!

The Western Libraries Subscription Task Force:

  • Madeline Kelly, Director of Collections, Western Libraries (Chair)
  • Kate Cabe, Western Libraries
  • Tilmann Glimm, College of Science and Engineering
  • Mark Neff, Huxley College of the Environment
  • Jeff Purdue, Western Libraries
  • Rae Lynn Schwartz-DuPre, College of Humanities and Social Sciences
  • Michelle Weston, Western Libraries


For more information on how the Libraries manages subscriptions, consult the Subscription Management Glossary and FAQ. For more information on Open Access and the scholarly publishing ecosystem, review the SPARC Open Access page, which includes a downloadable Open Access fact sheet.


The Qualtrics survey consists of 12 questions and should take about 10-15 minutes to complete. Respondents are asked to provide a departmental affiliation, but are not required to submit their name or any other identifying information. All responses will remain confidential and any data shared will be in aggregate form only. The survey will remain open through Sunday, June 2.


Results of the survey will be used to inform outreach and Open Access initiatives, subscription evaluation methods, and collection development strategies. The more input the Task Force gets from the university, the more representative the resulting approaches can be--so members of the university community are strongly encouraged to participate.

In addition to this survey, the Task Force will also be reaching out to department chairs and offering to attend department- or college-level meetings for more in-depth discussion or Q&A. If you would like the Task Force to visit your department or college, please work with your chair and the Libraries’ Director of Collections to coordinate.

If you have any questions, please contact the Libraries’ Collection Services division or the Director of Collections.