Subscription Review FAQ

A Subscription Task Force worked to develop the current process throughout 2019 and 2020; however, the Libraries’ Scholarly Resources Group--made up of librarians and other collections experts--began developing a new process for reviewing subscriptions as far back as early 2018.

ILL costs are not an explicit part of the subscription review process. However, based on recent analyses, ILL tends to be a more affordable means of access than subscription for the majority of our lowest-scoring titles. Estimates for the past three years put Western’s average cost per ILL transaction at approximately nine dollars. Most potential cancellations with a cost-per-use below nine dollars have scored poorly in other areas and may therefore still be worth considering for cancellation.

Throughout summer and fall, Libraries personnel collect data on Western’s hundreds of subscriptions. These data represent a blend of quantitative and qualitative criteria (detailed in the Subscription Scoring section), each of which contributes a number of points towards a resource’s final score. Librarians use the lowest-scoring resources to generate the draft cancellation list, accumulating enough titles to offset any new subscription requests. Each subscription’s score will be included on the draft cancellation list. These scores are just the first stage in our decision-making process and will be supplemented by important qualitative feedback gathered throughout fall and winter.

The Libraries is looking at evaluation criteria in two stages. First, we are applying a variety of qualitative and quantitative criteria to generate subscription scores and the resulting preliminary draft cancellation list. You can read more about these ‘stage one’ evaluation criteria (qualitative and quantitative) under Subscription Scoring.

In addition to the criteria used to generate the initial draft cancellation list, the Libraries will gathers extensive qualitative input from students, faculty, and staff throughout fall and winter. These criteria—which center around what is important to you and your discipline—supplement the stage one data and provide critical context for final cancellation decisions.

Making regular changes to our subscriptions portfolio—like cancelling existing subscriptions so we can add new ones—ensures that library collections remain aligned with current student, faculty, and staff needs. The university curriculum is changing all the time and we need to ensure that library collections are appropriately dynamic.

Usage statistics are provided to the Libraries by most (though not all) publishers and vendors.

Many vendors provide usage reports that adhere to a standardized format (called COUNTER), detailing the number of full-text downloads (for journal articles), full-text section requests (e-books), searches and results clicks (databases), or multimedia content unit requests (streaming media). These standard metrics allow for relatively straightforward comparisons among subscriptions of the same format type.

Other vendors provide non-standard usage reports, which are incorporated as best as possible into existing library workflows and analysis.

Three-year CPU is equal to cost (each title’s most recent calendar year unit price as established by the publisher) multiplied by three, then divided by use (total number of uses over the past three calendar years). For journals, one use is equivalent to a single full-text article download (in either PDF or HTML format).

The Libraries subscribes to several full-text databases, such as Academic Search Complete, Business Source Complete, and ProQuest Newsstand. Western also owns perpetual access rights to JSTOR’s Life Sciences collection as well as over 85% of the JSTOR Arts & Sciences collections. These article databases offer access to the full text of many journals, magazines, and newspapers.

In some cases, full-text article databases are not an exact substitute for a full journal subscription. Coverage may not include every article, letters to the editor, book review, or graphic (illustrations, charts, or maps). Western can provide access to this content via ILL or per-article purchasing, however. Additionally, many of the journals included in these types of databases have “embargo periods.” This means that the publisher of an embargoed title does not allow the database to release the full-text content for a predetermined length of time. Typically, databases are useful for accessing content older than 5 years.

Students, faculty, and staff will be invited to review potential cancellations in Winter Quarter and submit any retention requests via individual survey. Individuals will not be limited to a fixed number of requests; however, everyone should keep in mind that in order to add new subscriptions we will need to cancel an equivalent dollar amount from existing subscriptions.

If a journal is used regularly as part of instruction, the usage should reflect that curricular need. To make sure your students’ use is counted, always provide access to course readings via course reserves or a permanent link embedded in Canvas—not by sharing the PDF. The Libraries Course Reserve staff can help you build permanent URLs or add library resources to Canvas.

No. The Libraries will continue to identify effective means of providing books (and other owned resources with one-time costs) to its users.

Yes! Anyone may request a new subscription via the Libraries website. Requests received during Fall Quarter will be considered under the current year’s subscription review; titles requested in Winter, Spring, or Summer will be considered the next academic year. If selected for purchase, new subscriptions will begin the following year (e.g. a title submitted in Fall 2021 will be considered during the 2021-22 subscription review and, if selected, will start January 2023).

Support open access and contribute a pre- or post-publication version of your scholarly work to Western CEDAR, the university’s institutional repository.  In this way, your scholarship and creative activity will be available at Western and worldwide.  CEDAR is a service of Western Libraries in partnership with the Graduate School, the Office of the Provost, and the Office of Research and Sponsored Programs. By showcasing Western’s scholarly and creative works, CEDAR facilitates global discovery and promotes open access and sustainable scholarly communication. Robust participation in open access by scholars worldwide is the best long-term approach to help transform current, publisher-controlled scholarly communication models.

Learn more about journal pricing and inflation.

Be aware of publisher policies regarding authors’ retention of copyright. Insist on the right to self-archive your work in CEDAR or other open access repository. Contact to learn how to retain your rights.

Consider publishing with professional associations, societies, and other organizations that employ effective, sustainable means of distributing scholarly information. If you serve on the executive or editorial board of a scholarly society, encourage the organization to publish its journal(s) open access.

The Libraries is pleased that we will not have to make any subscription cancellations this year. However, that does not mean we will stop evaluating and curating our subscription resources. We will continue the annual subscription review process, shifting from a reactionary, cancellation-oriented approach to a more deliberate, strategic review. By examining our subscriptions carefully—even during times of plenty--we ensure that the library collection remains dynamic and relevant.