On January 1, Temple University joined the growing list of institutions that have cancelled their “Big Deal” journal subscription bundles with Elsevier. Temple’s Library Dean, Joe Lucia, has been an active advocate of Open throughout his career at a number of SPARC member libraries. He was Director for Library Systems and Access at Lehigh University and University Librarian and Director of the Falvey Memorial Library at Villanova, before coming to Temple in 2013.
Here’s what Lucia has to say about the recent decision not to renew its bundled contract and the university’s approach going forward.
Q: What was your budget situation as you were considering the transition?
A: The Elsevier license grew to the point where it accounted for nearly 20 percent of the entire budget for library collections at Temple’s Paley, Ambler, and Health Sciences Libraries. Our materials budget has been flat in recent years and we projected costs were going to increase by as much as $90,000 a year. With that kind of continuing escalation, there would be a point at which we’d go into the red. We wanted to be on a sustainable financial path.
Q: What was behind your decision to cancel the Big Deal?
A: Looking at our role as a state university, part of our mission is to provide access and affordability. One of the contributions we can make is to constrain cost growth. We felt we needed to take action now. We were at the end of a three-year contract and we weren’t going to engage in another long-term deal. We were going to find another way of acquiring this material for our users, and it would be on financial terms that we had real control over.
Beyond Temple, philosophically, I felt if we are actually going to ever make the scholarly communications environment in the STEM world behave like a true market, we have to have expenditure discretion on the pricing side. We need to make a decision about what we’re willing to pay for that content and not be told there is one fixed price that we will pay every year. We are trying to exert market pressure.
Q: How did you go about making the decision?
Our collections analyst and chief collections officer really dug into this over six months and made the determination that although we would lose access to full set of Elsevier journals that it was a worthwhile tradeoff for our community. We felt we could meet 90 to 95 percent of need by subscribing to a short list of journals. Fortunately, our provost was supportive.
Q: What did is the situation with journal access going forward?
The Libraries subscribed to only a select list of heavily-used and cost-justifiable titles. Those who want articles from cancelled journals can go through a combination of historical access to ScienceDirect, rapid document delivery in (2-8 hours), and conventional ILL (12-24 business hours).
Q: How much will the move save Temple?
A: Savings will be $450,000 a year. That is actually smaller than the net reduction in our budget. We set aside money for on-demand access to articles from journals we no longer subscribe to that we will purchase. We will have to monitor that over time to see how it works. Based on the analysis of the level of utilization of the journals we cut out of the subscription, we think it’s sustainable for us. We have to get control of the economics first and say what we are willing to invest in proprietary versus open content.
Q: What has been the reaction on campus?
A: It’s been pretty minimal. There has been a little push-back from the faculty who think they should always have instant access to everything. We’ve been making the case that we have to be responsible over the long term and we can’t sustain that in all areas. We are trying to continue to educate our facility about the economic factors that we have to have some degree of discretion rather than be a captive market.
Q: What was the reaction of Elsevier?
A: Obviously, they were not happy. We still don’t have a final signed contract. We have told them this is the only way we are going to do business
Q: How are Open Educational Resources and open-access journals viewed on your campus?
Open is part of our general operating principles.
We have a fairly active OER program. We have faculty stipends to develop OER content. We have an OER task force and are trying to move to as much OER especially in larger courses Some publishers in the textbook space are approaching the bookstore with deals for inclusive access programs. We are saying “no” because it would lock us into a vendor-supplied solution for textbook cost control.
In conjunction with our publishing enterprise, we have spun off a new imprint from our university press that is a non-profit to produce mostly monographic open-access materials that don’t go through the standard editorial board review process. There is a separate peer review, but they are not university press books. They are coming out of Temple in a variety of ways from faculty, but they are not traditional scholarly publications. For instance, we are doing two textbooks projects that are OER-like, but have an on-demand print product we can produce with the press.
We are currently hosting four open-access journals that originated at Temple. We expect our open-access journal program will grow over time.
Q: How does the decision about Elsevier impact your Open agenda?
A: It gives us financial resources to put more money into open alternatives. It gives us the capacity to be discretionary.
Q: How did you let people know about the decision to end your long-term contract?
We didn’t make a big deal out of it. Once we have a signed contract, we’ll make some noise. We are there in principle. We were very aware that we would not sign a contract with an NDA clause in it. I’m opposed to NDA because they evacuate pricing information from the market. If you don’t have pricing, you don’t have a market. We are going to make price in the marketplace an element of the discussion.
Q: Once your move is more widely known, what do you hope others will say?
The University of California decision (to cancel its Elsevier contact) has been enormously helpful. To show the example of UC taking a stand and the principles it articulated, makes it clear this is the beginning of a system-wide evolution. I can say Temple is that the front end doing our small part to facilitate change. This is an inflection point in the process. I think there will be some other big universities move in the next six months.
Q: What is your advice for other librarians considering following your lead?
A: We really studied deeply the use of the content, looking subject by subject about what the impact would be. We made our title selections with very careful analysis of what would impose the least amount of pain on and allow us to save money. You have to go into it ready to do the work and then describe work to your community so they understand the decision you made.
In a case like this, you just have to have the courage as a leader, an organization, an institution to stand up and say we are going to be one of the forces in changing the rules and not be afraid of the consequences of that.