Thursday, July 9, 2020 News

Sharing Experiences of Journal Cancellations on a Rapid Timeline

Open Access

In discussions with the SPARC Journal Negotiation Community of Practice, many institutions have discussed needing to prepare for cancellations on a rapid timeline. On June 18, SPARC provided a forum for librarians who recently led their institutions through a fast-tracked Big Deal cancellation to share how they navigated the process. Building on our Big Deal cancellation debrief in May, this event focused on how the process of preparing for and executing a cancellation differs when the timeline needs to be compressed to a few months.

The webinar was moderated by Jaclyn McLean of the University of Saskatchewan and featured Megan Heady from West Virginia University and Kristin Henrich from the University of Idaho.

Budget cuts are forcing many to rethink their contracts with publishers and, in some cases, pivot quickly. Both West Virginia University and the University of Idaho recently had to react to state-imposed budget reductions and prepare for a new way of operating. In the wake of COVID-19, many institutions anticipate financial pressures that could result in accelerated efforts to end their Big Deals – a process that may be complicated by remote work.

Getting the word out 

In transitioning away from their Big Deals, the librarians discussed the importance of effective communication and transparency. Active participation from senior library leaders was essential to adding weight to outreach efforts and getting others on board.

As West Virginia University faced about a 32 percent cut to its materials budget, the library did not immediately have a coordinated communications plan, but staff made an intentional effort to explain the situation to stakeholders, explained Heady. The library dean worked closely with university leaders to discuss cancellations. 

At the University of Idaho, the negotiations team had to manage a budget cut of 17 percent in just two months. The library dean helped garner immediate support from university administrators. Being transparent when providing subscription data showed that unbundling was the only option. Many on campus were understanding of the need to scale back on journals since the entire university was impacted by the state cuts. 

Cutting the cord on the Big Deal was a financial necessity, and both Heady and Henrich also described the larger scholarly communication landscape to their campuses to underscore how the move fit into what was happening elsewhere and situated within the larger academic publishing context.

Building strong relationships

To get campus buy-in, each library needed to establish strong relationships throughout the institution. Simply meeting one-on-one with faculty to address individual concerns diffused frustrations, suggested McLean. Ongoing conversations with faculty and students can enable librarians to demonstrate their stewardship and share their expertise.

At the University of Idaho, librarians were embedded across campus serving on several committees and groups already, which enabled librarians to draw on existing relationships. These relationships also helped in the journal review process and advocacy for Open Access that led to the unbundling, said Henrich.

Liaison librarians at West Virginia University emailed and met with department heads and individual faculty to discuss the cancellation. They explained that access would continue through interlibrary loan (ILL), although they were at first met with some pushback about the loss of immediate access, Heady noted. 

Presenting a unified message

Internal communication within the library is critical for consistent messaging and credibility, said Heady. Everyone from administrators to student workers should know how to respond to inquiries or how to direct someone to the right resource. Emails can be funneled to a central place where replies can go out with consistent language.

West Virginia University set up an internal library website prior to the cancellation going into effect. It included a page with talking points for liaison librarians to use when  discussing the cuts, said Heady. A page full of anticipated resource cancellations were posted where librarians could chime in with feedback if someone thought a resource was critical for a certain subject area. A budget reduction page tracked savings from unbundling and other cancellations and a wish list page collected faculty suggestions for cancelled and new titles.

Being prepared 

To justify journal cancellation decisions, the librarians said it was important to transparently share their decision-making data and methodology. Henrich suggested libraries date-stamp  information posted on the library’s website about the process to provide evidence of when information was relayed to others. 

By the end of the unbundling process, the University of Idaho librarians had just two days to select which journals to keep. Henrich suggested librarians be prepared for vendors to delay the timeline and stonewall the final negotiation. Because of this, there was no option to collect feedback or assessments. 

In developing a strategy, she suggested having a contingency plan if the library has to decide at the last moment and to highlight the benefits to faculty, staff, and students after a cancellation. After the University of Idaho’s cancellation, for example, they decided to publicize the journal titles they kept, rather than the ones that were cancelled.

Reinvesting in Open Access and Open Educational Resources (OER) was an opportunity and a success for the University of Idaho, said Henrich. Two years ago, the university started an Open Access Publishing Fund that she said was critical in winning people over to recognizing the benefits of a transition away from proprietary research. While Henrich at first anticipated some negative faculty reaction after cancelling journals, she instead received faculty requests and offers to make even stronger statements against Elsevier.

Heady added that West Virginia University communicated its rationale (including unsustainable pricing) behind unbundling to its faculty. 

High-profile cancellations at MIT and the University of California system are raising awareness of the underlying problems with scholarly publishing and librarians are continuing to advocate for change. The more that librarians can share their experiences and tips, McLean noted, the more they can become confident at the negotiations table – even when faced with difficult choices on a quick timeline.

This webinar event stems from SPARC’s Negotiations Community of Practice, and is part of our broader effort to support members in responding to the COVID crisis. These discussions have uncovered additional areas where SPARC can provide support to members. For more information about this event or others, or to suggest other community of practice programming, please contact [email protected].

Learn more about our work