Wednesday, December 20, 2023 News

Faculty in Colorado and Wyoming Pass Resolutions to Strengthen Libraries in Negotiations with Publishers

Open Access

Faculty members at the University of Colorado Boulder and the University of Wyoming in Laramie recently backed measures asserting their commitment to prioritize specific values in negotiations with major publishers—including author’s rights and open access, accessibility, affordability, preservation, privacy and security, scholarly sharing, and transparency.

The actions were intended to publicly align the values of the library with the faculty and bolster the institutions’ positions in renegotiating contracts with academic publishers.

Currently, Elsevier negotiations are being conducted through the Colorado Alliance of Research Libraries on behalf of 15 libraries in Colorado and Wyoming including CU-Boulder and UW.

The Boulder Faculty Assembly (BFA) passed a resolution on October 5 endorsing principles that prioritize affordability, open access, and transparency in subscription licensing agreements. Inspired by CU’s policy, the UW Faculty Senate approved a similar resolution on November 28. Both modeled their language after MIT’s Framework for publisher negotiations.

“I’m thrilled to hear that the framework and principles developed by the MIT community for use in library negotiations with publishers resonates with other scholarly communities,” said Chris Bourg, director of libraries at MIT. “At this moment of rapid change in publishing practices and needs, I believe it is critical that choices made by academic institutions be rooted in and guided by our values. Pursuing the open exchange of ideas and information has never been more important.”

CU, a Research I institution with more than 39,000 students, adopted an open access policy in 2014 that helped lay the groundwork on campus for the recent resolution, said Robert McDonald, dean of university libraries. The library’s scholarly communications and acquisitions teams drafted the principles for the executive committee of the faculty senate to consider.

“We loved the idea,” said Shelly Miller, chair of the BFA and a professor of mechanical engineering. “We support reasonable costs and open access, and it passed unanimously.”

Miller said CU has a supportive culture where the faculty and library work closely to educate the campus on open access. She hopes the resolution will demonstrate the university’s determination not to be overcharged and lead to the development of sustainable publishing options.

“It’s a little bit insulting that we pay so much money to publishers to have access to these subscriptions and publications and we do so much of the editorial work ourselves. Then on top of that, if we want to publish open access, we have to pay sometimes upwards of $3,000,” said Miller.  “I don’t understand it, and I won’t do it.” Instead, she said she chooses to use and search for free open access publishing options for her own work. Miller said she was pleased to hear other campuses taking a similar approach in supporting libraries’ pursuit of open access publishing.

In mid-October, Wyoming librarians took notice of the activity in Boulder.

UW adapted language in the CU resolution to reflect its campus, which has about 12,000 students, said Cass Kvenild, interim dean of UW Libraries. For instance, because the state financial situation varied, rather than citing a lack of government funding, UW emphasized being good stewards of resources.   

Denis Shannon, a UW electronic resources librarian and member of the UW Faculty Senate, offered their draft resolution on licensing priorities to the body, which made some additional, minor edits. Then, on Nov. 28, the Senate unanimously approved the measure. The full process was completed in just over one month.

“We’ve been fortunate that we’ve had a fairly stable collections budget and a really good relationship with faculty,” Kvenild said, noting they are responsive to needs with “lightning-fast ILL” when there are requests. “We don’t come to [faculty] asking for their formal support often. This was an opportunity for everyone to agree on something – a shared mission to affirm our values.”

Jamie Markus, assistant dean for resource discovery and management at UW, explained the reasoning behind the principles including the high cost of electronic resources, concerns about privacy, and the desire to make materials more open.

“There were really no questions – and that’s just because they trust us,” Markus said. “The response I got from [faculty] was just: ‘Good. I’m glad you’re on the ball and taking care of this. We appreciate it.’”

Shannon said the resolution will help the library hold the line in negotiations. Some publishers directly approach departments, rather than coming through the library, and this gets everyone on the same page.

“Some vendors act like they have a better read on what faculty want than the libraries do,” Shannon said. “This will be good for us to point to in those situations and say, ‘Look, actually our faculty is openly supportive of us in our negotiations.’ That will be beneficial.”

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