Charlie points to the list of publishers who've agreed to hold prices at 2009 levels and appears to speculate that we may be seeing an end to the historical trend of significant annual price increases for STM journals. But it remains to be seen what the impact of those pricing pledges actually turns out to be -- much of that depends on the choices that librarians make. Will those publishers be rewarded with a disproportionately smaller number of cancellations from those libraries struggling to deal with reduced acquisitions budgets? Or as librarians scramble to find the funds to maintain the big packages from the publishers that they love to hate, will it be the "good guys" who end up getting screwed?
For many years, Library Journal has published, each April, an eagerly anticipated article by Lee Van Orsdel and Kathleen Born analyzing pricing trends in the scholarly journal market. Kathleen retired last year, and the article has been taken over by a new team. As it happens, I had dinner with them a couple of weeks ago. They were just beginning to crunch the data, so our conversation was entirely speculative, but we spent quite a bit of time talking about where the cancellations were likely to fall and what the impact on the overall market would be.
Based on the informal conversations I have with my colleagues, I suspect that Elsevier is going to come through this year just fine, despite that fact that they continue to be aggressive in their pricing. "We can't cancel ScienceDirect," is the refrain that I hear constantly. I remember a conversation that I had with an ARL director who said that if she threatened to cancel, the sales rep would start calling her faculty and getting them to put pressure on her. She wasn't going to risk that. (When our sales rep suggested to the woman who does content management for us that he was going to start contacting our faculty about our proposed cuts she offered to send him a copy of our phone directory. I think she confuses him.)
If the titles in the big packages are the ones that you generally believe are more important for your community than those put out by the publishers on the "good guy" list, then you should by all means keep those titles. And if that means that the small publishers who are hanging in by the skin of their teeth and holding prices in response to the pleas of librarians are the ones who get whacked, that's just the way it goes. You've got to do what's best for your faculty, right?
But I don't think I've ever heard a librarian make that argument. What I do hear is the fear that the faculty will rise up and... and.... Well, that part's never quite clear, but I think some library directors have visions of wild-eyed faculty members surrounding the library with pitchforks and torches.
We stepped away from the big packages last year. And yes, we had many faculty (57) who contacted us expressing concern about the loss of access to some titles. Most of those we reinstated. The conversations in almost all cases were respectful, thoughtful and extremely beneficial to us in getting a better handle on what was being used and why (we did have one rather agitated faculty member who I had to talk down from the ledge).
We're going through a similar process this year, although since we've already gotten out of the package deals, the potential loss of access is much smaller, although the titles are certainly more valuable to the community. And again, the engagement with the community has been excellent. Not a pitchfork in sight.
I don't know how this is going to unfold in the long run, but I'm certainly more eager than in any previous year to see what trends show up in the LJ article. I worry about the impact of these cuts on the teaching & research missions of my university (we're going to be holding a series of focus groups later this spring to try to get more detail on that), but I'm also enjoying the conversations with faculty that this crisis is giving rise to. And although I fear that we're not spending enough money to really meet the demonstrated needs, I know that the money we are spending is being spent better than ever before.
We've been meeting with each of the health sciences deans to be sure they've got all of the details about our budget situation, what we're doing and why, so they can handle any questions they get from their faculty and so they can alert us to concerns that they have. The discussions have been great -- these are smart people, who care deeply about the importance of library resources, but also understand the practical difficulties of managing large organizations with greatly diminished resources. They've got our back.
At the end of each meeting, as we're standing up to go, I've said, "Y'know, when I can step away from my anxiety about the potential negative impacts that our decisions are having, we're actually having a lot of fun. It's pushing us to be more creative and connected to what the community is doing. This really is the greatest time to be a librarian in 500 years."
I really believe that.