Open Access News

News from the open access movement


Thursday, January 01, 2009

Declining pound aggravates access crisis in the UK

ZoŽ Corbyn, Journal subscriptions at risk as weak pound hits library budgets, Times Higher Education Supplement, January 1, 2009. Excerpt:

The fall in the value of the pound is having a "crippling effect" on the budgets of UK university libraries, major bodies within the sector have warned.

Costs of subscriptions to overseas research journals from the US and Europe have increased because of changes in the exchange rate that have seen the pound fall by about 25 per cent in value against the dollar and the euro since July 2008....

"The danger is that libraries will be forced to start cancelling journals," said Mark Brown, chair of RLUK and head of the library at the University of Southampton.

Tony Kidd, assistant director of Glasgow University Library, another RLUK member, explained that journals priced in US dollars, which used to account for about 25 per cent of the library's journals budget, were now costing it 37 per cent more than a year ago. Journals priced in euros, which accounted for about 40 per cent, now cost an additional 19 per cent....

The RIN is currently conducting an emergency study to build up a fuller picture of the exchange-rate problem.  Director Michael Jubb said that because "well over half" of libraries' subscriptions to journals were in euros or dollars, the impact on the subscription budget was "very large indeed"....

Open-access journals, which do not require library subscriptions, could ameliorate the situation, but Dr Brown said they still had a long way to go.  "We are still fundamentally in a commercial environment for research journals," he said.

Comment.  As I wrote in SOAN last month:

University endowments have already lost about 25% of their value in the current fiscal year....It will be harder than ever for libraries to renew all their current subscriptions....Libraries will cancel larger percentages of their serials subscriptions than they have in decades.  That will reduce access to the TA literature, which will strengthen the case for OA among researchers, librarians, and administrators....

[Universities] could wake up to their power as buyers --virtually the only buyers-- of scholarly journals and demand transformations that better serve the interests of the research community.  They could move the percentage of TA publishers who allow postprint self-archiving from 63% to 100%.  They could follow the example of Harvard and 23 other universities by mandating OA for new research articles published by faculty.  They could offer to make future payments to publishers conditional upon friendlier access policies, and initiate a transition from reader-pays TA to institutionally-subsidized OA.  They could, but will they? ...

The financial crisis is not a reason for governments to retract their OA policies, or even to slow down in their adoption of new ones.  On the contrary, as I argued in my open letter to Obama and McCain..., if the crisis leads to cuts in research budgets, then it will be more important than ever to maximize at least the *return* on the national investment in research.  For this reason, the crisis is a reason to adopt OA policies and extend existing policies....

Nor will it be easy to help people look past the *problem* of declining subscriptions to the *opportunity* of declining subscriptions:  the opportunity to invest the savings from TA journal cancellations in a superior OA alternative that widens distribution, lowers costs, facilitates use and re-use, and stops betting against the internet....