Open Access News

News from the open access movement

Friday, February 20, 2009

Libraries to publishers: how you can help

The Association of Research Libraries has released the ARL Statement to Scholarly Publishers on the Global Economic Crisis, February 19, 2009.

From yesterday's press release:

The Association of Research Libraries (ARL) has released a statement on the current global economic crisis and its effect on publishing and library subscriptions....

Large libraries are far from exempt from the consequences of the current global economic crisis. Downturns in state support for public institutions along with substantial losses in endowment funds mean that many ARL member libraries are facing substantial reductions in both operating and materials budgets. In addition to cuts already made, there is strong evidence that most ARL member libraries are preparing for further budget reductions in the 2009–2010 fiscal year.

It is the common view among research libraries that they, like many smaller libraries, are facing protracted budget reductions and they expect that cuts being implemented now are permanent. Unlike earlier recessions and inflationary cycles, few are in a position to consider budget management strategies aimed at carrying collections budgets over a few lean years.

The ARL statement includes a set of recommendations that are based on the belief that scholarly publishers who are committed to enhancing the effectiveness of the scholarly communication system are prepared to act to minimize negative impacts on the system resulting from economic conditions. Among other strategies, the statements calls for publishers and vendors to adopt flexible approaches to pricing and avoid reducing content or access as libraries seek to renegotiate expenditures. ARL encourages publishers to consult widely with research libraries in developing responses to the current economic environment....

From the statement itself:

...ARL echoes the ICOLC statement’s advocacy for publishers to adopt flexible approaches to pricing and avoid reducing content or access as libraries seek to renegotiate expenditures....

Libraries serving research organizations are increasingly receptive to models that provide open access to content published by their affiliated authors in addition to traditional subscription access to titles. This kind of model can form a bridge from subscription models to models incorporating author-side payments....


  • The ICOLC statement (January 19, 2009) articulated two principles, the second of which was this (italics in original):  "It is in the best interest of both publishers and consortia to seek creative solutions that allow licenses to remain as intact as possible, without major content or access reductions. Content, once discontinued, will be very difficult to reinstate at a later date. While there may be practical limits to this principle, publishers, authors, scholars, and libraries will be best served by those solutions that retain as much access to as much content as possible."
  • The ARL statement says that its recommendations "can form a bridge from subscription models to models incorporating author-side payments."  If it meant full or hybrid OA journals, I wish it had said so.  Not all hybrid OA journals charge author-side publication fees, although most do.  Not all full OA journals charge publication fees, and in fact most do not.  If the ARL message is that institutions should support peer-reviewed OA journals as an alternative to subscription journals, then it should generalize its recommendation to cover all OA journals, not just the minority which charge publication fees.  Many of the no-fee OA journals depend on institutional subsidies, instead of fees, and any institutions willing to support OA journals with fees should be willing to support OA journals with comparable subsidies. 
  • Similarly, if part of the ARL message was that academic libraries should support OA archiving through an institutional repository, as another part of the bridge from subscription journals to OA, then I wish it had said so. Too many institutions don't yet have IRs, and too many with IRs don't yet have effective policies to fill them.  ARL has been a leader on this front.  I don't have recent data, but in August 2006, 43% of ARL member institutions hosted an IR and 35% more were planning one for 2007.
  • The overall message of the ARL and ICOLC statements is true, important, and goes well beyond OA.  But for more on the OA angle alone, see my article in SOAN for January 2009:

It will be harder than ever for libraries to renew all their current subscriptions...[and] harder than ever to justify new subscriptions....Even before the crisis, library budgets were growing more slowly than inflation and much more slowly than journal prices.  Now they will slow further or shrink.  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....