UK Libraries Say No to e-Journals ‘Raw Deal’

Libraries have told journal publishers that they will not renew their “big deals” with them if they do not make significant real-term price reductions.

Research Libraries UK, which includes the Russell Group university libraries, as well as the UK’s national libraries and Trinity College Library Dublin, have told Elsevier and Wiley-Blackwell that they will not renew their current deals when they expire at the end of this year unless the concession is made, writes Paul Jump at the Times Higher Education.

Big deals involve libraries paying a blanket fee for electronic access to a publisher’s entire journal catalogue. They were initially welcomed by librarians when they were first introduced a decade ago.

However, David Prosser, RLUK’s executive director, said consistent above-inflation price increases and the current squeeze on library budgets meant that big deals were accounting for an ever-greater proportion of libraries’ budgets and were no longer affordable.

If the libraries cancel their big deals they intend to make savings by buying only high-use journals from the publishers. Articles from lower-use journals will be shared between them in an electronic version of an inter-library loan.

Dr Prosser admitted that the publishers might react by putting up the price of high-use journals, but predicted that such a move would fall foul of competition authorities.

He said he expected that libraries would already be talking to researchers about the titles that could be dropped with the least impact.

“It is not a question of whether we drop journals, it is a question of which we drop,” he said. “In my view it is better to drop low-use titles bundled into packages than to drop medium-use titles from smaller publishers outside big deals (so that we maintain) a healthy publishing environment with a wide variety of publishers.”

RLUK also wants publishers to quote prices and price rises in sterling so that library budgets are not affected by currency fluctuations.

“If you are spending over £1 million a year on one big deal those fluctuations can be quite significant,” he said.

Usman Ali, vice-president for higher education at the NUS, said:

“For too long private publishing companies have been getting away with gouging universities on journal costs. It is time the publishing companies made themselves accountable to the wider academic community in the UK.”

The past few years have seen a growth in the provision of electronic resources in both academic and public libraries, writes Linda Ashcroft in her article ‘Ebooks in libraries: an overview of the current situation’ for Australia Policy Online.

“While there is much activity in the ebook market, the situation regarding ebook provision is less stable. The nature of provision is fluid, both in terms of the type of ebooks provided and the means of access. An ebook survey in 2002 found that 62 per cent of student respondents would prefer to use their textbooks in electronic form to save carrying heavy books and to take advantage of the enhanced functionality of ebooks.”

Later, in 2004, Abram commented that “some medical and dental schools have gone whole hog to purchase e-textbooks”. Also in 2004, research found that the most highly subscribed ebook subjects in UK higher education institutes were engineering and science based subjects writes, Ashcroft.

Currently the ebook market has expanded with many types of ebooks available – textbooks, reference books, fiction, etc, and with various forms of software and reading devices, writes Ashcroft.

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