Are Big Deal Cancellations a BFD?

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December 18, 2018 by joshbolick

UPDATE 3/1/19: from the University Daily Kansan, “KU Libraries negotiate deal with scholarly journal publishers to mitigate cuts

The University of Kansas is one of a growing number of research institutions abandoning so-called “big deal” subscription agreements due to flat library budgets and ever-increasing serials costs. Last year it was Springer. Now it’s Wiley and Oxford University Press, as outlined in the announcement to all KU Lawrence faculty and staff on Thursday, December 13, 2018 (see full text below).

On one hand, this should come as no surprise: libraries have been talking about the serials crisis for decades and promoting open access (OA) as a centerpiece to addressing it. On the other hand, however, these announcements may come as a shock to members of our community, as KU Libraries has been quite careful to shield users from the effects of cancellations for the past decade or so. At this point, we’re well past cutting no-use and low-use resources, and now must resort to cancelling large packages of journals.

These cancellations have many implications. They send an important message to publishers with exploitative and unsustainable practices that we can and will walk away from these agreements (as have our colleagues at many other institutions) when they fail to address our needs sufficiently. The cancellations may also hamper the ability of researchers to access the journals they need to pursue their research legally, and drive an ever-growing number of them to illicit article-sharing sites like Sci-Hub. What’s increasingly clear is that these publishers can’t continue to take the research we produce, review, and edit (for free) and sell it back to us (and the broader public) for a massive profit. -Editors

Sent on behalf of Kevin L. Smith, Dean of KU Libraries, and

Carl Lejuez, Interim Provost and Executive Vice Chancellor

Cancellation of Package Journal Subscriptions

Dear colleagues,

Together, we would like to make you aware that KU Libraries are facing significant journal package cancellations at the end of this calendar year. As the libraries recently emphasized in the Annotations newsletter, the continual and increasing cost of obtaining scholarly resources, particularly through the bundling of journal titles into “big deals,” has worsened an ongoing crisis for library resources.

KU can no longer support these “big deal” options from major publishers who, while boasting profit margins up to 35%, remain consistently inflexible and unwilling to lower prices or modify annual increases in response to their customers’ budget needs.

After months of assessment and negotiation, these challenges have forced us to cancel our existing journal package agreement with Wiley and reduce the number of titles with Oxford – a difficult decision that will undoubtedly have a major impact on the research directions of the university. These nonrenewals will result in loss of access to a substantial number of journal titles, with the most significant cuts coming from Wiley.

Access to these journals will cease beginning in January 2019. KU Libraries will continue to subscribe to a small number of the most highly used individual titles from Wiley and Oxford. A number of the cancelled journal titles will also remain available through other full text aggregator databases such as Academic Search Complete or Business Source Complete. As always, the libraries’ Interlibrary Loan and Document Delivery service can be used to request materials that the libraries do not own. Most journal articles are delivered directly to you at no charge in less than 24 hours.

We know that the cancellation of these subscriptions will have far-reaching effects on student scholars and faculty researchers at our university. KU Libraries understand that many of these resources are vital for the work that you do, and the decision to cancel these packages was made after much deliberation and analysis. Many of you will recall that KU Libraries conducted a survey in 2016, seeking faculty feedback on journals most important to their teaching and research and to their discipline. This information, in combination with other factors such as cost and usage data, continues to guide our decisions about resource renewals and cancellations.

We encourage you to visit the libraries’ content budget website for more details and updates on how KU Libraries continue to address this bleak situation, to offer your own feedback, and to learn how you can help support actions and alternatives to counteract the publishing crisis.

Though challenges lie ahead, KU Libraries and the Office of the Provost are dedicated to serving the evolving needs of scholars, students, and instructors at KU, and we appreciate your continued support.

Kevin L. Smith

Dean of Libraries

Carl Lejuez

Interim Provost & Executive Vice Chancellor


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The opinions here emerge from work done by OA advocates at our university in the Midwest. The opinions are those of the authors themselves and not necessarily of our home institution.


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