Yesterday, the Chronicle of Higher Education ran a story about how at least two libraries are breaking free from the big ticket payments and large journal collections tied up in Big Deals, and shifting to a per-title subscription model, especially in the more expensive areas like biomedicine and chemistry.
The two libraries profiled — the University of Oregon and Southern Illinois University — are both finding that their fears of faculty revolt with certain titles missing haven’t transpired. In fact, journals from some of the Big Deal publishers have instead drawn the ire of faculty, who refuse to submit papers to them.
Jonathan A. Nabe, collection-development librarian at SIU, is quoted as saying:
We simply could not afford to stay in the deals, because by their very nature those deals locked us into a specific amount of money that we had to provide every year, and that increased every year 5 or 6 percent. We just could not sustain that.
Usage data has been something these librarians have wielded to understand the risk involved in canceling journal bundles and knowing which journals to preserve through direct subscription. It was only a matter of time before these inevitable trends — high usage of certain titles offset by low or no usage of filler titles — became clear to librarians and common knowledge. After all, the architecture of the Big Deal is clearly a herd approach — protect the sick and weak within the strong and vibrant. Now, however, librarians looking for a deal can more readily identify their prey.
David C. Fowler, head of licensing for the University of Oregon, said that once they got one of the Big Deal publishers to the table (no mean feat):
Elsevier played pretty fair. I would say that they were at least moderately surprised that we were so well prepared with our facts and figures, but it was a good thing for us.
This brought to mind a post published here last February by Joe Esposito, where Joe wrote:
[Librarians] tend to think of the principal economic relationship as being between the library, which acts on behalf of its patrons, and publishers. This is incorrect. The key relationship is between the successful (and often large) publishers and the less successful. The question is how to grab more of a shrinking pie. The Big Deal is a means to that end.
Armed with data and forced to innovate in the face of continued budgetary pressures, librarians may be able to take back the relationship in a way more suited to their model of how the world should work. What this could mean for the power relationships between smaller society and independent publishers and larger congolmerates won’t be seen for years, but this is another hint that an approach of accumulating titles into bigger and bigger packages with little rhyme or reason has clear vulnerabilities.