Editor’s Note: Today’s post is by Ginger Williams and Posie Aagaard. Ginger recently left Texas State University to become Coordinator of Collection Strategies at Wichita State University. Posie is Assistant Vice Provost for Collections and Curriculum Support at the University of Texas at San Antonio.
The Texas Library Coalition for United Action (TLCUA) recently announced the successful conclusion of its first negotiation, a deal with Elsevier for reading access to ScienceDirect journals with some open access options. It is the first and largest agreement of its kind in Texas, bringing together 44 public and private institutions to negotiate an agreement addressing common goals for sustainable access to scholarship.
Texas has six university systems, academic medical libraries, and private research libraries which negotiate for resources within their own systems and with regional consortia like Amigos, GWLA, and TexShare. TLCUA is the brainchild of David Carlson, former Dean of Libraries at Texas A&M – College Station. In 2019, David posed a radical question to the Texas Council of Academic Libraries (TCAL): Wouldn’t Texas be better served if the state’s academic and medical research libraries worked together on their shared goals to improve scholarly communication?
The TCAL proposal, a lot of fast-talking on David’s part, and the realization that many TCAL libraries needed to renegotiate ScienceDirect licenses in the next year resulted in the formation of TLCUA. The group’s goals are to partner with publishers to develop sustainable pricing models that improve access to scholarship and improve faculty control of their own works. The deans and directors were eager to leverage the collective spend of TLCUA’s members to advance those shared goals in partnership with Elsevier. They also plan to seek opportunities to work with other publishers in the future.
Two Goals: Develop Sustainable Pricing Models; Increase Access to Scholarship
TLCUA engaged Jeffrey Spies as lead negotiator. Spies has a strong interest in open science and research access, having co-founded the Center for Open Science before forming a consultancy focused on research access projects in higher education and libraries.
Spies led a TLCUA negotiating team with two main goals: to increase access to published scholarly research and to negotiate financially sustainable access to ScienceDirect journals. Developing a partnership with Elsevier was critical for identifying open access alternatives for faculty that do not require securing funding for article processing charges (APCs).
A financially sustainable pricing model for TLCUA’s diverse members was essential. Even before COVID-19 affected enrollment and library budgets, TLCUA members were concerned about the percentage of their budgets devoted to ScienceDirect subscriptions. Many libraries were spending more than ten percent of their collections budget on ScienceDirect journal subscriptions, while at least one was spending a third of their budget on ScienceDirect. Simply renewing existing agreements based on historical spend plus a capped price increase would not meet member needs. Ideally, TLCUA and Elsevier would work together to develop a new pricing model.
The Big Question: Which Access Model(s) for Libraries with Such Different Needs?
Designing an access and pricing model that satisfies the needs of a diverse membership like TLCUA’s presents a unique challenge. Starting with clear objectives and sticking with them is one of the basics of successful negotiation. TLCUA tested that principle by beginning with two goals that could be satisfied in multiple ways. TLCUA’s lofty goal of a single pricing model that meets the needs of all members and is unrelated to historical spend proved untenable, as members were dealing with different financial pressures and different needs for access. Instead, the coalition agreed on several package options for members.
All the options address TLCUA’s concern with financial sustainability, with reduced spends ranging from 2.5% to 30%. All options include a price decrease in the first year. The contract term aligns all TLCUA contracts to end in 2024. Three-year contracts have a 0% price increase in year two and a 2% price increase in year three, while four-year contracts have a 0% increase in year two, a 1% increase in year three, and a 2% increase in year four.
In the agreement, TLCUA and Elsevier agreed to remove references to outdated CONTU guidelines in the interlibrary loan provision. In addition, the parties agreed to remove non-disclosure terms from licenses. Both changes are important for libraries to work together to meet the needs of the scholarly community.
Expanding Access to Scholarly Research: APC Discounts and Copyright Reversion Pilot
The agreement includes two provisions focused on increasing access to scholarly publications. First, authors affiliated with a TLCUA member are entitled to a discount on APCs during the contract period. Authors publishing in Elsevier Gold OA journals receive a 10% discount, while those publishing in Hybrid OA journals receive a 15% discount. Cell Press titles, The Lancet, and certain society titles are excluded from the discount. Elsevier has extended similar discounts to other groups. There is no cap on the number of articles TLCUA members can publish as open access using these discounts.
Second, TLCUA asked Elsevier to explore alternatives to authors permanently transferring copyright to publishers, without requiring the author to pay an APC for open access publishing. Publishers say that signing over copyright to them allows them to recoup the costs of producing a journal, plus some profit. In the United States, copyright protection lasts for the life of the author plus 70 years, which seems longer than needed to meet the goal of providing publishers appropriate recompense for the valuable services they provide. Elsevier, like many publishers, has an author rights statement, which outlines ways authors may use their own work without requesting permission from the publisher. TLCUA acknowledges that Elsevier’s author rights statement meets many needs, but seeks a more robust protection for authors. Not only are author rights statements subject to change by the publisher, but when journals are acquired, the new publisher may not offer the same privileges.
Is it feasible for authors to assign a publisher exclusive rights for a defined period? This is the question TLCUA and Elsevier will explore in a series of Author’s Rights Workshops. The goal is to balance an author’s interests in controlling their work with the publisher’s interests in recouping costs and making a desired profit. The mutual intent is to develop a pilot to test the effects of copyright reversion on both the author’s use of their content and the publisher’s financial viability. TLCUA and Elsevier plan to begin the workshops to explore reverting copyright for select content in early 2023. Developing measurable objectives, defining data needed for analysis, and identifying subsets of journals to include will take time and commitment. Time will tell if the pilot is a successful new step toward placing greater control of a work in the author’s control.