THE Scholarly Web

Weekly transmissions from the blogosphere

October 4, 2012

"There's no gentle introduction to this, so I'll get right to my point: Librarians, this is a call to action."

These are the forthright opening lines of a post on the Attempting Elegance blog, penned by Jenica P. Rogers, director of libraries at the State University of New York at Potsdam. And what has got Ms Rogers' pulse racing? Journal access.

Specifically, Ms Rogers is referring to the standardisation of pricing by the American Chemical Society (ACS), which unfortunately meant that access to its publications would have "consumed more than 10 per cent of [the libraries'] total acquisitions budget".

Ms Rogers' predicament raises an interesting question about the way journals sell access to their publications.

"Too many libraryland vendors obscure their pricing models or negotiate great deals with one institution while charging double to someone else," she writes. In contrast, she says, the ACS' new price tiers are "reasonable and based on arguably sound criteria", but incorporate a base price that is "unsustainable and inappropriate" for smaller institutions.

In effect, although Ms Rogers disagrees with price negotiation on an institutional basis, she believes that standardised pricing needs to account for universities' differing sizes. In the case of the ACS, she argues, this did not happen.

"The ACS is clearly committed to creating consistent pricing across their tiers, which I respect. However, I firmly believe that their approach to the base price...is unacceptable and unsustainable for institutions like mine."

Rather than spend such a large percentage of her budget on the ACS titles, Ms Rogers decided to discuss the situation with SUNY Potsdam's chemistry staff.

"The result of our first meeting was that (they) agreed to take their concerns to the ACS based on their individual professional involvements with the organization...[Faculty] agreed on behalf of their department that despite the undisputed excellence...and relevance to their work found in ACS content, we cannot afford (it) at the current pricing model."

Ms Rogers writes: "On January 1, 2013 our ACS content will dramatically decline," adding that SUNY Potsdam will "pick up the slack" by increasing its holdings from the Royal Society of Chemistry.

This is a particularly brave stance, Ms Rogers points out, since "the ACS is in the unique position of both approving programs and selling the content necessary for approval - which I will leave to someone else to debate the ethics of".

She adds that the libraries will do "a robust analysis of how well or poorly this works out this year, but the chemistry faculty were willing to join the librarians in taking a stand against unsustainable pricing".

Ms Rogers wants other university libraries to stand up and be counted, too. "Librarians are often disinclined to be first to try something - we'd often rather be second, after someone else has found the hidden pitfalls. So here I am, saying that we were willing to be the first to be loud, and to provide you with a public example of what is possible."

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