Resourcefully: Let’s End the Serials Crisis: The Serials Librarian: Vol 79, No 1-2

“This is not the first time I’ve written about the Serials Crisis, but I would love for it to be the last. 1 The Serials Crisis is a short-hand term commonly applied to the multidecade-long effects of unsustainable serials cost increases as it affects relatively flat academic library budgets. 2 The crisis is currently in at least its fourth decade, which is to say it has defined the work of whole generations of library workers, myself included. A cursory review reveals it has been written about in the Serials Librarian at least 58 times, and referenced at least 907 times since 1981. 3 …

A quaint crisis by our current standards – the Serials Crisis was a symptom and indicator of the knowledge inequities that would explode in importance under the pressure of COVID-19. Here in the flickering last light of the inevitable destruction of the prestige economy, let’s confront the issue of access, which has always been the issue of cost. 4 …

[T]he Serials Crisis is one obnoxious fire we can put out with all this daunting, harrowing, and powerful urgency serving as a cap which deprives it of fuel….

This first installment of Resourcefully will give a quick overview of the Serials Crisis and present my preferred path forward, one that requires significant action from us all, and particularly our colleagues in publishing. Then, we can appropriately direct our attention to the bigger fires in the room….

Since we contextualize the Serials Crisis as a crisis of cost, content, and ownership, Transformative Agreements with their emphasis on costs, copyright, transparency, and transition, are the appropriate response. The issue, yet again, is consistency and parity….

I have wondered if publishing executives bemoaning piracy have contemplated how they might have avoided the rise of SciHub 15 if they had been more willing to work with libraries. Having priced libraries out of subscriptions, the costs imposed succeeded only in alienating readers from both their publications and from library services, effectively undermining both institutions. Ultimately, publishers lost revenue and libraries lost patrons. This lose-lose situation is the sad truth at the heart of the Serials Crisis itself….

It might be considered the first truly Transformative Agreement, as it would leverage a scale fit to actually transforming the marketplace itself. It would be neither a “Read-and-Publish,” nor a “Publish-and-Read,” rather it would be a “This-Is-What-It-Costs” deal for us all.

Of course, alternately, just one major publisher could make the change to signal the others, open their content and share their actual costs so we can figure out what a sustainable scholarly communication system is together. …”

Emerging from uncertainty International perspectives on the impact of COVID-19 on university research

” Open access and open data have gained prominence just as library budgets are being squeezed. For university research funding a double impact is looming. Potential cuts in external research funding (from government, charities and industry) risk compounding the damage done by precipitous declines in other institutional income streams (including domestic and international student tuition fees, accommodation and conferences)….

Calls for open access have been strengthened by the crisis, as publishers made available COVID-related research that had a direct impact on health policy. But the digital infrastructure supporting the free exchange of research information and data is still not equipped for the scale-up required….

The case for open access and open data has been strengthened by the pandemic, but their adoption will require investment in supporting digital infrastructure and careful consideration of business models. This is all the more urgent given the added pressure library budgets will be under in a post-COVID world….

Librarians struggled to support blended learning alongside providing standard services. Interviewees noted that libraries continued to provide basic digital support for research including services relating to open access and institutional repositories, but the capacity to support research more broadly was severely constrained during the pandemic….

Interviewees from Australia indicated that COVID may provide an opportunity to move to a “pay to publish” model and to “break the control currently held by a small number of publishers”. Plan S, a European initiative to make publicly-funded scientific publications open access, is viewed favourably but some felt that it could increase costs for scholarly communication. Central budget allocations to pay for article publication charges (APCs), prevalent in some parts of Europe, are seen as an attractive option given the increased leverage it provides in budget negotiations. But the decentralised nature of library budgets in most Australian universities, where APCs are paid from a wide variety of sources (including departments, individual grants, researcher’s professional development funds etc.) reduces bargaining power. Interviewees were also concerned about universities’ ability to track APCs across the institution, which is seen as necessary to achieve better value for money….

There is strong consensus that the pandemic can be a catalyst for change to accelerate the transition to open access (OA). International actors including the European Commission, the World Health Organisation and UNESCO have all issued strong calls for greater and more equitable access to research results in recent months.59–61 Interviewees from all countries recognised that the pandemic has raised awareness of open science

among researchers that were previously unaware or not particularly sympathetic to it.62 At the same time, it has highlighted the importance of open research to decision-makers and the broader public….


As the dust settles, the expectation is that funders and open science advocates will use the pandemic as “the poster boy for open science”, providing new impetus towards change. This can in turn hasten the shift to open access in Europe and the UK. The European Commission, traditionally a strong proponent of open access and open data, notes that the achievement of a “Shared Research Knowledge System” by 2030 should

build on the collaborative efforts to tackle COVID-19 and considers these as “testament to the innovative power of opening up science, sharing knowledge and collaborating.” …


COVID-19 has exposed longstanding fault lines in the current system of scholarly communication. While the balance appears to have shifted decisively in favour of open science, tensions between rapid publication and robust quality assurance remain. Strategic thinking is needed to tackle a legacy of investment in digital infrastructure, redefine the roles of commercial and community actors, develop sustainable business models, and embed open science as the ‘new normal’ for research. …”


IFLA and IATUL Joint Statement on Publisher Pricing | IATUL – International Association of University Libraries

“On behalf of the member institutions of both our associations, we are writing to the publishers and service providers of the publishing industry about the 2021 subscriptions and renewals of electronic resources and databases.  We want to make the industry aware that universities, schools, industries, and libraries worldwide are facing significant budget cuts for the next fiscal year as a result of the  COVID-19 pandemic, and that library subscription is an area that is being looked at for potential savings.  To assist libraries and institutions in this possible financial crisis, we request that you support them by reducing prices in 2021. We greatly appreciate such generous gestures already extended by many publishers and vendors, and honestly expect a similar approach from the rest….”

Navigating Toward Our Values in a ‘Moment Beyond Statements’ – SPARC

” “We’re in a moment beyond statements now…” Jon Cawthorne’s remark captured the heart of the discussion at the recent ACRL/SPARC Forum on navigating the current challenges of COVID-driven budget cuts and the need for libraries to move from intention to action on equity and inclusion. During this time of profound change with economic upheaval and long-needed focus on racial justice issues, libraries are being pushed to rethink how to move forward. There is no definitive pandemic “end line”,  where the world just goes back to normal—and, in any event, we don’t want to simply go back to the business of scholarly communication as it was. As Chris Bourg framed it, “This pandemic may be our ‘cross the Rubicon’ moment” where we have the opportunity to move forward with re-structuring this system to prioritize openness and equity at its core. With this year’s Open Access Week centered on “taking action to build structural equity and inclusion,” this focus on aligning actions with values is critical. …”

Serials Price Projection Report 2021

“At the time of writing, we expect the overall effective publisher price increases for academic and academic medical libraries for 2021 (before any currency impact) to be in the range of 2 to 3 percent for individual titles. Also important is the role of e-journal packages in the information marketplace. More than half of EBSCO’s sales for 2020 were from e-journal packages; likewise, library budgets are, in large part, spent on these collections. As a result, their impact on the overall serials price increase is significant. We expect the overall average price increase for e-journal packages, including provisions for mandatory take-over titles, upgrades, etc. to be in the range of 1 to 3 percent….”


As Universities Switch to Online Teaching, Digital Collections of Libraries and Publishers Take Centerstage | Open Research Community

“The importance of Open Access for university libraries and academic publishers is slated to increase, as printed books and in-person access become deemphasized in the COVID-19 context….

In North America, the pandemic onset has accelerated the evolution of university libraries toward closer involvement with supporting the digital access needs of students and researchers. On the one hand, this has spurred the launch of publisher-led projects targeted at the higher education market. On the other hand, scholarly publishers, such as ProQuest, make extra efforts to integrate Open Access into the panoply of their offerings that span both paywalled and freely accessible content (Enis, 2020).


In this respect, Open Access books and resources are likely to demand less copyright compliance management than their closed access counterparts. Additionally, Open Access does not involve the access uncertainty that free access usually does, as journal and book publishers wind down their free access deals with the presence of COVID-19 becoming the new normal. In this context, renewable subscription models gain in uptake, as vendors factor in library budget shortfalls into their product structures (Enis, 2020)….”

COAPI Community Call: Funding Open During Challenging Budget Times – Oct 26, 2020 – SPARC

“During this call, you will hear about the SPARC Journal Negotiation Community of Practice, including a brief overview of programs and discussion groups developed for libraries in support of their current negotiations and subscription decision-making. The call will then focus in on one of these programs, the Journal Cancellation Reinvestment Working Group. Co-leads, Kathleen DeLaurenti (Johns Hopkins University) and Curtis Brundy (Iowa State University) will describe their efforts leading a community of librarian volunteers developing resources to support libraries prioritizing Open investments.”

Virginia’s research libraries host virtual forum in advance of Elsevier negotiations | Virginia Tech Daily | Virginia Tech

“Representatives from seven Virginia universities will soon be in contract negotiations with Elsevier, the largest science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) scholarly publisher.

Working as a group, the University of Virginia, Virginia Tech, Virginia Commonwealth University, George Mason University, Old Dominion University, William and Mary, and James Madison University will be discussing the unsustainable cost of accessing Elsevier’s academic journals and options to make their public universities’ research more accessible to the public that paid for it….”