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Journal Sustainability: Virginia Research Libraries and Big Deals

Information about negotiations with Elsevier.

What is the timeline for negotiations?

Spring 2021

  • Continue to update the Libraries catalog and journals list with updated subscription and backfile information.
  • Add Rapid ILL to our Interlibrary Loan service for faster delivery of articles.
  • Assess and respond to issues arising because of subscription changes.
  • Provide avenues for faculty feedback and journal requests:  online form, faculty forum, liaison interactions
  • Maintain list of journals requested by faculty.

Summer 2021

  • Begin to analyze usage data (downloads, faculty publications, cited references), faculty requests, costs, and other faculty-driven methodologies  to determine which journals are essential for subscription. 
  • Work with other Virginia Research Libraries to plan for negotiations.

Fall 2021

  • Host discussions with faculty about problems with the scholarly publishing landscape and how ODU can better position itself to make scholarship more sustainable. 
  • Work with faculty to finalize lists for subscription.
  • Begin negotiations with Elsevier.

Spring 2022:  New contract goes into effect on or about January 1, 2022.


Pre-2021 activities:

October 2020:  The VRL hosted a Sustainable Scholarship Virtual Forum on October 2 to provide information. 

The Elsevier bill for 2021 will be released sometime in October, after which time the VRL will be approaching Elsevier to negotiate a new arrangement for the final year of the current contract. Possible scenarios:

1) Negotiate a lower price for the final year, while retaining full access to content.

2) Exercise (or at least invoke) the early termination clause in the current contract, which makes it possible for institutions subject to funding cuts to end the deal and force the issue. This could be accomplished by cancelling the current contract and negotiating a collective deal for a smaller core collection of titles -- each institution may need to license additional titles to best meet the needs of its community

November 2020: Elsevier is working cooperatively with VRL member libraries. The libraries are reviewing titles in light of usage and cost data to determine which titles to continue for the final year of the contract. The goal is to reduce our total spend by 50%, and provide non-subscribed articles on demand.

December 2020: The ODU Libraries hosted a faculty forum, ODU Libraries' Negotiations with Elsevier: Charting a path to sustainable scholarshipon Friday, December 11, 2020 to share information and receive questions and feedback on upcoming changes to our Elsevier subscription.

Each VRL submitted their title lists to Elsevier on December 18. See the ODU's Elsevier Journals page.

Negotiations were successful. Read Stuart Frazer's update about the renegotiation for 2021.

Why are we negotiating with Elsevier?

Virginia’s public universities are facing budget reductions due to the COVID-19 crisis, resulting in substantial cuts to libraries’ collections budgets. ODU is one of seven Virginia Research Libraries (VRL) in a 5-year contract with Elsevier, the largest academic publishing company in the world.

  • Over the last decade, the group’s total spend on Elsevier journals has increased 60% and is set to top $10 million in 2021.
  • The Elsevier Big Deal journal package is the libraries’ most expensive single item and consumes up to 25% of Virginia research libraries’ budgets.
  • This cost is unsustainable, even in financially stable budget years.

In addition, the big deal's value is in decline.

  • Like cable TV packages, Big Deals bundle a core set of heavily used journals with a larger set of journals that are rarely or never used. The percentage of bundled journals that researchers cite has steadily decreased.
  • Research papers available in Big Deal journals are easily (and legally) available without a subscription. For all but the highest-use journals, costly subscriptions no longer provide good value.

The values of equitable access, diverse collections, and fair costs are driving the decisions of the VRL Group.

Is there an option for ODU to subscribe independently?

All the institutions involved are committed to sticking together, negotiating the best deal for our faculty and students, and ensuring that our research is shared openly with the world. If we worked independently of the other VRL members, our costs would undoubtedly be higher.

Are you going to cancel [my favorite journal]?

We are using a rich dataset that measures our journal usage along several axes (cost, downloads, citations, authored articles) in order to get a sense of the value of each title to our community. We also want to hear qualitative feedback on which titles you consider essential, why, and how you use them.

Whether we drop titles from our subscription package depends on how our negotiations play out, but in any case, we are committed to providing our researchers with timely access to the resources they need.

How will we access journal articles if the contract is reduced or terminated?

ODU Libraries are committed to providing access to scholarly resources and will continue to do so.

  • We will continue to have access to backfiles of subscribed titles for the contracted period (many back to 2010) -- called "perpetual access."
  • Lawful alternatives such as interlibrary loan and on-demand article purchase provide timely access to articles in cancelled journals with substantial cost savings.
  • Many articles are freely available in legal open access versions (eg, in discipline-specific and institutional repositories). Browser plug-ins like Open Access Button and Unpaywall, search engines like Google Scholar, and plug-ins for our library discovery systems all help make these easy to find. See Alternative Access Options page of this guide. 
  • Alternative access to research continues to grow as more scholars and universities embrace open access and reject Big Deals.

What can I do to help?

Just knowing we have your support for our effort is very important to the Libraries. Please work with your library liaisons to identify the journals that are most important to your research.

In the long term, if you have an opportunity to influence the promotion and tenure standards, we believe in valuing and rewarding open access publishing, rather than relying on for-profit "prestige" publishers. Openly published research is cited 20 percent more on average than research behind publisher paywalls. If research is disseminated more publicly, researchers have more opportunity to collaborate to advance discovery and make a global impact. Efforts like DORA (San Francisco Declaration on Research Assessment) and the Leiden Manifesto provide helpful guidance.