Every year, the University Library spends about half of its acquisitions budget — which totaled $28.2 million last year — on scholarly journals. But soaring journal prices are forcing the library to take a harder position in negotiating its subscriptions.
“Few on campus are aware of just how expensive journals have become,” library officials said in a September report to the University’s Priorities Committee. Between 2009 and 2011, journals in language and literature jumped 29 percent in price, for instance. And humanities and social science journals overall tend to be less costly than those in the sciences — in 2011, the average chemistry journal cost $4,200.
The number of library subscriptions has nearly doubled in the past two decades to 61,566 in 2010–11, the most recent year for which figures are available. Meanwhile, the cost has risen from $3 million to $11 million. Though the overall number continues to grow, some titles must be cut each year to contain costs.
The problem goes beyond steep prices. “If you have one publisher that’s publishing thousands of journals, they’re cornering the market on a whole area of content,” explained David Magier, associate university librarian for collection development. Instead of selling journals title by title, the six major publishers that control the market now sell journals in expensive bundles of thousands of titles.
Consequently, the library is making adjustments, such as canceling a print subscription if the electronic version can satisfy users’ needs. In addition, an interlibrary loan system offers access to journals at other institutions.
“All libraries are facing this issue,” said Magier. “Sometimes the best way to respond is by cooperating with our peers to find new, efficient ways to share our collections.”