March 12, 2014

Cornell University Libraries Face Escalating Journal Costs

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The University Library’s budget is being “stretched thin” due to the “dramatically increasing” prices of scientific journals, according to Prof. Nerissa Russell, anthropology, chair of the University Faculty Library Board.

“There’s been tremendous consolidation in the publishers, and things that used to be published on their own by learned societies are now being contracted out to these commercial publishers,” Russell said Wednesday at a Faculty Senate meeting. “There are about five commercial publishers, and they’re jacking up the prices to make money because they can.”

Russell said there is currently an ongoing campaign at Cornell to develop a $15 million endowment for collections. She added, however, that this would only cover part of the increased need for funds.

“As long as these prices keep soaring, there’s no way we can keep up with finding funding to put into them,” Russell said. “We need to find new models for publishing eventually, because this is simply not sustainable.”

President David Skorton said at the meeting that he thinks the increased journal prices are a “hugely important issue.”

“This escalation of costs has been going on for a long time,” Skorton said. “We are making good progress in a fundraising campaign, but it won’t cover all the costs.”

According to Russell, Cornell has been losing ground in terms of library spending in relation to other universities. She said that in fiscal year 2005, Cornell was ranked 11th in the nation for library materials expenditures. The University’s position dropped to 19th in 2008 and 24th in 2012.

“We are spending more, but not as much more as some other universities have been spending,” she said. “There’s a real concern that we’re going to keep slipping.”

Russell said one possible solution to the problem would be to share the costs with other universities through programs like Borrow Direct and 2Cul, programs which allow students to access the library catalogs of other universities.

Russell said another possible solution would be to encourage a move to free open-access journals, which are journals freely available to anyone.

However, Russell said that using open-access journals may not necessarily solve the library’s funding issues.

“Open-access is desirable in terms of making research available to taxpayers and people who need it, but it’s not clear that it’s going to cost less to the library,” she said. “The only real solution to this is to somehow get publication out of the hands of for-profit publishers, but the trend has been in the completely opposite direction.”