ACRLog welcomes a guest post from Sue Wiegand, Periodicals Librarian at St. Mary’s College in Notre Dame, IN.
A chemical storm recently blew up across the blogosphere, involving the American Chemical Society journals, the serials crisis of unsustainably high prices, and one brave librarian, Jenica Rogers at SUNY Potsdam, who said “Enough!” The atmospheric conditions that caused this storm: high journal prices, clashing with low library budgets. Not a surprise, as these storms blow up frequently before subsiding, but the response to Jenica’s blog post thundered through the online community of librarians and scholars. Why? Because she implemented an unusual solution. She cancelled the high-priced “Big Deal” ACS package, after consultation with their Chemistry Department. Others have cancelled Big Deals, but Jenica cancelled ACS journals, when ACS is also the accreditor for Chemistry. She made sure SUNY Potsdam Chemistry scholars and students would still get access to the research they needed, they would just get it in different ways. Controversy swirled like the winds of change.
Other “serials crisis” storms have come and gone over the years: in 2010, the University of California threatened to not renew Nature Publishing Group journals; in 2012, thousands of scholars and librarians signed a petition to boycott Elsevier. Going back further, decades of complaint from librarians resulted in, well, even higher prices. So, cancelling is the direct approach—the action alternative to what hasn’t worked.
As both Periodicals Librarian and liaison to the Chemistry Department, I knew that the answer at SUNY Potsdam would be different from what we could do with the resources we have available here at Saint Mary’s College. Our consortial arrangements are different, our mission is different—we’re a small liberal arts college, not part of a state-wide system. A suggestion from others here was to try to persuade the Chemistry Department to give up their ACS accreditation, but I didn’t want to do that. I’ve worked closely with Chemistry faculty, not only in collection development for their journals, but on college-wide committees—I know they are reasonable people, and they are also shocked at unsustainably high pricing for scholarly articles. I reckoned the department and the library could work together to figure something out. The other librarians agreed: the time was right. Discussion ensued.
Some history: way back in 2002, after an interesting discussion of the new digital era for journals, a senior Chemistry professor came to me with a scenario based on what I’d told him was possible if he wanted to make a deal: cancel some Chemistry journals to use the money available to get SciFinder Scholar, the indexing and abstracting database. ACS was offering a deal: a “3 for 2” split with 2 similar institutions, so we could pay 1/3 of the cost of the SciFinder index. So we worked out which journals to cancel, which to keep, and we added SciFinder, a client-server product at that time, while keeping the necessary number of print ACS journals to keep our accreditation. The scenario accomplished this at no cost increase because we cancelled some print titles they didn’t want as much as they wanted the comprehensive, discipline-specific indexing.
Soon after, our state consortium offered an ACS “Big Deal” package: convert our ACS journals from print to online at the same price we were paying for print (the “historical spend”) and get many more journals for every library in the consortium. We converted. As with all Big Deals in the beginning, we marveled that we could get so many online journals at the same price we had been paying for our print subscriptions. I configured SciFinder to link our new titles, closed the catalog holdings, and shelved the print on the lower level, with signs on the Current Periodicals shelves: “This title is now online!” We added links. For Chemistry journals and indexing, at least, we were set for the brave new millennium.
Every year, the consortium negotiated small price increases, and more journals were added. Every year our budget stayed stagnant or went down while, subscription prices to other periodicals also went up. Faculty members in Chemistry were happy with the access they could get to the high-quality ACS journals, and frequently told me soWhen SciFinder became a web product, replacing the client-server model—even better (I was happy about that, too, in spite of the hassle with passwords and creating accounts that it entailed.) But the librarians thought the cost per use was too high for our small Chemistry Department. Then came Jenica’s blog post.
At Potsdam, librarians and Chemistry faculty decided to continue the ACS Legacy Archive, plus use Interlibrary Loan, add journals from the Royal Society (the Royal Society Gold package), and continue both STNEasy and Elsevier’s ScienceDirect database, which we don’t have at Saint Mary’s. Our mix is slightly different—after much discussion with Chemistry faculty and my librarian colleagues, we kept only the subscription to Journal of Chemical Education from ACS. We renewed the ACS Legacy Archive, and also kept our one Royal Society title (Chemical Society Reviews). The department agreed to use Interlibrary Loan when needed (as Jenica notes, ILL is also not free, but it is doable). We had post-cancellation access rights to 10 years of ACS content (next year, we must subscribe to another ACS title or pay an access fee to continue that).
We also kept SciFinder Scholar, still the single most important element to our faculty in Chemistry—they made this very clear from the first meeting I had with them. SciFinder is the indexing piece of the puzzle—it searches the Chemistry literature as a whole, not just the ACS journals, so it’s one place for them to search, and they like that. They already get non-ACS, non-subscribed journals from ILL, and they know it works well. We also, as did Jenica and the SUNY Potsdam librarians, encouraged faculty to use their ACS membership titles first for needed full-text found via SciFinder, and to consider having students also become members, since Society membership includes 25 “free” ACS articles, and student memberships are inexpensive.
The other solution I explored to complete the picture for us was to try using a document delivery service called FIZ AutoDoc, from FIZ Karlsruhe. FIZ (Fachinformationszentrum) is a not-for-profit German company that partners with the ACS, provides their document delivery, and also provides the STN databases. Implementation of the FIZ AutoDoc service required an incredible amount of mind-boggling documentation-reading, collaboration, copious emails, technical discussions, a webinar demo, a trial, and much angst. The sturm und drang, was not FIZ’s fault—they were extremely easy to work with, even though based far away in Germany. We just needed to figure out what we wanted and how to configure it to work with SFX, our link resolver, and our ideas about how to do this—how our workflow should go, who should do what, should it be mediated or unmediated, how it would look to the end-user—required much discussion. Eventually, we thought we had it—mediated by ILL would be best. No, wait! Maybe there is another way… The debate raged.
Ultimately, we did go with mediated by ILL, with the SFX link also in SciFinder. We added an SFX note about using free ACS membership articles if possible, and provided a list of ACS titles for use by ILL student workers. The account was set up with 2 passwords so the ILL Department can experiment with unmediated seamless access through SFX, so there is room for further improvement when the technical details are worked out. Meanwhile, requests for ACS articles are passed through to the ILL form, which is handily pre-populated by SFX from wherever they originate (since some ACS titles are also indexed in Academic Search Premier). ILL takes it from there in their usual efficient way.
So where do the philosophical questions come in? Is it ok for a library to purchase an article for just one person? What about sharing library resources? What about Fair Use? What about Open Access?
I have to say, I love the idea of Open Access, always have. I told the Chemistry Department that chemists everywhere should get together and start a subject repository like arXiv for Physics—this was quite humorous, apparently. In 2010, the University of Prince Edward Island’s library director, wanting to cancel Web of Science because of the high price, proposed an even more radical idea: librarians collaborating to build an index to scholarly literature that would be free and maintained by librarians. We all know the scholarly communication story by now. No one should be constrained from scholarly work by lack of resources wherever they are or what resources are available. Libraries are about sharing, at no cost to the users. Scholarly collaboration and library sharing shouldn’t have to be in competition, with large amounts of money at stake for access to published research. Yet, those devilish arguments go on.
Meanwhile, the ACS says it wants to work with researchers: “In the future… publishers will deal more directly with contributors and rely less on libraries as middlemen.” They have introduced ACS ChemWorx for research, collaboration, and reference management. In another example from a scholarly society, the Modern Language Association (MLA) is also working with researchers, but by making their author agreements more friendly to authors’ rights to self-archive, and by developing a platform for sharing: “members join the association less in order to receive its communications than to participate in them, to be part of the conversation, and to have their work circulated with the work being done in their community of practice.” They plan to emphasize their society role in “validation and credentialing”, developing new forms of peer review and scholarship in the MLA Commons.
This is the kind of action we can endorse and applaud. As librarians, let’s encourage scholarly societies to share scholarly work as the communities of practice they are at their best. Other collaborative platforms in various stages of adaptation include Zotero, Mendeley, Academia.edu, ResearchGate.org. There are also repositories, institutional and subject-based. The world is converging toward networking and collaborative research all in one place. I would like the library to be the free platform that brings all the others together.
Coming full circle, my vision is that when researchers want to work on their research, they will log on to the library and find all they need—discovering research ideas, the ability for seamless literature searching, accessing and saving citations for books and articles of interest in one place, downloading what they need, finding research collaborators through a network of scholars all over the world with similar interests, finding project management, having the ability to write and cite their research in a seamless way, sharing it informally, having it peer reviewed then formally published in a archived scholarly version of record, having it showcased and celebrated at each institution, then preserved for future scholars to discover and continue to build on. Walk in or log on, we could say to scholars and students alike—the library is the one place that has all you need to get your scholarly work done.
Let’s all, like Jenica, say enough with the old way! Let’s try some new ways and keep trying until we find or create something that works. This storm could help clear the air.