UST Libraries present journal reduction project final report

By Dan Gjelten
Director, O’Shaughnessy-Frey Library Center

The libraries at the University of St. Thomas are not alone in our struggle with the rapidly growing cost of journal subscriptions.  Academic journals have increased by over 10 percent annually for the last several years, a rate that is far higher than the cost of living and higher than any other category of library materials.  Our print materials budget (which pays for both journals and books) has remained relatively constant over this period, requiring us to reduce the books allocation of the budget to pay for journal increases. 

The roots of this crisis are complex and include several factors:

  • Publishing expectations of faculty, and an associated increase in the numbers of journals publishing faculty research,
  • A reversal of normal supply and demand economics such that less demand for a journal actually increases its price,
  • Specialization and an increase in the numbers of very unique, "niche" journals with few or no competitors
  • An increase in the numbers of commercial publishers which are crowding out publishing by learned societies and academic institutions,
  • An increase in the merger trend among commercial publishers, including the purchase of foreign publishers by American companies.

While we once devoted about 40 percent of our budget to journal subscriptions and the rest to books, in recent years that balance has reversed so that we now must struggle just to keep the allocation at 60 percent journals and 40 percent books.  In order to maintain that balance (assuming no increase in our materials budget) it was necessary for the libraries to review our periodical holdings with the goal of reducing that budget by 10 to 15 percent.

We began the process in April and had a deadline of August, the month during which we send in our renewal order for the vast majority of our subscriptions.  We made every attempt to involve the faculty in the identification of likely subscriptions to cut.  Criteria for reduction included:

  • Cost of the subscription
  • Usage of the journal as measured by the library
  • Availability of the journal in electronic formats
  • Accreditation requirements
  • Local (CLIC libraries) holdings.

Librarians began the review process by examining subject lists of our journal holdings.  We looked particularly carefully at expensive journals with low usage statistics and those which are available in electronic formats.   Compilations of this information, including journal titles, usage statistics and cost, were distributed by the library liaisons to the appropriate academic departments.  The faculty responded with suggestions for journal reductions in their subject areas. 

An article was published in the April 26 issue of the Bulletin to alert the wider UST community to the journal cancellation project.  Another Bulletin article appeared on July 9 featuring a link to the Web site of the ongoing lists of suggested titles for cancellation and the rationale for the entire project.  Feedback from faculty, library staff, and others in the UST community was solicited to aid in our decision-making process.

On July 24th, the libraries’ Collection Management Committee (charged with making collection decisions) convened. The lists of titles suggested for cancellation were discussed, taking into consideration the comments received from the UST community.  In some cases, titles that were suggested for cancellation were retained due to convincing rationale provided by either faculty members or librarians.  As a result of our discussion, 189 titles at a total cost of $47,061 were identified for cancellation, and 28 titles at a total cost of $8,361 were identified for transfer to the Law School Library.  This results in a total savings of  $55,422 for the UST libraries.  The final list of the cancelled and transferred titles is available on the journal cancellation Web site.

We do not expect that the trends in library materials economics will be changing in the near future; therefore, barring substantial increases in our materials budget, we will certainly find ourselves in this budgetary crunch again.  Until then, we hope to continue to collaborate with our users as we develop collections, both print and electronic, that best meet the needs of the students and faculty of the University of St. Thomas. 

Any questions regarding this effort or the library’s collections and services may be directed to your library liaison or directly to me.