Happy May, everyone. As our various semesters and purchasing cycles wind down, this is that “magical” time when we delve into summer projects. I tend to be over-ambitious and think that I’ll accomplish multiple projects from beginning to end, when in reality I’m happy to get through half of one. What are some of your summer projects or goals?
There has been disappointing news from LSU (Louisiana State University) this week. You can read the press release from the Association of Research Libraries here. In a nutshell, LSU is bringing a lawsuit against Elsevier for refusing to honor their license agreement in providing IP-based access to their suite of journals. As someone who has spent a lot of time reading through licenses both on the vendor and the librarian side, this seems like a clear case of breach of contract on Elsevier’s part, but things may be more nefarious than that.
Because I’ve worked for a for-profit vendor in the past, I always try to see both sides of these issues and avoid the “us vs. them” reaction. In this case, I am admittedly troubled by Elsevier’s actions. If you’ve spent any time reading through library listservs or blogs, or reading articles like this one in the Financial Times, you’ve seen the reports on their profits. More than any of our other “big deal” journal publishers, they enjoy tremendous profit margins each year; when you look at the percentage increases even small colleges with low student enrollment face each year, this can be discouraging. When you think of how they charge authors as much as $5,000 for open access article processing costs and then call themselves “supporters” of OA, this can be confusing. Also, when you remember that their profit margins are built upon their selling a product (research articles) that they get for free from the very researchers (our faculty and students and staff) they turn around and sell these journals back to, it’s downright depressing. It means that we, as librarians, are constantly caught in the struggle of contributing to a dishonorable and unsustainable model of publishing while trying to provide our uses with materials they want.
Speaking of the constant struggle, I read Rick Anderson’s piece in the Scholarly Kitchen earlier this week about how libraries are decoupling from the “big deals” with great interest. These are tough decisions that require collaboration among multiple stakeholders. Most libraries who break up with the big deals are driven by budget concerns, but I wonder if the way Elsevier is handling (or ignoring) LSU’s case will add fuel to the fire. What libraries and content providers really need are options, and libraries need content providers to work with us, not against us. This unfortunate situation is not helping to heal any rifts or moving us closer to sustainable, alternative models for licensing content.
Call me naïve, but I do believe that people working for publishers like Elsevier want libraries to succeed, because then they succeed as a result. This would be a great opportunity for Elsevier to remind libraries of this symbiotic partnership and to put forth a good faith effort to reach an agreeable deal, and I only hope that this is on the horizon.