QU libraries to join many universities ending costly big package subscriptions to academic journals

Katie Langley and Melina Khan

Quinnipiac University pays $130,000 annually for a subscription to academic reference publisher SAGE Journals, faculty members from the Arnold Bernhard Library told the Chronicle. To combat this high cost, the university libraries will no longer be subscribing to a “big package” from the publishing giant beginning Jan. 1, and will instead be purchasing individual journals.

“The change is necessary given the rising costs of journal subscriptions, our journal subscriptions go up 3%-5% (yearly),” university librarian Robert Joven said. “There are rapid changes, also, in scholarly communications, given that there are many articles now that are available through Open Access.”

According to the Scholarly Publishing and Academic Resources Coalition, “Open Access is the free, immediate, online availability of research articles.”

Besides advocating for increased Open Access, SPARC also tracks colleges and universities canceling their subscriptions to big packages, such as those offered by SAGE.

Recent cancellations include the State University of New York system, which stopped paying for its subscription to academic publishing company Elsevier in 2020, saving it an estimated $7 million annually, according to SPARC.

The university’s academic journal database, which includes the SAGE journals, is a resource for both students and faculty working on research projects to access existing academic titles.

Joven said the all-encompassing subscription model that the library has historically used through SAGE does not allow universities to control what journals come in the package.

“One of the key reasons that we have to address this is that big journal packages like the one that you’re dealing with with SAGE (have) become increasingly very expensive, with not much flexibility in terms of customization of content,” Joven said.

To determine which titles to keep, Joven said the library faculty is having conversations with students and faculty and assessing the use frequency of certain journals. Of the entire package, Joven said 50% of the titles have been used less than 13 times each year, while nearly 24% of the journal titles have only been used once over the past three years.

“We can’t control that because we can’t remove those titles unless we get out of that big package,” Joven said.

Infographic by Peyton McKenzie

The library has selected about 50 journals to continue subscribing to in 2023 out of the over 300 titles owned by SAGE, a move that will cut the expense of accessing journals published by SAGE by almost 50%, said Katie Bauer, ABL’s associate director for collection development and management.

Bauer said if students or faculty still cannot access the research they need. They can request an article through the interlibrary loan, which allows faculty, staff and students to fill out a request to obtain materials not owned by the libraries for free.

“We have access to a lot of content,” Joven said. “There are over 400,000 ebooks, we still have access to 70,000 electronic journal titles … there will be inconveniences. That’s the negative impact for some of those titles that students and faculty may come upon.”

Joven spoke about the plan at the Faculty Senate meeting on Nov. 7. Professor of anthropology and faculty senator at-large Hillary Haldane said that university librarians are working to best provide students and faculty with research materials amid budget constraints.

“The larger question is, why is the library budget so pinched?” Haldane said.

The library website states that Quinnipiac libraries will be facing a budget cut in fiscal year 2023.

Haldane said she found the interlibrary loan system to be effective, despite the delay that can sometimes be caused by getting titles from outside libraries.

“I’ve never had a problem getting the resources I need through the library, because our interlibrary loan system is fantastic, and our librarians are fantastic,” Haldane said.