#AUPresses21 | Library Budgets: What does the library market look like in the COVID era?

Catherine Cocks's picture

In this series of reports, members of the Elephant editorial collective recap selected panels from the 2021 AUPresses Virtual Annual Meeting held June 7-18, 2021. We welcome further discussion of issues raised by the panelists via the Reply box below each post.

This session featured Barbara Kline Pope, Director of Johns Hopkins UP; Elaine Westbrooks, Vice Provost for University Libraries and University Librarian, UNC-Chapel Hill; John Culshaw, Jack B. King University Librarian, University of Iowa Libraries; Jon Elwell, Director of Content Strategies, EBSCO; and Wendy Queen, Director,  Project MUSE, Johns Hopkins University Press

Main takeaways:

  • There has been a permanent shift away from print to e-resources. The pandemic accelerated the trend already underway. Libraries will not likely go back and acquire print books published during the pandemic that were not available at the same time in digital formats. Nor do libraries have the resources to acquire from e-book backlists.

  • Libraries have a very strong preference for resources that are DRM-free and allow unlimited usage.

  • E-resources have two major advantages: remote access for patrons and user data for libraries.

    • When combined with open access (as many publishers dropped paywalls for some period during the pandemic through aggregators like MUSE), led to a great expansion in usage around the world.

    • The availability of user data raises questions about privacy and surveillance that may limit libraries’ willingness to share usage data with publishers. Trends could be reported out to all, and we need to think about what information would be useful to everyone in the publishing ecosystem.

  • All the ARL libraries saw budget cuts during the pandemic. In the long term, libraries are dealing with flat budgets and rising prices.

  • The cost of journal subscriptions continues to cause a steep and continuous decrease in the budget for monographs.

  • One strategy for responding to these trends is the “collective collection,” or building shared collections across multiple institutions, such as the Big Ten Academic Alliance (BTAA).

  • Open access is a key to advancing equity, and the current publishing system does not support that goal.

    • Libraries are willing to invest in transformative open infrastructure, depending on which publishers are involved.

    • TOME and Knowledge Unlatched are not large enough or bold enough to transform the publishing ecosystem alone; need more pilot projects for sustainable scholarship.

    • There may be a technical solution to the “free rider” problem (one or a few libraries paying for open access for everyone).

    • “Read to publish” agreements are inherently inequitable, as they favor large, wealthy universities or university systems and don’t work for other institutions.

    • The difference in costs, usage, and publication patterns between STEM and AHSS disciplines means that OA must be designed differently for them.

  • How to make OA sustainable, particularly for small university presses and scholarly society publishers, has yet to be figured out. MUSE Open and the Opening the Future initiative at Central European University Press and Liverpool University Press are two programs trying to address the sustainability issue. Collective subscribe-to-open efforts may enable smaller presses to afford the shift.

  • Libraries and publishers need to build trust so we can work together toward our shared mission.

  • Discoverability for open resources is improving at aggregators like EBSCO and MUSE, and the Open Data Trust is enhancing this and allowing the analysis of usage data in a way not possible for proprietary publishers’ content.

  • Current e-resources (predominantly in pdf format or otherwise very similar to the print original) are not necessarily accessible for people with disabilities; making them more accessible and user-friendly for all will require improving e-pubs and aggregator platforms for hosting them, as well as developing shared publishing standards. The Library Accessibility Alliance is working on this issue.