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Open Access - Big Deal

We value sustainability, equity, and advocacy

Sustainable  Scholarship

Over the last thirty years the cost of journal subscriptions has increased 500 percent, far outpacing libraries’ annual budget increases. 

Much of the research conducted at public universities and published in expensive subscription-based scholarly journals is funded by tax dollars — in the form of faculty salaries and federally funded grants. Research is produced for the public good, but it is not always available to the general public who paid for it. This is where open access or public access to research will change the traditional landscape of publishing research. Learn more about the University Libraries' commitment and initiatives regarding open access on the Access Matters webpage.

Members of the Virginia Research Libraries (VRL) group completed contract negotiations with Elsevier, the largest publisher of science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) scholarly journals. Through a new agreement that started in 2021, the University of Virginia, Virginia Tech, Virginia Commonwealth University, George Mason University, Old Dominion University, William & Mary, and James Madison University libraries addressed their priorities for affordability, accessibility, and equity. 

What does this new agreement with Elsevier mean?

Cost savings

Each institution involved reduced its overall spend for the year, balancing its COVID-distressed budget for 2021, addressing projected budget shortfalls. The new agreement frees the institutions from the “Big Deal” Freedom Collection, allowing for a customized local collection that better suits users’ needs. 

This new agreement includes subscriptions that are used most consistently by each library’s constituents. We included titles in the agreement based on download data, article citations by institutional authors, open access availability of articles, articles published by institutional authors, and library liaison input. The group also analyzed the projected costs of alternative access to those titles. This is part of a longer-term effort to realign investments in favor of tools and resources that are more affordable, equitable, and sustainable. And it allows the libraries to build a more tailored collection from more diverse vendors that better service evolving needs of their universities. 


Researchers will continue to have access to everything they need to do their research. Subscriptions are just one mode of access to research, and our libraries are committed to helping researchers navigate alternatives.

The Virginia Research Libraries are confident that they can meet demand through existing subscriptions, backfile content, open access journals and repositories, and interlibrary loan services including article purchase. In addition, the Virtual Library of Virginia (VIVA) invested in the RapidILL interlibrary loan service for all Virginia public institutions that will further decrease turnaround time and lower costs.

In addition to reducing costs, the new Elsevier agreement clarified privacy provisions and broadened the university community’s rights to allow for text and data mining of the scholarly materials. 

What’s next?

The Virginia Research Libraries are now working with other big publishers to take similar steps toward a more sustainable scholarly communications ecosystem. They will continue watching how resources are used, including the demand for alternative access, and use that knowledge to inform these ongoing negotiations.

Learn more about the Elsevier Freedom Collection cancellation, the journals affected by the cancellation, and where to find articles from the canceled journals on our LibGuide.