Frequently Asked Questions
What’s the timeline for this process?
Our Elsevier journal contract expires on January 1, 2022, and negotiations could start as soon as fall 2020. Other vendor contracts expire around the same time, so we would like to have a clear vision for our path forward by summer 2020.
Who else is involved?
Research libraries at seven Virginia institutions are working together on this: Virginia Tech, University of Virginia, Virginia Commonwealth University, College of William and Mary, James Madison University, George Mason University, and Old Dominion University. All of us are engaging our campus communities, as well. Other libraries who have challenged big vendors in the last year include the University of California system, Florida State University, Louisiana State University, and many others in the US, plus the national library consortia in Germany, France, Norway, Sweden, and Finland.
In terms of working with other universities, what is the chance of you not acting together? Will you stick together?
Yes. All the institutions involved are committed to sticking together, negotiating the best deal for our faculty and students, and ensuring that our research is shared openly with the world.
Are you going to walk away completely like California did?
We are still formulating the details of our strategy, but we do share their overall, long-term goals—lowering cost and increasing access. We are preparing to make big changes if necessary to spur the vendors toward reform, while continuing to meet research needs.
What makes these journal costs “unsustainable”?
Spending on commercial packages already represents an outsize proportion of our budget. The biggest vendors consume nearly half of our collections budget, up from 25% just 10 years ago. This inevitably forces reduced investments elsewhere in our collection. Continued growth at this rate would require our budget to double over the next decade, and we still couldn’t afford to serve emerging needs connected to new faculty, new research centers, and other initiatives.
Are you going to cancel [my favorite journal]?
We are using a rich dataset that measures our journal usage along several axes in order to get a sense of the value of each title to our community. We also want to hear qualitative feedback on which titles you consider essential, why, and how you use them. Whether we drop titles from our subscription package depends on how our negotiations play out, but in any case, we will work to ensure that researchers have access to the resources they need.
There were 50 or fewer downloads for 40 percent of the Elsevier collection, would you consider a smaller package across the board—across universities?
Yes. That could be an option. We have time to gather feedback, think creatively, and decide on the best contract terms possible for our institutions. We will be looking closely at usage to help us make decisions and analyze the best path forward.
Will InterLibrary Loan be able to keep up with the demand if we don’t continue all of our subscriptions?
Yes. Access to journals will change. We are looking at several options to get the resources you need to do your work. We work through Virginia Academic Library Consortium (VIVA) with other higher education institutions across Virginia. We loan materials to each other for free. If we have to reach outside of Virginia for the materials, we will pay a fee. There are also document delivery systems that we can use. Many publishers loan directly from PDFs they produce.
How do I know if an article that I need has a freely available or open version I can access?
There are many ways to find open versions of articles that may be published in open journals or available through open institutional repositories. The University Libraries Access Matters alternative access webpage describes what you can do.
Will you be speaking to faculty across Virginia Tech about these upcoming negotiations?
Since spring 2019, University Libraries Dean Tyler Walters has been speaking with faculty groups across campus to inform the community about the upcoming negotiations with Elsevier. He continues to speak to faculty groups to inform and gather feedback. You can view his presentation slides on the University Libraries Access Matters Presentations webpage.
What can I do to help?
Just knowing we have your support for our effort is very important to the Library. We will be looking for researchers’ input on the journals they value most—stay tuned for more on that as we continue to process the data we have. Some researchers have signaled their support for reform by joining or organizing protest activities, including boycotts. If you have an opportunity to influence promotion and tenure standards, we believe systemic reform of academic publishing will ultimately require decoupling research evaluation from journal prestige, following principles like those in the SF DORA and the Leiden Manifesto.