MLA News November/December 2010, Volume 50, Issue 10
Do Open Access Initiatives Influence Journal Collection Development Decisions? A Report from the Ad Hoc Committee for Advocating Scholarly Communications
Submitted by Barbara A. Epstein, AHIP, Member, Ad Hoc Committee for Advocating Scholarly Communications
Libraries face significant budgetary constraints and continuing increases in the subscription costs of scientific journals. As a result, many librarians are taking a hard look at their collection development strategies and journal subscriptions. The increased availability of scientific journal articles via open access mechanisms is often seen as a potential solution to budgetary concerns. But to what extent does open or public access influence librarians’ collection development decisions? Results of a recent survey suggest that this is hard to quantify.
In the spring of 2010, MLA’s Ad Hoc Committee for Advocating Scholarly Communications developed a survey to solicit data from libraries on the impact of open access initiatives on journal collection development decisions. The survey was designed to gather baseline data about actual or contemplated cancellations of journals that have open or public access content. Findings might also serve as a basis for future educational programs and related research.
The online survey was widely publicized to the MLA membership through the MEDLIB-L discussion list and MLA-FOCUS. Because the survey was not limited to MLA members, the link was also forwarded by members to other discussion lists, such as Liblicense-L and AAHSL (Association of Academic Health Sciences Libraries). When the survey closed on June 18, 2010, a total of 222 respondents had completed all or some of the questions.
Two-thirds of respondents (67%) were from libraries in academic settings, and 22% were from libraries in hospitals or health systems. The remaining 11% were primarily from research institutions or from settings combining both academic and clinical missions, and a few respondents were from private companies or the government. Just under half (43%) worked in libraries with journal budgets over $1 million; one-third had journal budgets less than $200,000; and the remaining one-quarter had journal budgets between $200,000 and $1 million. Because this was not a scientific survey, it is difficult to draw firm conclusions from the results.
Further, it is not known whether respondents had decision-making roles for journal collections in their libraries. It is also unknown whether there was more than one respondent for a given library. Responses were not correlated to type of library setting.
The survey indicated that 77% of respondents had decreased or level journal budgets in the past 2 years. When asked what influences decisions to keep or cut journal subscriptions with open or public access content, the top 5 factors rated as “very important” or “important” were journal use (94%), subject area of the journal (87%), cost (84%), length of embargo period (78%), and the journal’s inflation rate (77%). The percentage of open or public access content was rated as “important” or “very important” by 61% of respondents.
According to the survey, one of the factors that limits the effect of public or open access on collection decisions is that the full content of journals is not always freely available. Sample comments are:
When asked what percentage of freely available content for a single journal title would influence a decision to drop a paid subscription and rely solely on open or public access content, the following indications emerged:
Respondents were asked how the length of the embargo period influenced retention of paid subscriptions. Respondents reported that they would consider dropping a paid subscription if all content were freely available after 1 year (8%), 6 months (12%), or 3–4 months (41%). Nine percent responded “Other,” while 29% said that the embargo period would not influence their decision.
Respondents were asked which open access formats or versions would be acceptable as reasonable substitutes for articles in a paid subscription. Responses were as follows:
Respondents were asked to speculate on the following scenario: “If a costly, top-tier journal had 50% of its content in PubMed Central after a 12-month embargo, how important would these combined factors be in a decision to keep or cancel a paid subscription?” Only 12% ranked this as “very important,” while 27% responded “somewhat important,” and 61% felt this was “only slightly important or not important at all.” When asked the same question for a second-tier journal, the results were similar: 15% said this was “very important,” 33% responded “somewhat important,” and 53% felt this was “only slightly important or not important at all.”
Very few respondents (10%) were in libraries or institutions that maintained a fund to support author fees assessed by open access publications. Twenty-eight percent reported that their libraries or institutions fund 1 or more open access memberships in entities such as BioMed Central, Public Library of Science, or Nucleic Acids Research to obtain discounted author fees for their user community.
The survey makes it clear that open access publishing is of great importance to the library community and warrants continued monitoring and educational activities.
Editor’s Note: Other members of the Ad Hoc Committee for Advocating Scholarly Communications who supported the survey project were Karen M. Albert, AHIP; Michelle M. Volesko Brewer; Linda M. G. Katz, AHIP; Elizabeth R. Lorbeer, AHIP; and Rachel R. Resnick. Mary M. Langman Staff liaison, MLA, also participated in the effort.
For further information, contact Mary Langman, 312.419.9094 x27, firstname.lastname@example.org.
Medical Library Association
Last Updated: 2011 January 05