UW News

January 7, 2010

Libraries reduce journal subscriptions and book orders; budget cuts affect online as well as print materials

In response to significantly reduced funding, the University Libraries has substantially cut subscriptions to journals; many cuts were effective Jan. 1. In addition, orders for books and other materials have been scaled back, and further reductions will take effect later this year. The numbers of reductions are dramatic: Access to an estimated 2,800 journals and other subscriptions will be lost, and more than 7,000 fewer books will be bought this year.

“The decision on where to cut library materials and subscriptions has been very challenging,” notes Lizabeth (Betsy) Wilson, dean of libraries. “The libraries are at the core of the University, and we have made significant cuts to our staff, losing more than 30 positions in 2009. We’ve also made some difficult decisions regarding library hours, branch closures and consolidations and journal subscriptions. We have made every effort to minimize the impact on the UW academic community and its research, clinical care, teaching and learning activities.”

Tim Jewell, director of information resources and scholarly communication, adds, “To reduce the number of journals that we’d otherwise have to cancel outright, we worked aggressively to moderate vendor price increases, and cancelled more than 1,200 duplicate and print subscriptions where we could rely on electronic access. Unfortunately, because of publisher pricing policies, relatively little savings results when print that duplicates an electronic subscription is canceled.”

These steps still left a large hole in the collections budget that for the most part had to be filled by canceling journals outright. To help with those decisions, Jewell said, “We started seeking input from faculty and students last spring, and have considered more than 3,000 ratings and comments from UW users this fall, along with cost, usage and citation statistics to indicate which cancellations will save the most money but be the least disruptive to research, clinical care and teaching. Through that process we’ve cancelled approximately 1,600 print and online journal subscriptions, standing orders and research databases, a reduction of about $1.5million.”

Reducing subscriptions to some publishers’ journals has been especially challenging, he said, because many journals are “bundled” in a way that makes it impossible to cancel them without sacrificing access to dozens or even hundreds of others. Such sobering losses have unfortunately become a reality, as access to some 1,200 titles from prominent journal publisher Springer will be lost because the UW and other libraries in the region that shared the group contract lack the funding to maintain it.

“We also are making major cuts to book purchases,” Jewell went on. “While cuts to journal subscriptions may have the biggest impact across the board, reducing book purchases will make it significantly harder for students and researchers in book-dependent disciplines to gain access to what they need.”

On the positive side, UW users can generally request books and journal articles that are unavailable within the libraries through UW WorldCat or through Interlibrary Loan services; in many cases, an article can be obtained from another library within 24 to 48 hours. Although there are costs to the libraries for offering these services, they are currently being provided at no charge to UW faculty, staff and students.

What is the prospect for the near future? “We will continue to move forward in collaboration with the University community, because the UW Libraries is a vital part of research, clinical care and learning,” says Jewell. “Our goal is to avoid further cuts, but the UW budget has not yet been determined for the remainder of the biennium, or for the 2011-2013 biennial budget cycle. Longer term, we need to work with UW authors and editors to better control escalating journal prices, as discussed during events we hosted as part of Open Access Week in October.”

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