University of Iowa Cancels $600K in Subscriptions

In the wake of state funding cuts, the University of Iowa (UI) Libraries has identified more than 800 journal, database, and ebook subscriptions that it will cancel over the upcoming academic year. Library administration and liaisons worked with faculty to select subscriptions to be eliminated, targeting—and achieving—approximately $600,000 in savings. Faculty, staff, and students ultimately commended UI Libraries for its transparency and adherence to best practices throughout the process.

Students walking in library
Students in University of Iowa Library
Photo courtesy of UI Libraries

In the wake of state funding cuts, the University of Iowa (UI) Libraries has identified more than 800 journal, database, and ebook subscriptions that it will cancel over the upcoming academic year. Library administration and liaisons worked with faculty to select subscriptions to be eliminated, targeting—and achieving—approximately $600,000 in savings. Faculty, staff, and students ultimately commended UI Libraries for its transparency and adherence to best practices throughout the process.

TARGET NUMBERS

Funding for the Iowa Board of Regents, which oversees a number of institutions, including the state’s three universities—UI, Iowa State University, and the University of Northern Iowa—was cut by more than $43 million during the 2017 and 2018 legislative sessions. Although $8.3 million of that was restored in 2019, with another $12 million promised for the 2020 budget, UI still finds itself forced to make up a significant shortfall.

While journal prices rise from five to seven percent a year, UI Libraries’ budget has remained largely flat for the past three years, at just over $12 million. An estimated 85 percent of the libraries’ total collections budget goes to electronic resources.

Given the unsustainability of maintaining journal subscriptions at their current level, in summer 2018 library administration began looking at strategies for cutting costs. Following the lead of several other institutions, including the University of California–Berkeley, University of Missouri, University of Maryland, New Mexico State University, University of Massachusetts, Georgia State University, and the University of Alaska, UI chose to identify subscriptions that could be canceled across all UI colleges, departments, and programs.

Although this wasn’t the first time UI Libraries had been forced to conduct general cancellations—in 1991, the libraries canceled $237,733 in subscriptions; slightly over $126,000 in 1994 and again in 1996; and $440,000 in 2000—this is the most significant cancellation project to date.

After holding meetings with stakeholders across campus, library administration examined how much various disciplines were currently spending on subscriptions, and proposed targets for trimming each area’s budget. Humanities, performing arts, and area studies would aim to reduce their subscriptions by five percent; social sciences by seven percent; and basic sciences, health sciences, and engineering by ten percent. (The Law Library is administered by the UI College of Law and wasn’t included in the cancellation project.)

Percentages were determined by the number of journal and database titles subscribed to by discipline, the funding allocated to each, and how many of those titles were ineligible for cancellation because they were part of multi-year commitments or packages. Most of the humanities and some social sciences had already seen a reduction in funding for monographs and other one-time purchases earlier in the year.

IDENTIFYING TITLES

Associate university librarian Linda Walton drew up spreadsheets showing exactly how much each department needed to cut from its existing subscriptions, she told LJ, “and then it was up to them to identify the titles within their discipline that they wanted to put forward for cancellation.”

During the fall 2018 semester, liaison librarians worked with faculty and students to identify titles from the funds each librarian managed. Titles suggested for cancellation were then compiled, and the list was cleaned up. Anything that was part of a package that couldn’t be easily separated out was kept, and if subscriptions existed to both print and electronic versions of a title, the print was canceled. Early in the spring 2019 semester, all titles were then resubmitted to faculty, library staff, and graduate students through a Qualtrics survey so that they could offer feedback and make a case for a particular title, if need be.

After 538 responses were received, Walton tallied totals for each title; anything with ten or more objections would be reconsidered. Other factors for reinstatement included a journal’s cost; its use, particularly of current and recent issues; citation behavior; whether and where a title is indexed; and whether articles from a particular title can be obtained quickly and inexpensively via interlibrary loan or other means. The list was posted a second time, and a single title was reinstated. The university librarian, collection management team, and acquisitions team went over the list as well. Eventually, 820 titles were selected for cancellation.

Although a few departments did not meet their projected goals, others compensated by paring down so thoroughly that there will be some extra money to work with during the academic year in case the libraries need to resubscribe to a canceled journal or database. “In the end we got what we wanted,” said Walton.

Some cancellations will be implemented as early as July 1, when the new budget year begins. Periodicals slated for nonrenewal will be cut as of January 1, 2020.

During the next year, Walton plans to pay close attention to titles requested over interlibrary loan. “If we see a pattern of titles that we’re having to request way too much, then we’ll have to consider reinstating them,” she said, giving particular weight to faculty requests. She anticipates that such requests will probably come up, noting that because the libraries were able to cancel slightly more than the requested $600,000 in subscriptions, “next year we will have a little bit of wiggle room should we have to reinstate things.” One selector in particular, she added, not only met his seven percent quota but did some major housekeeping of his subscriptions, giving the libraries some extra funds to work with. “It’s not a lot of money, but we did build that in.”

At the same time, the UI Libraries is looking at open access alternatives to proprietary subscriptions. It recently set up an institutional membership with Cogitatio Press, an open access publisher that currently provides the libraries access to four titles. “A faculty member brought it to our attention,” noted Walton. "It's on the DOAJ [Director of Open Access Journals] list, and not a predatory publisher. Any kind of opportunities like that we can find, we want to encourage that.”

Walton also hopes that faculty and students will increase deposits of research papers, theses, dissertations, books, conference presentations, journals, data, and multimedia in Iowa Research Online, IU’s institutional repository.

To date, only one faculty member has written to the libraries with concerns. Walton suggested that he talk directly with UI President Bruce Harreld, who responded right away—and she encourages all other faculty or students to be forthcoming with questions as well, she told LJ. “They have to voice their concerns, because they're the ones that need the research material.”

While the cancellations represent considerable cuts to journal and database collections, she added, the project enabled the libraries to avoid layoffs and recruit for vacancies. And across campus, faculty and students have been largely supportive of the cost-cutting measures and how they were conducted.

When Walton and University Librarian John Culshaw met at an open forum with faculty, she said, “they applauded us at the end of our presentation…for explaining the process and including them by sending these lists out, [and] for having the liaisons talk to them. They were really appreciative of our transparency. They saw it as a shared governance strategy."

Author Image
Lisa Peet

Lisa Peet is Associate Editor, News for Library Journal.

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