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Inside Iowa State, a newspaper for faculty and staff, is published by the Office of University Relations.

July 22, 2004

Library staff strives to keep journal costs down;
no cuts on horizon

Despite lean times, the Iowa State Library has no plans for immediate, large cuts to academic journal subscriptions for this fiscal year.

The last major cancellation was in FY03 when print versions of 1,117 academic journals were canceled in favor of more widely accessible electronic versions, according to Kristin Gerhard, library associate dean. This was in keeping with a Faculty Senate report that recommended the move to electronic journals whenever feasible.

"This year and next, we expect to see the savings in the library materials budget that result from these reductions," she said.

The cable syndrome

One of the biggest problems facing libraries is that many major publishers "bundle" their journals, much like cable companies package various channels together.

"The frustrating result is that, to get the journal you want, you may have to buy 15 other journals with it. Sometimes these are journals we would want to receive, but that is not always the case," Gerhard said.

Publishers tend to package journals with heavy usage with those that have a limited market. As a carrot to buy the packages, publishers often will cap inflation on the packages at lower-than-projected rates. In addition, libraries may receive full access to all back files in the packages.

Inflation on journals typically runs about 10 percent annually, and next year is projected to rise to 12 percent, Gerhard said. Packages may cap inflation as low as 6 percent.

Canceling journals from a package can get tricky, Gerhard noted.

"The licenses are very complex," she said. Usually, a library can't cancel more than 1 percent of a package without penalties, which can include loss of the inflation cap or limited access to back issues (such as only three years' worth, instead of access to the full back file of years already purchased).

Budget numbers

To handle the budget reduction in FY04, the library reduced its budget for purchasing academic journals by $319,367. At the beginning of this fiscal year (July 1), that budget was reduced by another $206,674 to meet an operation base reallocation.

However, this year the library received $550,000 in mandatory cost increases to cover the ever-growing cost of publications. This funding allowed the library to break even with this year's anticipated journal inflation.

"The provost has been generous in giving us money to handle inflation in FY05," Gerhard said.

To help hold costs down, the library staff is in the process of looking at the usage numbers of each journal.

"Some journals receive heavy use," Gerhard said. "But some receive much less use. Compiling the usage data will give us a way to judge that usage fairly."

The University Library Committee (headed by David Hopper, professor of veterinary diagnostic and production animal medicine) this fall will do a more detailed analysis of the cost per use of various academic journals.

The big 'why'

It frustrates Gerhard that the costs of journals continue to go up in the age of electronics.

"Electronic journals cut out a number of steps," she said. "The articles are submitted electronically. The publishers don't have to pay for paper, postage or shipping. They may or may not pay editors or editorial board members. Essentially, they provide article reviewing, and manage the software that allows searching."

But regardless of the reason, prices continue to rise.

"Which means we have to be very careful, prudent and firm about journal subscription policies," Gerhard said. "We want to give faculty what they need, but usage has to be a consideration. We also need to break even financially. Right now, that means canceling journals of equal cost in order to add a new journal to the collection.

"Sometimes, a faculty member will say, 'My department doesn't have the money to buy this journal.' Unfortunately, without canceling an existing subscription, neither do we."


"The frustrating result is that, to get the journal you want, you may have to buy 15 other journals with it. Sometimes these are journals we would want to receive, but that is not always the case."

Kristen Gerhard