Virginia research libraries issue joint letter in support of University of California System decision on Elsevier

April 18, 2019

In April, 2019 the university librarians of Virginia’s research institutions issued this joint open letter in support of the University of California’s decision not to renew a $50 million contract with academic publishing powerhouse Elsevier.

For further information about how VCU Libraries is working to control journal costs see 

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Dear Virginia research and learning community,

As Deans and Directors of Virginia research libraries, our core mission and our highest priority is to ensure that our research communities have access to a rich, diverse, and sustainable collection of information resources. Recently, our colleagues in the University of California system took an important stand in defense of that mission by refusing to renew their $50 million "Big Deal" contract with Elsevier, the world's most profitable vendor of information products. We write to express our gratitude and our support for them and the brave step they have taken, the latest in a global trend of libraries rethinking their biggest expenditures.

Like our UC colleagues, we have serious concerns about continuing to support Big Deal journal bundles, whose initial value proposition has eroded steadily over time. After years of price inflation, these deals have become too costly, consuming more of our budgets each year, crowding out every other kind of information resource (including that most elemental library asset, books). Big Deals also seem to be more and more comprised of titles our campuses rarely or never use. In addition to cost, we are concerned that the subscription model locks away publicly-funded research, reducing the relative impact of scholars on our campuses at a time when other countries and research funders are increasingly requiring full and immediate public access. As the global research community reaches consensus that open access is the future, Big Deal vendors have worked to extract profits from fast-growing publishing fees, another unsustainable model. Firm, principled action is needed to steer our investments in these vendors in a responsible direction.

Like many of our colleagues who have already spoken publicly about this issue, we have begun conversations on our campuses about the costs of Big Deal journal packages and the concerns we have about their value. We, too, hope to find a way forward that will be transparent, affordable, and sustainable. The UC system’s stand and the growing chorus of support from other institutions strengthen our conviction that collectively, research institutions can find a new way forward, with or without the bundled journal deals that have seemed, in the past, too big to refuse.


Carrie Cooper, Dean of University Libraries, William and Mary

George Fowler, University Librarian, Old Dominion University

John Ulmschneider, Dean of Libraries and University Librarian,Virginia Commonwealth University

John Unsworth, Dean of Libraries and University Librarian, University of Virginia

T. Vaughan, Associate Dean, and Bethany Nowviskie, incoming Dean of Libraries, James Madison University

Tyler Walters, Dean of University Libraries, Virginia Tech

John Zenelis, Dean of Libraries and University Librarian, George Mason University


Learn about how VCU Libraries is working to control journal costs »

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