Libraries worldwide address sustainability

VCU is not alone. Universities and colleges worldwide are facing the pressures of runaway costs and lack of flexibility in sustaining their research library collections. Scholarly Publishing and Academic Resources Coalition (SPARC) has been tracking negotiations and cancellations of large journal packages (“Big Deals”) for more than 15 years. 

Over the past several years, an increasing number of institutions have initiated negotiations with journal publishers that have resulted in cancellation or transformation of Big Deals. The outcomes of such negotiations depend on the power institutions can leverage and their specific negotiation objectives: to reduce total expenditures, contain cost increases, increase flexibility in journal selection, and/or advance open access publishing. 

VCU Libraries is interested in pursuing approaches taken by institutions such as: 

  • Carnegie Mellon University, which renegotiated its Big Deal with Elsevier in 2019 and replaced it with an agreement that provides access to all Elsevier journals and gives CMU authors an option to publish open access articles in Elsevier journals at no cost to the author.
  • University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, which canceled their Big Deal with Elsevier in 2020 and replaced it with subscriptions to around 400 individual journal titles, 24-hour article delivery via interlibrary loan, and two- to four-hour expedited delivery when faster access is needed.

VCU Libraries continues to follow trends and approaches in Big Deal negotiations from other universities.

Within Virginia

  • Six Virginia Research Libraries canceled their Big Deals with Elsevier in 2020 in the face of major budget shortfalls for 2021, cutting their spend nearly in half and replacing the Big Deals with individual subscriptions to highly used journals at each institution.

Across the nation

  • University of California System canceled their Big Deal with Elsevier in 2019 and renegotiated a transformative agreement in 2021 that contains excessive cost increases and enables open access to all UC research.
  • The University of Oklahoma canceled their Big Deal with Springer Nature in 2020 due to a university administration-mandated permanent budget reduction and replaced it with 340 individual journal subscriptions and article delivery services.
  • West Virginia University canceled their Big Deal with Springer Nature in 2019 due to budgetary constraints and replaced it with 79 individual journal subscriptions and article delivery services. 
  • MIT walked away from negotiations for a new journal subscription contract with Elsevier in 2020 after Elsevier was not able to present a proposal that aligned with the principles of the MIT Framework for Publisher Contracts.

Across the world

National-level consortia of research institutions have engaged in some of the largest-scale big deal cancellations and transformations due to the significant collective power they wield in negotiations based on the size and scope of their membership. Plan S, an initiative of major European research funders to require open access to the results of funded research, has also rapidly driven a widespread push for open access agreements from European universities. 

  • Members of the Canadian Research Knowledge Network renewed their Big Deal with Elsevier in 2021, achieving their negotiation objectives to significantly reduce costs, increase support for open access article publishing charges, and ensure transparency of the agreement.
  • JiSC, on behalf of United Kingdom universities, reached a three-year agreement with Elsevier in 2022 providing both unlimited open access publishing and access to paywalled journal articles for a significant reduction on current institutional spend.
  • swissuniversities, the umbrella organization for universities in Switzerland, reached an agreement with Springer Nature in 2020 providing open access publishing in hybrid journals for authors affiliated with member institutions and access to Springer Nature’s journal portfolio.