UNC licenses content from various publishers, including Elsevier, which provide titles to the University under a contract.
Westbrooks explained how the University enters into a contract and licenses thousands of titles.
“This is largely based on what we’ve done in the past and what we know about the research going on at this campus,” Westbrook said.
She also said these contracts are based on the library’s values, including affordability.
“We take our role as the steward of resources and as the place to aggregate and buy content for the entire campus very seriously,” Westbrooks said.
Previously, UNC had a license with Elsevier, which Westbrooks compared to a cable package. This package included around 2,000 titles, including many premier titles. However, she said Elsevier dictates the majority of titles provided and included many titles in the package that UNC didn't need.
“I think the most important thing is that we have to take more control of this process,” Westbrooks said. “Companies like Elsevier control the entire process, and we’re saying that’s not fair, that’s not affordable and it’s not transparent.”
What changes will be made in the way that UNC uses Elsevier services?
UNC has reduced the amount of titles it subscribes to, downsizing from a $2.6 million license to a $1.6 million license.
“That is a license that we think is affordable,” Westbrooks said. “Now I would say we’re really focused on the premium titles that we know our campus needs.”
What journals did UNC decide to continue subscribing to, and how was the decision made?
UNC issued a survey to students and faculty, indicating which resources they use, how they use them and how quickly they are needed. From the responses, the University decided on 395 titles that were deemed the most important for students and faculty, Westbrooks said.
What other options are there for accessing articles?
UNC has a document delivery service for articles it doesn't own that allows professors and students to borrow these titles from other universities. These documents can be received in as quickly as 2 to 24 hours, Westbrooks explained. Even when the library is closed, students and faculty have access to the titles they need through the document delivery service.
How does Elsevier generally control the research process for universities?
Elsevier is the world’s largest scholarly publisher and owns many journals, purchased from scholarly societies and small publishers.
“Their goal is to continue to have these big packages to sell to everybody, and that’s just problematic because they tend to control the cost of what goes into these packages,” Westbrooks said.
What is the Sustainable Scholarship Initiative, and what does it have to do with Elsevier?
The Sustainable Scholarship initiative was launched to communicate the library’s values and the important aspects of negotiating licenses on behalf of UNC. Westbrooks said University Libraries wanted to communicate with the library staff to ensure understanding of the library’s goals in scholarship.
The Sustainable Scholarship Initiative also seeks to raise awareness among the academic community of University Libraries' values and discuss important issues including why journals are so expensive, why transparency between publishers and academics is necessary and why sustainability is important, Westbrooks said.
“The more we had these conversations, the better understanding we were able to build across our community,” said Westbrooks. “It was really this ongoing dialogue between the libraries and our communities that helped inform us and helped us get to the point we are at today.”
Westbrooks also pointed out that the situation the University has found itself in is not a new dilemma, nor unique to UNC. Other universities have decided to discontinue these deals, including the University of California system, which ended its deal with Elsevier last year.
What are the University Library’s goals for open access?
The concept of open access involves minimal or no financial barriers to accessing information and research, which Westbrooks said can be beneficial to students and professors — even life-changing. This would mean that companies like Elsevier would have less power over accessing research and academic articles.
“We believe that this research benefits humanity and alleviates human suffering,” Westbrooks said. “We are just advocating that we want more and more people to have access to the great research coming out of this University.”
Westbrooks said the University wants to work with more publishers who value open access and availability of the University’s research to the world.
What will be the biggest impacts of this decision going forward?
The decision to change UNC’s deal with Elsevier will provide the University with the flexibility it needs and the ability to focus on the content that best serves the campus, Westbrooks said. As a top research university, she believes that other universities will look to UNC for guidance in this process.
“I think we can show others that we have the courage and we are very knowledgeable about what we’re doing, and that we’re making an informed decision,” Westbrooks said. “We think this is what’s good for our campus and we think this is the right decision, so I think as a leader, people are going to look at that and follow some of the choices that we’ve made.”
As UNC is spending less of its budget on a deal with Elsevier, she said the University has more flexibility in spending that money elsewhere.
“When you decide to not be bullied by companies like Elsevier, it frees you up to do things that are really important for the entire campus,” Westbrooks said. “What I look forward to the most is it frees us up to be more responsive to students and spend it on something that has a direct impact on the lives of undergrad students. And so we have that ability now.”