Cost of student access to research rises for UT libraries

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A messy publishing system drives up the costs of research journals every year, straining UT Libraries’ budget and the University’s access to research information.

UT Libraries spends a yearly $10–11 million on academic journals, databases, magazines and newspapers, but the total cost of subscriptions for recurring publications, known as serials, has risen by about $500,000 every year, said Colleen Lyon, UT’s scholarly
communications librarian.

“The problem is that the prices just keep going up every year,” Lyon said. “So it’s difficult to try to find that balance between making sure that we’re providing enough content for (students) and faculty but also working with the reality of a budget that doesn’t get bigger.”

UT students, faculty and staff can currently access 449,228 different publication titles under UT Libraries, said Susan Macicak, the UT Libraries central and electronic collection strategist. UT Libraries pay thousands of dollars on subscription contracts, which vary by discipline and publication. This year’s subscription for Cambridge University Press journals costs $106,641, which will increase to $116,077 for the fiscal year 2018.

The general price of consumer goods went up by 73 percent between 1986 and 2004, but the price of serials increased by 273 percent, according to Tufts University. Macicak said in an email that UT Libraries’ three-year subscription contracts can help cap inflation, but it is rare for the cost to go down for a journal.

UT Libraries’ rising expenses are part of a “serials crisis” research institutions worldwide have experienced since five large commercial publishing companies began dominating the academic journal market in the 1970s, Lyon said. After buying out smaller publishers, the companies Reed-Elsevier, Springer, Wiley-Blackwell, Taylor & Francis and Sage gained control of price negotiations with universities.

Lyon said publishing companies further profit because they do not pay researchers publishing their articles. Instead, universities pay faculty, who must often give up the copyright of their work to the journal publisher.

“We end up paying twice, which really seems unfair, but it’s always been this way,” Lyon said. “It’s only in the last 20, 30 years that it’s become a problem because of the rising costs of the journals.”

With profit margins of 30 to 40 percent, Lyon said these publishing companies often profit even more than pharmaceutical or oil companies.

“There’s all this research that could be very useful that we can’t allow people to have access to unless they’re part of the subscription model,” Lyon said.“It doesn’t necessarily have to be that way because you don’t need a 35 percent profit margin to be a good business.”

The continuing trend has caused UT to eliminate subscriptions to less frequently used academic journals.

“At this point, all libraries are really struggling with trying to keep up with the costs of these journals,” Lyon said. “What’s going to happen 10 years from now, when we’ve already cut all the stuff we can reasonably cut?”

Carolyn Cunningham, a social sciences librarian liason, said students and even professors sometimes do not realize the cost of accessing research, which is often funded by federal or state grants.

“If you think about it, everybody as a taxpayer helps pays into the money that makes that research possible,” Cunningham said. “But then if it’s in a journal that not everyone can get access to, the results of that funding are locked to a small (population).”

Psychology senior Stephanie Jeanneret worked in a research lab outside of UT and said information sharing is integral to the work of students and scholars.

“The whole point of being a part of a scholarly community is being able to share information and learn from each other,” Jeanneret said.