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Access to Research is a Student Right
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Students' Declining Access to Academic Research

The long-term trend of increases in journal subscription prices is a very real – and growing – problem.  While percentage price increases differ from discipline to discipline, the average increase in journal subscription prices to academic libraries over the past 5 years has averaged between 7% and 11%  – each year. During the period from 2006-2010, academic libraries saw an increase of 40% in subscription prices for journals in biology, 34% in chemistry, and 40% in health sciences1.

This trend has not been limited to the past five years. Over the past two decades, the journal subscription pricing trend has mirrored the scenario from 2004-2008 – and, in many cases, been worse2.  To compound the problem, academic library budgets have not been increased to keep pace with journal subscription price increases.  In fact, the general trend has been towards flattening budgets3.  Many academic libraries are cutting journal subscriptions every year. 

The University of Washington at Pullman noted this in its recent Libraries Journal Cancellation Project 2009: 

"Once again we have completed the difficult but necessary task of trimming our journal subscriptions in anticipation of a steep increase in costs. The task grows more difficult each year since we are now losing access to core periodicals in some disciplines. During this time, the library materials budget has been flat; we have not received increases to cover inflation in books or journals. Journal inflation, including access to abstracting and indexing services, is running between 5% and 10% annually. We now have this year’s budget figures, and again there is no money to keep offering the access we currently have. We are going to have to cancel somewhere around $600,000 of journals, approximately 15% of our remaining subscriptions4."

Despite the the fact that most libraries face flat or decreasing budgets, price increases continue. According to Library Journal, prices of subscription-based journals increased over 7% percent in 2009, and are on pace to increase by nearly 5% in 20105.

2009 data show that the extremely weak and volatile U.S. economy resulted in cuts to many library budgets. As a direct result, many journals were cut, because libraries simply couldn't afford to pay for them.

As the University of Georgia Senior Vice President for Academic Affairs and Provost noted on September 18, 2008 in a letter to faculty, staff and students:

"Because of the downturn in the state’s economy, the UGA University Libraries, like all campus units, are facing a projected 6% budget reduction. This reduction in the Libraries’ budget, coupled with the rising cost of scholarly journals, likely will result in the Libraries’ discontinuing some journal subscriptions… In recent years, the price of journals has increased more than 7% per year, making the acquisitions of scholarly journals one of the most daunting challenges that research universities face...6"

And the follow-up letter to faculty from the University of Georgia librarian underscores the depth of the problem:

As the Provost advises in his memo above, the University Libraries are planning for a reduction in expenditures for journal subscriptions because of the current budget situation. Librarians have been working for several weeks preparing a list of subscriptions that might be canceled totaling $1,660,000... This list represents a reduction of up to 21% of expenditures for subscriptions.7

These scenarios are, unfortunately, illustrative of what is happening on campuses across the globe, and the situation will likely worsen as more libraries feel the effect of the weak economy through 2010 into 2011.


Back to the Problem

[1] Kittie S. Henderson & Stephen Bosch “Seeking the New Normal: Periodicals Price Survey 2010,”  Library Journal, 4/15/2010 (accessed 09/27/10)

[2] M. Case, “Facts in Graphs, U.C. Berkeley Library Collections Website,” 04/08/10 (accessed 07/26/10)

[3] M. Case, “Scholarly Communication: Crisis and Revolution,” 04/08/10 (accessed 07/26/10)

[4] WSU Pullman Libraries Journal Cancellation Project Title Summary Calendar, 2010 (accessed 07/26/10)

[5] Kittie S. Henderson & Stephen Bosch “Seeking the New Normal: Periodicals Price Survey 2010,”  Library Journal, 4/15/2010 (accessed 08/24/10)

[6] University of Georgia Libraries, Journals Cancelation FAQ, 2009 (accessed 08/10/09)

[7] University of Georgia Libraries, Journals Cancelation FAQ, 2009 (accessed 08/10/09)

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