No Big Deal: FSU Cancels Elsevier Bundle, Citing Outdated Model and Out-of-Control Cost

The following article was written by Library Director of Information Policy Brandon Butler and posted on his behalf

The Florida State University Library announced this week that they will no longer subscribe to the comprehensive bundle of journals (sometimes called the “Big Deal”) sold by the wildly profitable Dutch multinational publisher Elsevier. “FSU is being charged too much—all because of a poorly thought-out 20-year-old contract,” Library Dean Julia Zimmerman wrote in her notice to the FSU community. The Library’s decision came after 8 years of negotiations failed to yield an acceptable deal, and it was endorsed by a unanimous vote of the Faculty Senate and supported by the Provost.

FSU is just the latest university library to decide that “Big Deals” are no longer a good value. The public interest group SPARC (of which the UVA Library is a member) is tracking Big Deal cancellations, and they’ve compiled a long list of institutions who have walked away in recent years. Research libraries have long known that the Big Deal model is unsustainable, and observers have argued for years that academic mega-publishers like Elsevier are bad for science generally. The main question has been when and how universities will decide to stop sustaining them, both with subscription dollars and with research literature.

Canceling a bundle package doesn’t mean cutting off access to all of the literature owned by that publisher. FSU will use a series of strategies to ensure continuing access: subscribing to a subset of higher-value Elsevier journals based on usage statistics and faculty input, offering next-day access to unsubscribed journal content using electronic interlibrary loan, and subsidizing instant access to articles using a la carte purchase. Many libraries are also highlighting tools like Unpaywall and OA Button that help researchers instantly find legal open access versions of articles. Researchers at other institutions, including UVA, can help by posting appropriate versions of their research articles in open repositories like Libra, consistent with their publishing agreements.

Virginia research libraries negotiate collectively to obtain journal bundles, and the prices we pay are comparable to those paid by FSU. We plan to disclose more about how our collection budget is spent in the coming months. That disclosure is part of a campuswide conversation kicked off earlier this year by a presentation to the UVA Deans by Dean of Libraries John Unsworth. Watch this space for more as we work to ensure UVA is making wise, sustainable investments in information resources.

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