JDCC09: Developing content: Content procurement in an uncertain environment

This session focused on library purchasing during a time of economic recession. The speakers came from various stakeholder backgrounds – librarians, publishers, and users (researchers).  Issues raised included how to deal with budget cuts, the rise of e-journals and what is preventing all readers from using them, the relationship between research and production, and the ways in which digitisation has revolutionised book publishing and the way that libraries run.

John Cox, the chair, welcomed delegates to the session, reminding them of the current global economic crisis and its severity. He suggested that there will be restraints on public spending for the foreseeable future, and it will take 10 years for the public sector deficit to return to normal. This will impact on library purchasing, and the afternoon’s speakers will look at issues relating to this.

Hazel Woodward talked from the librarian’s perspective. Librarians are already facing many problems, and going through significant changes and budget cuts.  Everybody seems to be focusing on core collections – primary journals and buying books that will be used. COmmunication with staff and the faculty needs to be strengthened with a proper programme of liaison. Usage data are being assessed critically as it becomes paramount. Many libraries are looking at their policies and considering if they are on the right track – looking at the journals they are buying, A&I services, book purchasing and inter-library loan.  Most are also having to deal with staff cuts, and some things will stop being done. Each library will have to adapt and adopt different strategies for the next phase.

One of the ideas bandied about is the possibility of academic discount for pay-per-view. A&I services are at the top of many library hit-lists because of the impact of Google. Book purchasing has already taken a hit; people have stopped buying books, and that has had to happen because it’s the easiest thing to do. Recent studies have shown that up to 40 per cent of books haven’t been read in six years – a worrying statistic. Cranfield will be going to e-book vendors and buying on-demand when there have been two views of a particular book.

ICOLC have made a statement, adopted by over 100 libraries, which is intended to help publishers understand the situation and suggest some approaches going forward. It is attempting to address the possibility of flexible pricing without the loss of content; it suggests that this is not a good time for new products; it suggests that opt-out clauses are needed.

JISC Collections’ priority is to allow institutions to maintain access to their core content and to help them demonstrate value for money, via usage statistics, which enable libraries to benchmark. There is also the plan to trial SERU (shared e-resource understanding) as a way of cutting down on administration.

Jill Taylor-Roe, head of liaison and academic services, focused on the purchase of electronic journals. There is still a demand for books, so it’s possible that libraries need to be led by users.  Expenditure on big deals has so far been protected, but major reviews have been planned for 2010. Big deals may still have to be part of this – there is a striking increase in the number of libraries giving 75 per cent of its budget to big deals. The perception is that this is not a temporary blip after budget growth. 24 per cent of libraries are actively seeking to reduce big deal expenditure in 2010.

New approaches are needed, and librarians are thinking about what can be done to improve big deals – e-only journals to neutralise VAT costs; a reduction in content with a concomitant reduction of fees; a pricing model not based on a historic spend. The overriding need is for more flexibility, and for libraries to adapt and survive.

Michael Jubb of the Research Information Network talked about the researcher’s perspective as a library user.  E-journals are amazingly popular. The differences in per capita usage in various institutions, however, are enormous. The impact of the journals viewed, too, varies between institutions, for no clear reason. The relationship between counter article downloads and research grants and contract income is strong. So it looks like we’re in an area where a value proposition could be developed between spend, usage, and research outcomes.

Researchers are also producers. Anything that impacts on effective demand for the purchase of journals, or any other
kind of communication vehicle for researchers, impacts on their ability to place outputs in the channels they want.

The research produced has increased inexorably at the level of two to three per cent per year. Despite public sector finances being in difficulty, Jubb does not see that public sector investment in R&D will fall. Indeed in the US it has increased very dramatically for the next few financial years. There is a relationship between investment in R&D and outputs of journal articles, so in the medium term we will see more content produced.

Researchers use a vast range of materials, and usage is growing, but more should be known about patterns of usage; and researchers’ levels of productivity are also increasing in a variety of formats, some of which are under threat, ie books: if they’re not purchased, they won’t be published.

Ian Russell from ALPSP spoke from the publishers’ perspective – with cost bases reduced and work processes made more
efficient, this has been a good time for publishers. Electronic processes have had a huge impact on reducing publication times, speeding up workflow and lowering postal costs. There is competition for good-quality content, and because subscription pots are limited, publishers want to improve the quality of their product as much as they can. There is a divergence between the amount of money available to buy content, and the content that’s being generated, and that will only get worse.

He expressed publishers’ sympathy with libraries – after all, libraries are their customers. In the past, emerging markets have assisted growth, but that will not happen in the near future. So publishers are doing the same things as libraries – cutting staff, reducing budgets, freezing pay, reducing hours, taking unpaid leave and more.  Not all publishers are profitable, and certainly not all journals are profitable. It will become more difficult to justify running an unprofitable title, and there will be a decrease in new titles and a decline in scholarly monograph publishing. Some publishers will freeze or reduce prices; some will introduce smaller increases; some will carry on as they have been; some may even put up prices by more than they have before, because they have lost so much investment income and this is their only resort.

Will frozen prices really make any difference to libraries’ purchasing decisions? Those publishers are taking a big risk and reducing their income, but showing that they understand the difficult circumstances we are in.  The best result from this difficult situation will be achieved if publishers, librarians and other stateholders work together with a constructive dialogue and without ideological arguments.

Jane Harvey of the University of Sussex asked about how to identify a good use of a resource and how resources can be compared. Hazel Woodward replied that all the stats from all the institutions will be collected and put into the portal, and will be available for libraries to view their own stats. It is a question of how we then present the other stats. You will know your own JISC banding, and then look at others in the same banding as yourselves.

Albert Prior asked about outsourcing and production costs, and the move to online only. Ian Russell said that his members are glad to hasten the move to electronic-only content. VAT is an enormous issue, but libraries still want books. There is a disconnect in terms of understanding. Lots of business models are predicated on electronic-only anyway. There is a genuine willingness there, and libraries could save costs. Jill Taylor-Roe pointed out that law journals need to stay in print because of the demands of the profession itself. Michael Jubb said that there are cost savings for publishers with e-journals, but the saving is mostly for libraries. Practitioners often want print so they can take it home at the weekend to read. Publishers may also still want advertising revenue.

Sue Turner from the University of Gloucestershire said that in their health faculty, one of the journals has to be bought in a set for £5,000 – double the library budget. Jill Taylor-Roe said that smaller institutions need to be supported and helped in these situations.

Ian Russell said that Open Access is here and working in some subject areas, which is fantastic and has been warmly received. The difficulty is in areas where there is no research budget. Jill Taylor-Roe added that admin structures frequently are not there to support it.

Albert Prior asked about expenditure with publishers, and whether publishers are sympathetic according to the amount institutions spend with them.  Ian Russell pointed out that only a few publishers are large enough to operate like that, and that negotiation will be difficult, but publishers do want custom.

John Cox said that monographs have traditionally been very expensive, but digital printing has changed all that. Ian Russell said that digitisation is revolutionising book publishing, but people still need to buy, even if costs have been reduced.

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