September 17, 2020 -- Representatives from the University of Virginia, Virginia Tech, Virginia Commonwealth University, George Mason University, Old Dominion University, William and Mary, and James Madison University will soon be in contract negotiations with Elsevier, the largest science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) scholarly publisher. Working as a group, they will be discussing the unsustainable cost of accessing Elsevier's academic journals and options to make their public universities' research more accessible to the public that paid for it.
On Oct. 2 at 9:30 a.m., the group will host a Sustainable Scholarship Virtual Forum to share information about the group's collective priorities concerning equity, accessibility, and costs of bundled scholarly journal packages. Forum moderator Brandon Butler, the University of Virginia Library's Director of Information Policy, will also pose questions to the panel for discussion. Registration is open to all interested faculty, staff, students, and community members. Attendees can submit questions or discussion topics surrounding negotiation priorities and sustainable scholarship in advance through the forum's registration site.
"This is an opportunity to learn more about the upcoming negotiations, the libraries' priorities surrounding equitable access to scholarship, the impact of changing models on access to research, and why the costs of large bundled journal packages are unsustainable. We will also discuss the possible futures of scholarly publishing," said Butler. "As a group, we are working together to find the best solutions to continue to be responsible stewards of state funds while providing our faculty and students with the informational resources they need to research, teach, and learn."
"The scholarly publishing landscape is changing," said Tyler Walters, dean of University Libraries at Virginia Tech. "We are at a crossroads where we need to prioritize equity, sustainability, and access to scholarly work. I've been discussing this topic with faculty groups and college leadership teams across Virginia Tech since last fall. Now, this forum is an opportunity for faculty to hear from all of the library deans involved in the Elsevier contract negotiations."
Carrie Cooper, dean of university libraries at William & Mary, urges faculty to be attentive to changes in the scholarly ecosystem and to participate in this statewide conversation. "Without change, Virginia universities are scheduled to pay more than $10 million to Elsevier in 2021," said Cooper. "While our libraries can't afford the same access we have today, our commitment to providing access to the journals faculty and students need remains a priority."
University of Virginia Library Dean John Unsworth echoes Cooper's commitment to provide access to scholarly material. "It is important for faculty as well as students to know that, as we move to reduce the amount of money we spend with the four publishers who consume a majority of our collections budgets, they will not lose access to the research and scholarship they need," said Unsworth. "In some cases, it may take a little longer, a day or two, but we will make sure that the most time-critical material is available immediately."
Stuart Frazer, Old Dominion University interim librarian, said the pandemic forced what was an inevitable reconsideration of the Elsevier contract. "Periods of crisis challenge institutions to question orthodoxy and creatively restructure themselves," said Frazer. "Scholars, creators, universities, and libraries have the tools and framework at hand to end reliance on commercial publishers that do not serve their interests. There has never been a better opportunity to promote open access to knowledge."
"We are committed to serving the research and teaching needs of our faculty," said Bethany Nowviskie, James Madison University's dean of libraries. "I believe we can do that while also fostering more equitable systems of scholarly communication, aligned with our mission as a public institution devoted to the common good."
Library leaders see this forum as a way to communicate priorities while learning from their university's faculty members. "It creates an opportunity for research library leaders to learn more about community concerns and hot button issues so that we can address those concerns," said Teresa L. Knott, interim dean of libraries at Virginia Commonwealth University. "I'm looking forward to sharing a robust dialog with our community."
George Mason University's Dean of Libraries John Zenelis encourages faculty to participate in the forum by attending and submitting questions for the panel. "Unsustainable access costs affect all of us. I invite faculty, staff, and students to join the conversation by submitting questions in advance via the registration site and attending the upcoming discussion," said Zenelis. "The forum will provide an opportunity to hear more about how we, along with our partner universities in Virginia, are moving together through this process towards a more sustainable library collections and scholarly resources model."
All interested are invited to register and attend the forum.