Archive for September 9th, 2013

Academic library spending problems: The Big Deal, an FAQ

Posted in Books and publishing, C&I Books, Libraries on September 9th, 2013
The Big Deal and the Damage Done

The Big Deal and the Damage Done

What is it?

A segment-by-segment study of U.S. academic library spending on current serials (mostly Big Deals), “books” (that is, all acquisitions except current serials, including backsets), and everything else–staffing, archives, etc.

The 125-page 6″ x 9″ paperback book (or PDF ebook) looks at spending from 2000 to 2010 (and, briefly, 1996 through 2010), broken down by Carnegie Classification but also by size and sector (public/private, nonprofit/profit).

I believe it makes a detailed and convincing case that Big Deals have done damage to academic libraries and the institutions they serve by siphoning off so much money that non-serial acquisitions budgets have had to be slashed and there’s less money left to pay for librarians, other staff and everything else that makes an academic library work.

How is it available?

The paperback version costs $16.50 (plus shipping) from Lulu.

The PDF ebook (no DRM) costs $9.99 (no shipping) from Lulu.

There’s also a special campus/site license edition, $40 (no shipping) from Lulu, which is the PDF ebook with a modified copyright page to explicitly permit loading it on a campus or site server that allows multiple simultaneous reading or downloads within any reasonably well-defined community (including online students at library schools).

Why is there a site license edition?

Two reasons:

  1. A library asked about the possibility.
  2. There were murmurings about “unglueing” the book, making an ePub version free for everybody, specifically so it would be available to LIS students, and the more I looked at the process, the less I wanted to be involved with it [a long post that I don't much want to write], but I wanted to fill the need.

Will the book get cheaper if we wait?

No–although if it ever reaches $2,500 in net proceeds for the ebook edition(s), I’d be willing to make it freely available at that point. There’s a long, long way to go (around $1,930) before that could happen.

What will happen if everybody waits: The book will disappear from the market.

Will it be replaced with a newer version?

Yes and no.

There will be an updated study that goes through 2012.

No, it won’t be a Cites & Insights book.

No, it won’t be $9.99 or $16.99.

No, it won’t happen until the late spring/early summer of 2014 (assuming NCES releases the numbers in December 2013).

The updated version will be shorter, probably less complete, certainly more expensive.

Can I get a sample?

Yes. There’s the preview of each version at Lulu, but you can also read the first 11 pages and a portion of the conclusion in the July 2013 Cites & Insights (this link is to the one-column “online version,” since it’s a truer replication of the book pages than the two-column “print version”).

Tell me a little more…

Here’s the beginning of the first chapter:

When publishers began offering Big Deals and other forms of serial bundling, they were touted as win-win-win situations: Publishers could remain profitable, libraries could slow down the rate of increase of serials spending and users could gain access to many more serials.

When there’s that much money at stake (over $1 billion since at least 2002) and only one aspect of library collections and services is being addressed, it’s fair to wonder whether there might not be some losers in with all that win. Given that some publishers and librarians continue to tout the Big Deal as a wonderful thing, some going so far as to say that the serials crisis was solved in 2004 with the widespread adoption of Big Deals, it makes sense to look more closely at the current situation.

I believe that Big Deals did some good—but they also did some damage, damage that gets worse as the amount spent on serials (in Big Deals and otherwise) continues to ratchet up faster than inflation.

Damage is done to scholars and students in the humanities and social sciences, where books continue to be key, as money continues to be shifted to serials (most of it for STEM—science, technology, engineering and medicine) at least in many libraries.

Damage is done to libraries as serials take an ever-bigger chunk of the total budget, leaving less for not only books but also staff, preservation, computers, archives, programming and new initiatives.

I began looking at actual numbers while preparing a preconference on open access. One of the sillier arguments against open access (and especially against gold OA) is that there’s really no serials problem—that Big Deals solved it.

That’s only true if “solved” takes on a fairly unusual meaning. In 1996, before Big Deals had become common, taking U.S. academic libraries as a whole, serials took 17% of all spending. Books (including back runs of serials and other materials) took 10.4%.

In 2002, at which point Big Deals were well established, serials were up to 22.5% of all library spending—but books were up a little too, taking 11.9% of library spending.

In 2010, serials were up to 26.1% of all library spending—nearly as much as books and serials combined in 1996. Books? Down to 10.6%–frequently of reduced budgets.

Meanwhile, the remainder budget—that is, everything except current serials and other acquisitions—fell from 72.6% to 63.3% of library budgets overall. That’s a serious drop.

How much of serials spending is for electronic access? At a minimum, it’s grown from 15% in 1998 (the first time it’s broken out) to 70% in 2010, doubling its market share since 2004 (when it was 35%).


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