Archive for January 20th, 2014

Making Book S16: The Big Deal and the Damage Done

Posted in Books and publishing, C&I Books on January 20th, 2014

First, I got irritated by both pundits and academic librarians asserting that circulation was dropping—and continuing to drop—in all academic libraries. Not some, not most, not ARL, but all. After getting enough counterexamples to demonstrate the falsity of that generalization (which in no way kept people from continuing to make it), I decided to look into it in more detail, since I’d figured out how to use Access databases (one of the forms in which NCES makes the biennial academic library surveys available) in Excel.

The result was a two-part article in the March 2013 Cites & Insights: “Academic Library Circulation: Surprise!” (comparing 2008 and 2010) and “Academic Library Circulation, Part 2: 2006-2010.” (The link is to the online-oriented one-column version, because the graphs and tables are easier to read in that version. I’d like to say those articles changed the discussion, or at least that people who were aware of the articles stopped claiming that circulation was falling everywhere. That’s not the case, more’s the pity. (Some people are unwilling to let the facts get in the way of a good story.)

Around the same time, I was seeing claims that the Big Deals in serials subscriptions had solved the serials crisis. I was also seeing lots of reports, formal and informal, about the extent to which monographic and other budgets were being destroyed because of continuing rises in serials costs. I should also mention this (from the acknowledgments):

Thanks to the Oregon and Washington Library Associations; without their invitation for me to do a preconference on open access for their joint 2013 conference, I might never have been inspired to do this study. Thanks also to Wayne Bivens-Tatum, whose January 18, 2013 Academic Librarian post “Politics, Economics, and Screwing the Humanities” also encouraged me to do some quantitative analysis.

The rest of the story, from the book’s introduction:

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%).

Curiously enough, those simple numbers understate the real damages—because the damage is in the details, and a number of very large academic libraries managed to do a reasonable job of maintaining decent budgets across the board, somewhat masking what was happening elsewhere.

The book goes into some detail. It’s sold reasonably well (more than 50 copies, fewer than 100). It’s still available, as a $16.50 paperback, a $9.99 PDF ebook (no DRM), or a special $40.00 PDF ebook with an explicit campus/site/consortium license for multiple simultaneous download or use.

The book will continue to be available until shortly before a newer & better version (not self-published) appears; at or after that point, there may also be a complementary self-published book exploring some other quantitative aspects of academic libraries in the current millennium.

Crawford, Walt. The Big Deal and the Damage Done. 2013

And that’s it…

For now. Other than the complementary book mentioned above, I have no plans for future self-published books. Doesn’t mean they won’t happen, just that I have no current plans.


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