Why does it cost so much for the books, journals and other materials in the library’s collections? It is a long story:
The library’s acquisitions budget is used to purchase or provide access to books, journals, electronic resources, DVDs, CDs, and rare books and archival material—all the content that our students and faculty use for teaching, learning and research.
The acquisitions budget itself is split into two parts. The monograph, or one-time budget, is used to pay for books, DVDs, CDs and other materials that the library pays for once. The serials, or ongoing commitment budget, is used to pay for subscriptions—to journals, electronic resources, and anything that we pay an annual fee to access.
There are some electronic resources—journal backfiles and collections of primary source material—for which we pay a large, one-time fee out of the monograph budget, and a much smaller annual access fee from the serials budget.
As more and more resources of all kinds convert to electronic format, resources that used to be one-time purchases from the monograph budget are becoming electronic subscriptions paid for out of the serials budget. Ebooks are a perfect example; packages such as ebrary are subscriptions, not one-time purchases. But if we were purchasing the same titles in print, we would pay for them out of monographs. This is a trend we are keeping a close eye on as we plan next year’s budget. We are committed to ensuring that all subject areas receive adequate levels of support.
When it is necessary to reduce spending from the monograph budget, we do so by reducing the number of items we purchase. This can be an almost invisible cut if it is only for a year or two, although it does show itself in increased interlibrary loan use.
However, cutting the serials budget means cancelling subscriptions. Cancelling subscriptions, particularly electronic subscriptions, is difficult because it means cutting off access to articles, data or files that faculty and students have used in the past.
Why has the library’s acquisitions budget gone up so much in the past?
Until recently the library provided most resources in physical form—print books and journals, videos and sound recordings. The average price of monographs increased from 3-5% a year.
The average print journal price, on the other hand, increased from 8-10% a year. Serials jobbers, companies through which most academic libraries subscribe to print journals from a variety of publishers, offered discounts on many subscriptions. But this was not enough to significantly reduce the yearly price increase.
The annual 5% increase in the library acquisitions budget allowed the library to partially cover the annual price increase and to consider subscribing to a small number of new journals requested by faculty.
In addition, about every 5 years the library conducted a serials cancellation review, working with faculty to determine which journals were least used and might therefore be cancelled. The review allowed the library to adjust the monograph and serial budgets so that serials expenditures did not eat into money for monographs.
What is different now?
In a phrase, electronic resources. In the past decade or so the percentage of the acquisitions budget used to pay for electronic (as opposed to print) resources has increased each year. In FY08, 84% of the library’s serials spending was for electronic resources.
The cost of electronic resources is difficult to predict for many reasons.
- There is seldom a set subscription price; it must usually be negotiated. Whenever possible libraries band together in existing consortia or specially-created buying clubs to negotiate group discounts, which often require a multi-year subscription.
- Vendors determine an initial negotiating price based on one of a variety of factors. Some are not directly related to the library, for example the number of full-time students or the school’s Carnegie classification. If these change, it can have a significant effect on the library’s subscription costs.
- Vendors offer bundled packages of journals which allow the library to provide cost-effective access to many more titles than before. But unused journals cannot be cancelled to reduce the cost—it is an all-or-nothing bundle.
- New resources are being developed all the time, many providing data, images, recordings or other files that in the past the library did not acquire, or not extensively. As electronic versions become available by subscription, the library is often expected to provide access to these, to be paid for out of the acquisitions budget.
How has the recent economic downturn affected the library acquisitions budget?
The most obvious effect has been the reduction in the acquisitions budget this year. The budget was not increased the usual 5%, and instead was reduced by $360,000. Because of the time it takes to conduct a serials cancellation review, it was necessary to increase the serials budget by the expected 5% that subscription prices would increase.
So the $360,000 reduction and the 5% increase in the serials budget came from the monograph budget. The monograph budget was therefore reduced by approximately $508,000, or 47% from last year.
One positive outcome of the recession is that some vendors did not increase subscription prices, and more have reduced their usual increase. The result is that last year subscription prices increased only 3.8%, and the library is on track for a similar increase this year. As the economy improves in the next few years, the annual subscription increase is predicted to rise to pre-recession levels of from 6%-8%.
Cuts in the state budget are also having an impact. Through the iCONN program, the state of Connecticut has provided free access to many electronic resources. Budget cuts to iCONN have led to the cancellation of some of these subscriptions, and the library is now determining which subscriptions the library should pick up. Connecticut libraries are getting together to negotiate group discounts and Helen Aiello, Acquisitions/Electronic Resources Librarian, is involved in these discussions for Wesleyan.
What adjustments has the library made?
To adjust to this year’s reductions, the library reviewed spending and use patterns for monographs over the past five years by subject and format. Specific allocations were adjusted to reflect spending and use. Helen Aiello has done yeoman’s work with vendors to keep subscription price increases to a minimum.
The library is also working with our consortial partners at Connecticut College and Trinity College to explore how print and electronic resources can be more effectively shared among the three campuses. Over the past several years delivery times for interlibrary loan materials, particularly articles, have decreased dramatically, making ILL in some cases a viable alternative to acquiring books and journals.
Reductions are never easy and these will have an impact on the ease of accessibility of some materials. But the library is committed to exploring ways to continue to provide Wesleyan students and faculty with the resources they need.