The Libraries will be making significant changes in how faculty and students access scholarly journal articles published by Elsevier and by Sage. We won’t be changing what you access, but we will be changing how you access it. While we have been contemplating these changes for a number of years, they are happening now as a result of the FY24 campus-wide cuts to operating budgets.
- We are canceling our contracts with Elsevier for their Freedom Collection (fulltext access to approximately 2,300 journal titles published by this company) and Sage for their Journals Premier collection (fulltext access to approximately 900 journal titles published by this company) effective December 31st, 2023.
- In January, you will continue to find records for these journal articles in our discovery service (the search box on the Libraries homepage), in links from other library databases, and in Google Scholar (especially if you have adjusted your settings to include Williams). As is now the case, You will be able to access most full text articles within a few clicks.
- How you access the full text will vary depending on the specific article and your affiliation with Williams. Many articles from journals published by these two publishers will be available immediately, as they are today:
- we will continue to subscribe to a small number of these journals, carefully selected on the basis of use, subscription cost, and conditions of access
- prior license agreements mean that we will have perpetual fulltext access to hundreds of journal titles up to the end of the 2023 volume year
- approximately 15% of articles published in these journals are available in reliable Open Access versions
- and some articles in these journals are available in our aggregator databases (like ProQuest Central) in which case users clicking on full text links will be redirected to those databases.
- For all other articles, users will use a document delivery service or interlibrary loan, depending on their affiliation:
- faculty, graduate students, and registered senior thesis writers will be redirected to a very fast document delivery service called Article Galaxy Scholar (AGS) to request these articles. 93.3% of AGS document delivery requests are filled within one minute, another 5.2% are filled within the hour. The pdf’s supplied by AGS come from publisher websites, with color images, searchable text, and active links
- all other users, including most undergraduates, will be redirected to interlibrary loan (ILL) to request these articles. Our average turnaround time for article ILL is now just 16 hours.
- There will be no limits on the number of document delivery or ILL requests any individual user may place. As with ILL requests, users will receive an email from AGS when their article is available.
- The Libraries Collections & Systems staff, the Discovery & Delivery team and our User Experience Group are working diligently this semester to make sure this happens reliably and efficiently, and in ways that make sense to faculty and staff.
- This change also means that we will be adding some new software to support our users. These software services will improve access for all users across library resources, not just for Elsevier and Sage journals. Both of these services will also enable us to collect anonymized use data so that we can evaluate whether we have the balance right in terms of access.
- During the spring semester we will be closely monitoring these processes and our users’ experience and we expect to make adjustments to improve service over time.
For a couple of decades “the Big Deal” (in which a library licenses access to a complete database of journal content provided by a publisher) has been a dominant business model in libraries. It has proved to be a Faustian bargain. We have ceded control over collections to corporations in return for access to their full catalog of content. These corporations have recognized their monopoly power in this model and raised prices accordingly. In FY23 the Elsevier contract was by far the largest invoice we paid in any one fiscal year and it forced us to make collection decisions around it instead of being able to think about using that money in flexible ways to satisfy the information needs of our users.
Inevitably, the big deal provides access to content that is of little or no interest to the Williams community. There is a very ‘long tail’ of use of the journal titles included, with hundreds of titles going completely unused, hundreds more titles being used very little, and a few titles being used quite heavily. In effect we are paying high prices for content you do not need. Many academic libraries have already successfully moved away from this model. For a number of years we in the Williams Libraries have been concerned about the impact of the big deal on our collections and the wider impact of this business model on libraries and on scholarly communication in general. As professionals, the Williams librarians are interested in a sustainable open scholarly infrastructure and the concept of knowledge equity and we have invested some of our resources in encouraging both the development and the use of open access content and services. The cuts required in FY24 were necessary to support the College’s top priorities of all-grant financial aid and fair compensation for staff and faculty. We support those priorities.
In short, come January 2024 the Williams community will still have access to all the online journal content we have access to today from these publishers, but how we access the fulltext of articles will change. If you have questions about this change please reach out to your library liaison or to Jonathan Miller, Director of Libraries.
Note: We are still licensing technology and making decisions about this service. We will update this post as details change.