by Bruce Morton
The Bottom Line
Things are improving. At most academic research libraries, the national trend is a continuing
reduction in journal subscriptions. MSU, however, has begun moving in the other direction.
Permit me to briefly review how we have gotten to where we now are. During the 15-year period,
1986-1999, the MSU Libraries canceled more than 1,500 periodical subscriptions. Titles were
dropped because of occasional budget cuts, especially during the 1980s, or because the library
was not allocated additional funds annually to keep up with the inflating costs of journals (on
average over 8.4 percent a year). We and other academic libraries have been between the proverbial
rock and a hard place. The rock has been the relentless proliferation of information and a parallel
proliferation in demand for it (especially scientific, medical and technical -- SMT-information). The
hard place--that should be marketplace--is mergers in the journal publishing industry, resulting
in a consolidation of the market among a few large European-based publishers. Consequently, we have
been subjected to the perennial ritual of prioritizing from departmental journal lists with the goal
of deselecting titles--most unpleasant and most unproductive.
Since the late 1980s the MSU Libraries had been receiving $50,000/yr of indirect costs (IDCs)
from the Office of the Vice President for Research. That amount remained static until 1999, with
its buying power diminishing annually. In 1999 that amount increased to $150,000 with a commitment
to augment the amount annually to keep pace with inflation to the level of 10 percent. Concomitant
with this infusion of IDC dollars has been a significant change in the library's strategy in regard
to scholarly journals.
Late in 2000, MSU's library was admitted to membership in The Alliance for Innovation in Science
and Technology Information, whose mission is to acquire science and technology information and to
create collaborative tool sets. Through the Alliance and a few other similar consortial arrangements,
we are greatly expanding access to ejournals. With the beginning of the 2000 subscription year we
were paying $245,000 for 145 Elsevier journals. We added an additional $70,000 (IDC dollars) to
leverage an additional 1,000-plus Elsevier journals.
The result is that MSU faculty and students now have access to most, if not all, Elsevier journals.
Our average price per Elsevier journal decreased from $1,690 to $264 -- a lot more bang for the buck.
With the beginning of the 2001 subscription year we are following a similar strategy, adding
e-journal suites from three major SMT publishers: Blackwell Science, Academic, and Kluwer/Plenum,
providing e-access to approximately 700 journals. In each case, we are paying a modest amount in
addition to what we are paying for our current paper subscriptions to gain e-access to the sum of
the consortium's subscription from these publishers. This has been accomplished by reallocations
within the budget -- again, a lot more bang for the buck.
We shall also be adding a humanities/social sciences suite called Project MUSE from Johns Hopkins
University Press (with other university press titles all included). Another extremely valuable
retrospective collection is JSTOR, core journals from various disciplines across the humanities,
social sciences, and sciences, currently offering more than 4 million pages of full-text. Also,
beginning with the 2001 subscription year, through cooperative effort between the MSU Libraries
and the Office of Vice President of Research, MSU-Bozeman students, faculty, and staff will have
e-access to the preeminent general science journals Nature and Science.
Implications for Faculty and Students
The most apparent advantage to users of journals will be electronic 24x7 access from your desktop
from anywhere on the campus network or from off-campus via the library's proxy server; there is no
waiting for an item to be reshelved. As we add e-versions of titles that we have in paper, the paper
subscriptions usually will be canceled. Inherent in this strategy are economies of space as well as
labor of in-processing, shelving, preservation, and reshelving--and the expectation of fewer
interlibrary loan requests; we expect to save a small portion of the paper subscription price, which
we reallocate to further expansion of e-offerings. An easy-to-use consolidated guide to the
8,000-plus e-journals offered by the MSU Libraries is available through the Full Text Finder at the library's web site.
Implications for the Institution
Our journal list is expanding to near the number of subscriptions of the mid-1980s. The enhanced
and expanded journal list cannot but help bolster MSU's academic and research credibility,
especially to prospective students and faculty. However, we must remember that we are, for the
most part, leveraging deals for publishers' journal suites rather than buying individual titles.
We shall no longer be able to pare our journal list as easily title-by-title as we have in the past.
In other words, for these publisher e-journal suites it is now all or nothing. Since some of the
aforementioned major suites are procured through participation in consortia we must continue to play
because MSU dollars help leverage better pricing for the other members and vice versa. Otherwise we
risk losing our consortial status. Therefore, if the rich and robust electronic journal environment
that is now being created is truly valued by faculty and students, there must be a continuing
institutional commitment to the library's collection budget in order to maintain and build upon what
has been achieved.
Please, address any questions or comments about strategy directly to me firstname.lastname@example.org; direct questions about access to
the MSU Libraries' Reference Desk, 994-3171.
To see what is in these e-journal suites check out the following URLs:
MSU Libraries' full-text finder
ACM (Association for Computing Machinery)
Project MUSE (muse.jhu.edu/journals/)
Bruce Morton is Dean of the MSU Libraries