Life with­out El­se­vier

Swe­den and Ger­many shrug off shut­down

THE (Times Higher Education) - - FRONT PAGE - David.matthews@timeshigh­ere­d­u­ca­tion.com

Los­ing ac­cess to new con­tent from the world’s big­gest aca­demic pub­lisher might sound like a night­mare for univer­sity libraries.

But, a month af­ter be­ing cut off from new El­se­vier ar­ti­cles, li­brar­i­ans in Swe­den have re­ported only a hand­ful of com­plaints, while in Ger­many, in­sti­tu­tions said that they have had to deal with rel­a­tively few re­quests for blocked pa­pers.

The two coun­tries are be­ing watched closely by li­brar­i­ans in other na­tions to see how fea­si­ble it is to ditch big pub­lish­ers, ei­ther per­ma­nently or as part of a con­tract-ne­go­ti­at­ing strat­egy, as they push for pe­ri­od­i­cals to move to­wards an open ac­cess model. It is one of the first big tests of univer­sity re­silience in the face of no ac­cess – El­se­vier had pre­vi­ously stopped short of cut­ting off Ger­many.

In Swe­den, libraries have been with­out ac­cess to con­tent pub­lished since 30 June, af­ter the coun­try’s univer­sity ne­go­ti­at­ing con­sor­tium de­cided in May to end its con­tract with El­se­vier be­cause of ris­ing costs and what it saw as an in­suf­fi­cient of­fer on open ac­cess.

In Ger­many, mean­while, talks over a new national con­tract that had dragged on un­suc­cess­fully for more than a year and a half broke down last month over sim­i­lar is­sues, and libraries have been with­out ac­cess to new ma­te­rial since 10 July.

De­mand for ar­ti­cles is rel­a­tively low dur­ing the sum­mer hol­i­days, while li­brar­i­ans ar­guably have an in­cen­tive to down­play any prob­lems to strengthen their ne­go­ti­at­ing hand, and pres­sure on libraries could grow as an ever greater pro­por­tion of El­se­vier ma­te­rial be­comes un­avail­able.

But so far, Swedish li­brar­i­ans sur­veyed by Times Higher Ed­u­ca­tion have re­ported a hand­ful of com­plaints, at most.

“Up un­til now, three re­searchers have made com­plaints (that I am aware of),” said Jakob Har­nesk, li­brary di­rec­tor at Karl­stad Univer­sity. “Re­searchers that ex­press sup­port for the can­cel­la­tion by far out­num­ber the neg­a­tive ones.”

One li­brary head, who pre­ferred to re­main anony­mous, said that they had re­ceived one call from a re­searcher con­cerned about not be­ing able to ac­cess new is­sues of a spe­cific jour­nal. “The rest of the very few com­ments we have got have been sup­port­ive,” they said.

Swedish libraries are able to get around the block­age through in­ter­li­brary loans – bor­row­ing pa­pers from libraries that still have ac­cess, for ex­am­ple those abroad. “So long as in­ter-li­brary loan is an op­tion, I see no prob­lem,” said David Lawrence, di­rec­tor of Linköping Univer­sity li­brary.

Wil­helm Wid­mark, di­rec­tor of Stock­holm Univer­sity li­brary, said that he had not yet re­ceived many re­quests for loans, and sus­pected in­stead that schol­ars were shar­ing ar­ti­cles. “We haven’t had any com­plaints yet,” he said. “We have only re­ceived some feed­back from re­searchers who sup­port our can­cel­la­tion.”

In Ger­many, Bern­hard Mit­ter­maier, a mem­ber of the ne­go­ti­at­ing team for Project Deal, the coun­try’s national ne­go­ti­at­ing con­sor­tium, said that, judg­ing by a re­cent in­ter­nal sur­vey of about 30 in­sti­tu­tions, there are on the whole “no com­plaints and no re­ac­tions” to the lack of con­tent.

In the weeks since new con­tent has been un­avail­able, Ger­man in­sti­tu­tions on av­er­age have had to re­quest 20 pa­pers on loan from other libraries, he said. “That’s no prob­lem at all,” he said. “This can be done by the di­rec­tor of the li­brary in the evening, from the sofa”.

Each loan costs € 6 (£5.34), he said – an ex­pense dwarfed by the sav­ings that libraries were mak­ing by not sub­scrib­ing to El­se­vier jour­nals. De­pend­ing on their size, some libraries had been pay­ing up to

€ 800,000 a year for El­se­vier con­tent, he said; they now there­fore had a lot more money in their bud­gets and some were now in­vest­ing this sav­ing into open ac­cess pub­lish­ing in­stead.

But, if Ger­many and Swe­den are not un­der any im­me­di­ate pres­sure to seek a deal, nei­ther seem­ingly is El­se­vier. The share price of its par­ent com­pany, RELX, rose dur­ing July, and in the last week of the month it posted re­sults for the first half of 2018 that re­as­sured an­a­lysts that the dis­pute in Ger­many and Swe­den had not slowed rev­enue growth. Un­til it cut off ac­cess in July, the pub­lisher had in ef­fect been pro­vid­ing free ac­cess to more than 200 Ger­man in­sti­tu­tions since the be­gin­ning of 2018.

The Ger­man strat­egy is still to wait for the pres­sure to build on El­se­vier and ul­ti­mately strike a new deal with them, rather than make the cur­rent state of af­fairs per­ma­nent, said Dr Mit­ter­maier. He did ac­knowl­edge that there was a “risk” that some libraries, happy with the sav­ings that they were cur­rently mak­ing, would de­cide not to join any new national deal.

But Ger­man re­searchers were step­ping up pres­sure in other ways, by de­clin­ing to sub­mit ar­ti­cles, con­duct peer re­view and step­ping down from the ed­i­to­rial boards of jour­nals, he added.

An El­se­vier spokes­woman said: “Trends in ac­cess re­quests show noth­ing un­usual in Ger­many and Swe­den. Trends in pa­per sub­mis­sions are not dis­cernible af­ter such a short pe­riod of time.

“We re­main open to con­struc­tive talks to find a sus­tain­able national solution in both Ger­many and Swe­den.”

High price in Ger­many, talks over a new national con­tract with El­se­vier broke down be­cause of con­cerns over ris­ing costs

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