As of January 1, the University is eliminating some $350,000 worth of journals published by Elsevier. Some of these titles were duplicate print subscriptions. Other titles were shown to have been underused over time. Harvard libraries will fulfill requests for articles from these journals through interlibrary loan and third-party document delivery services.
The decision to eliminate these journals was the result of careful consideration over the last 15 months. It was driven not only by current financial realities, but alsoand perhaps more importantlyby the need to reassert control over our collections and to encourage new models for research publication at Harvard.
As the publisher with the largest share of the scientific (STM) journal publishing market, Elsevier journals are by far the most expensive. Science Direct titles cost Harvard libraries $1.7 million in 2003more than fourtimes our expenditure level with the next largest STM journal publisher. This is nearly 6.5 percent of combined library acquisitions budgets across the University.
At the same time, Harvard libraries embarked on an aggressive program to eliminate duplicate print subscriptions across the University, driven by a desire to streamline operations, reduce costs, and foster increased cooperation among our diverse library units. This effort has been meeting with great success.
Impact on Harvard Faculty and Students
Although this will cause some inconvenience, experience has shown that withdrawing low-use materials is often barely noticed. We know, for example, that more than 20 percent of our Elsevier titles are used less than two times per month, while 10 percent are used less than once per month. Bundling has created an artificial environment that sustains journals that might otherwise not be viable on their own. By canceling these little-used materials, funds will become available to acquire resources that are in higher demand.
Impact on the Harvard Libraries
Higher fees for electronic access will have an uneven impact across the libraries. Those that are able to cancel titles may see a reduction in overall cost, but other Harvard libraries may be forced to absorb large increases. The ULC plans to explore ways of easing the impact of higher fees on the libraries most affected.
Although the obstacles are considerable, the strategic reasons for rejecting the fixed-bundle agreement that Elsevier offered to NERL are still more compelling. The combined costs of Elsevier subscriptions far outrun even its closest competitors, while prudent cancellation decisions lead only to steeper fees. Like so many other institutions, Harvard's collections have become hostage to this situation. Declining the bundled agreement and intentionally reducing our outlay for Elsevier titles will ultimately give us the ability to respond to the marketplace unfettered by such artificial constraints.
On many levels, Harvard is changing the ways in which it does business. This is as true in the libraries as it is anywhere at the University. The changes in our digital acquisitions program will lead to questions that many of you will need to answer. I hope that this letter is of help to each of you in that regard.
With best wishes,
Sidney Verba Carl H. Pforzheimer University Professor and Director of the University Library