Library struggles to afford journals

A picture is worth a thousand words when reviewing for an art history test.

The pictures are available on a new database called ArtStore, but Marriott Library can’t afford it because it has to pay $1,500 for a year’s subscription to a magazine-not for one magazine, but hundreds.

Although they’re academic journals and not magazines, the subscriptions are sometimes more than magazines themselves.

Next year, the subscription price for libraries could spike by 10 percent, forcing the library to pay $150 more for the same journal-money that comes out of student tuition and taxes.

The price of academic journals has been rising drastically the last eight years, and there doesn’t seem to be an end in sight, says Margaret Landesman, head of collection development at the library.

“Library budgets stay stagnant, meaning each year journals or books have to be cut from the collection limiting the materials you have access to,” she said.

“Every year we have to ask for $200,000 more and we get asked how that will benefit students. We have to say it won’t, it will just keep what we already have,” said library director Sara Michalak.

About 25 years ago, academic societies began handing the publication of their journals over to commercial presses. The publishers then began steadily raising the prices of those journals.

According to a coalition of academic libraries in Utah, many publishers have become monopolies, causing the prices to increase five times faster than the average rate of inflation over the past decade.

In the past, when the library downsized its collections to accommodate rising prices, faculty researchers accused it of mismanaging money.

Now, thanks to media attention the issue is receiving, researchers are working together with the library to oppose the monopolies, Michalak said.

The Scholarly Publishing and Academic Resources Coalition, which Michalak helped found, encourages competition in the communication market by sponsoring alternative forms of publishing, such as new journals.

In order to succeed, these alternative methods require the participation of senior faculty members at schools like the U. Senior faculty members have the luxury of choosing their publishers and are responsible for much of the work in the most expensive journals, Landesman said.

Many researchers, especially in biomedical fields, participate in the alternative journals because they believe in broad access to information, she said.

But not all commercial publishers are to blame, Landesman said. There are only a few very large companies that are responsible for the price of some journals. Libraries should think of themselves as investment managers, not consumers, to stop the unjust control of information, she said.

Since 1997, the U has been canceling subscriptions to the most expensive journals that aren’t considered critical for research and using the surplus money to widen the variety of journals it carries.

The U is not alone.

The largest university libraries in the nation are working together to come up with creative new solutions and alternative ways to access information, Michalak said.

Even if a solution is found, there still won’t be an end to library budget problems. As new information technology is developed, the library is expected to find ways to purchase it, Michalak said.

But at least it would be able to afford ArtStore for art history majors trying to remember Van Gogh’s color combinations the night before a test.

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