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Harvard Faculty Advisory Council: “major periodical subscriptions cannot be sustained”

The Harvard Faculty Advisory Council (FAC) has sent a memorandum to all faculty concluding that major periodical subscriptions, especially to electronic journals published by historically key providers, cannot be sustained and that faculty needs to consider other options, including increased use of open-access journals.

In its memo, the FAC noted that Harvard’s annual cost for journals from these providers now approaches $3.75 million. In 2010, the comparable amount accounted for more than 20% of all periodical subscription costs and just under 10% of all collection costs for everything the Harvard Library acquires.

Many large journal publishers have made the scholarly communication environment fiscally unsustainable and academically restrictive. This situation is exacerbated by efforts of certain publishers (called “providers”) to acquire, bundle, and increase the pricing on journals.

...Some journals cost as much as $40,000 per year, others in the tens of thousands. Prices for online content from two providers have increased by about 145% over the past six years, which far exceeds not only the consumer price index, but also the higher education and the library price indices. These journals therefore claim an ever-increasing share of our overall collection budget. Even though scholarly output continues to grow and publishing can be expensive, profit margins of 35% and more suggest that the prices we must pay do not solely result from an increasing supply of new articles.

The Faculty Advisory Council to the Library, representing university faculty in all schools and in consultation with the Harvard Library leadership, reached this conclusion: major periodical subscriptions, especially to electronic journals published by historically key providers, cannot be sustained: continuing these subscriptions on their current footing is financially untenable. Doing so would seriously erode collection efforts in many other areas, already compromised.

In the memo, the FAC requested that, since faculty and graduate students are chief users, they consider a number of options (F = faculty and students, L - library):

  • Make sure that new papers are accessible by submitting them to DASH in accordance with the faculty-initiated open-access policies (F).

  • Consider submitting articles to open-access journals, or to ones that have reasonable, sustainable subscription costs; move prestige to open access (F).

  • If on the editorial board of a journal involved, determine if it can be published as open access material, or independently from publishers that practice pricing described above. If not, consider resigning (F).

  • Contact professional organizations to raise these issues (F).

  • Encourage professional associations to take control of scholarly literature in their field or shift the management of their e-journals to library-friendly organizations (F).

  • Encourage colleagues to consider and to discuss these or other options (F).

  • Sign contracts that unbundle subscriptions and concentrate on higher-use journals (L).

  • Move journals to a sustainable pay per use system, (L).

  • Insist on subscription contracts in which the terms can be made public (L).



Further evidence that the old school science journal gateways are collapsing. Replaced by Open Source obviating the corrupt practices of a few self-declared "high priests." All very healthy and in keeping with the demise of old school physics.

High School kids in Italy are doing full open source CF cells with COP of 4 - soon thousands around the world will follow suit. A great new way to educate and distribute knowledge. As will energy be distributed in short order.

BTW, Harvard's endowment is the size of a small nation. Cost is no the issue here - education is. Congratulations Harvard admin.

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