Framing the topic:
For many years,
the cost of scholarly serials—
paper and electronic—has outstripped both indicators of
inflation and university budgets. Statistics collected by the
of Research Libraries
(PDF) show that between 1986 and 2003, a period in which the
Consumer Price Index grew 68% and the average monograph purchased
by members of the association 82%, serial unit costs grew a whopping
215%. During this same period, the amount of scholarly publication
increased markedly, serial titles by 138%. The result of these
trends is that research libraries in North America are spending
ever more money for ever fewer publications. We are now reaching
the point where many institutions, including Cornell, are no
longer able to provide access to some standard materials needed
for instruction and research.
There are three major reasons for the rise in serials
expenditures. The first, and best known, is the growing influence
of commercial firms in scholarly publishing, especially that segment
of the industry dedicated to science, technology and the social
sciences. Commercial publishers charge more for their information
than scholarly societies or university presses.
Second, the costs of publishing in traditional
form are increasing to a point that in some disciplines it is
becoming ever more difficult for scholarship to be published
in a timely and useful fashion. The Modern Language Association’s
ad hoc Committee on the Future of Scholarly Publishing provides
an excellent overview (PDF).
Finally, the need for research libraries to purchase
materials in paper and electronic formats provides additional impulse
to rising serials expenditures. The substantial advantages of electronic
materials (especially in ease of access and text manipulation) are
of unquestionable value to scholars, and Cornell, like all major
research libraries, is investing heavily in its digital holdings.
At the same time, however, we must still purchase traditional materials
since they continue to be the principle medium of information exchange
in some fields. We are likely to remain in this state of transition
from paper to digits for some years to come, and this will be very
Cornell University Library statistics document trends
similar to those reported by the Association of Research Libraries.
Materials budgets on the Ithaca campus increased 185.5% between
1986 and 2004, but the number of serial titles purchased increased
only 5%. The contract college libraries, despite materials budget
increases of 120% since 1988, actually subscribe to 14% fewer serial
titles than they did at the beginning of the period.
The most visible impact of rising prices at Cornell
is cancellation of expensive journal titles. See the list
of journals published by Elsevier that were cancelled in 2004.
The Cornell University Library’s
In the short run, the Library has worked assiduously
to fulfill its responsibility to balance the materials budget.
It has worked through library consortia, principally
The NorthEast Research Libraries Consortium, (NERL), to negotiate
It has aggressively negotiated with serials vendors,
including the precedent-breaking refusal to continue
with Elsevier that prohibited canceling titles they published.
In the medium term, the Library has supported non-commercial
serial publishing and distribution initiatives.
collection of back issues of core scholarly journals in the arts
and humanities, sciences and social sciences
a collection of scholarly journals in mathematics and statistics,
managed by the Cornell University Library
through its membership in the Association of Research Libraries
(ARL), Cornell University Library helps enable the Scholarly Publishing
and Academic Resources Coalition to address “dysfunctions
in the scholarly communication system” by expanding competition
and supporting Open
Mann Library is one of the principal sponsors of Access to Global
Online Research in Agriculture, which provides students and researchers
in not-for-profit institutions in eligible developing countries
with access to journals from major scientific publishers in the
fields of food, agriculture, environmental science and related
But in the long run, only a fundamental change in
the modes of scholarly communication will meaningfully address
rising serial costs. That change has begun. Informed in part by
an education campaign emanating from the Library, Cornell’s
Faculty Senate passed a resolution that “…supports the library’s efforts to bring
serials costs under control while at the same time maintaining
the collection’s quality.”\
As one promising way of sponsoring change in publishing fundamentals,
the Library has actively encouraged the Open Access Initiative’s
efforts in scholarly e-publishing, covered in detail on this
What Faculty can Do:
The Cornell faculty has responded through the public
support expressed in the Faculty
Senate resolution and through many private gestures.
Faculty can help develop methods that will allow us
to rely far less heavily on commercial publications. This can be
done in part by working with scholarly societies and university
presses to ensure that they are able to publish quality scholarship
at reasonable prices.
Also, methods presently used for the exchange of scholarly
information in individual disciplines need to be reviewed, and practicable
alternatives developed and considered. Several initiatives are now
underway to study or facilitate scholarly communication. See these
selected links for
alternative publishing options.
Third, scholars need to retain some rights to their
own work, rather than signing them over completely to publishers.
When submitting materials for publication, Cornell scholars should
consider stipulating at the very least that their publications be
freely available to the Cornell community for purposes of instruction
and research. Preferably scholars should also negotiate to ensure
that they retain the right to post their own publication on their
own or on their institutions Web sites. More information is available
at the Copyright Management section of