Collection Funding FAQ

To meet the research and teaching needs of the Cornell community across the disciplines, the Library’s collections budget pays for access to a vast range of resources – text, images, data, and more in various electronic and physical formats. The collections budget, which totals around $18 million annually, is comprised of an appropriation from the University, restricted and unrestricted endowment funds, and gifts to the Library.

What is Cornell University Library’s main goal in collection development?

The Library’s goal is to provide timely access to the scholarly and cultural record to meet the research and teaching needs of all Cornell faculty and students and to support the production of new scholarship and public knowledge. To this end, we create and maintain collections and services with a priority on fiscal sustainability. We develop the collection through a strategic combination of purchase, subscription, and licensing of resources – journals, books, databases, etc. – in electronic and physical formats, and complement what we acquire locally with robust services for borrowing from partner libraries. Read our Collection Development Principles.

How do you maintain fiscally sustainable collections and services?

We take multiple approaches, for example:

  • We balance our print book acquisition program with ebook subscriptions and demand-driven options (where the Library pays only when the book is used). In selecting print books for purchase, we also take into account historical circulation patterns and availability of the title in Borrow Direct and other lending networks.
  • We negotiate our subscription costs: the price and other terms governing subscription packages are not fixed, and are usually the result of many months of negotiations between librarians and vendors. 
  • Along with big journal packages, we build and maintain locally-tailored journal collections (based on usage data, holdings in partner libraries and across our interlibrary loan network, and local subject expertise).
  • In the case of lower-use journal titles, we shift from subscriptions to providing article level access through document delivery services both from our partner libraries and some publishers.
  • We champion the cause of open access.

For more on the Library’s recent measures to control costs, read our Big Deal FAQ about recent negotiations for “big deal” journal packages.

Has the pandemic-related economic downturn affected the collections budget?

Yes. In line with pandemic-related budget reductions across the University, a 5% reduction is being applied to the 2020-21 library and collections budgets. To meet the budget changes, we need to reduce collection expenditures by around $800,000 in the current fiscal year.

How are you accomplishing this reduction?

The Library's collection development leaders are working with our subject librarians to reduce spending strategically, in keeping with our collection development principles and with the research and teaching needs of the disciplines.

Is every academic discipline affected by the budget cut?

Yes. The budget for collections in every subject area has been reduced, although the cuts have not been applied uniformly as we have taken pains to account for the divergent needs and usage patterns of the disciplines.

Prioritizing remote access in a time of social distancing, the Library is reducing the acquisition of print titles for the current fiscal year, particularly in areas where books are widely held by other institutions or where it is reasonable to expect books to be available for purchase long after initial publication. For books from English-language academic publishers, “demand-driven” acquisition of ebooks – the Library pays only when the ebook is used – has allowed us to realize considerable savings while providing broadened electronic access to new academic books.

The Library will revisit and rebalance our print book acquisitions strategy over the coming year, as we move out of the pandemic. If you would like the Library to acquire a resource that we do not have in the collection, we will do our best to get it, please submit your request using the Recommend a Purchase form.

Can Cornell researchers provide input into the Library’s decisions?

Absolutely, we welcome that! Please get in touch with the Library liaison to your department or program or the Library's Director of Collections, Kizer Walker (

How much do you spend on subscriptions?

We share as much subscription cost data as possible and legal in the following tables:

Why share library subscription expenditures?

Every year about 70% of CUL’s over $18 million materials expenditures cover subscriptions to ejournals, databases, ebookpackages, and other ongoing electronic resources. As responsible stewards of Cornell funds, we are committed to openness and transparency, therefore we publish as much of our subscription expenditure data as is legal and practical.

Is CUL the first to publish such costs? 

No. We gratefully acknowledge the work of a few other North American libraries in this area. 

Do all universities pay the same amount for electronic resources? 

It depends. Some products have set costs, others are charged by the size of the institution. Yet others have pricing that is negotiable by the subscribing institutions or consortia.

How does CUL subscribe to resources?   

Library subscriptions are quite complex. CUL subscribes to well over a million ejournals, ebooks, and databases from thousands of publishers. They are licensed individually and in bundles, either directly or through one of many third-party aggregators or service providers. Individual journals can change titles, change publishers, change distributors, can be packaged into different bundles, can be included and excluded from different packages and access levels, can cease and be revived. All these permutations produce a high level of complexity.

What do these data tables show? 

Cornell University Library - Continuations Expenditures by Vendor lists our expenditures by vendor, for multiple fiscal years. Some vendors are individual publishers and others are aggregators or service providers. In many cases, the rows represent different levels of granularity from individual titles to large bundles of titles. 

Cornell University Library - Continuations Expenditures by Title lists our expenditures by the title of the resource we paid for, over multiple fiscal years. In some cases these represent a single journal or database. In other cases the expenditure represents a collection or package of resources. 

Is this data complete and a 100% accurate?

No. Our complex licensing arrangements make it difficult to present complete and 100% accurate data. This list is periodically updated.

Does the data include Weill Cornell Medicine Samuel J. Wood Library in New York City?

Payments for some medical titles are managed by library staff in Ithaca, others are managed by staff at Weill in New York City. This data table only includes the resources that are managed in Ithaca.

Why are there so many expenditure changes from year to year?

Expenditure changes represent a variety of factors: changing prices for the same products, fluctuating currency exchange rates, different levels of access, a different collection of titles, or the lack of billing in certain years when no new material is published.  

Who can I contact with further questions?

Please contact if you have questions about the expenditures. With other questions, Cornell faculty can contact the Library liaison to their department or program.