Thursday, February 16, 2012

Could the University of Iowa Libraries save over $2 million from their subscriptions budget with a flip to open access?

Thanks to Wendy Robertson at the University of Iowa Libraries for posting some very useful information about their library's expenditures on journals.

This post is an informal research collaboration designed to build on Robertson's work, explore the cost of a full flip to open access for this particular university and some of other not yet quantified possibilities that may be of interest along with a flip to open access.

By my calculations, the University of Iowa Libraries could save over $2 million dollars or 60% of the expenditures for journals listed on this web page with a full flip to open access, paid for entirely out of the library budget, assuming a mixed model composed of half of the articles published in the scholar-led publishing sector as illustrated by OJS (Edgar & Willinsky), with an average per-article cost of $188; and the other half published using an article processing fee with the PLoS ONE fee of $1,350 as an average. It is assumed that 1,960 articles were published by the University of Iowa Libraries in 2010, based on a Google Scholar Advanced Search.

More information would be most helpful to refine my calculations. In particular, it would be really helpful to have a better estimate of the number of journal articles published by the University of Iowa faculty in a given year.  If anyone has data to help with this project, please share! In order to facilitate this sharing, I plan to turn on the comment feature on my blog. For calculations, download the data. Method note: the reason I used the 2008 google scholar article numbers is because this was the highest count in recent, i.e. to obtain a conservative figure.

Food for thought

I argue that we need to look for savings in the process of transition to open access, because libraries have many new areas where funding is needed, such as services to support research data, preserving electronic information, research commons type services and embedded librarianship.

One of the reasons why the scholar-led publishers that are the primary users of Open Journal Systems have such a low per-average article cost is that many are built on efficient, not-for-profit library publishing services. Perhaps the transition to full open access will open up opportunities for our librarian colleagues? For example, I hear that there are (understandably) many concerns about potential layoffs at Harvard's libraries. Getting into publishing could be a great freelance opportunity for some of these highly qualified people - after all, who better to help libraries make the transition to OA than our own professional colleagues? Or, I wonder if Harvard has considered that this might be a good time to grow their own publishing services? Then they could simply transition acquisitions budgets into funding for new opportunities to retain their own great staff.

Speaking of job opportunities, growth in the not-for-profit publishing sector could open up many a part-time or full-time opportunity for some of our faculty members, too - no doubt this would be very welcome considering the impact of the financial crisis on university professors. I wonder if even those who have secure jobs themselves might like the idea of transitioning high profits for commercial publishers into more and/or better job opportunities for their colleagues and graduating students? We could spend a lot more than that average $188 per article and still save a bundle, too!

For more of my writing on the economics of scholarly communication in transition to open access, please see this draft chapter of my open thesis.  


Edgar, B. D., & Willinsky, J. (2010) (In press). A survey of the scholarly journals using
open journal systems. Scholarly and Research Communication, Retrieved August
 27, 2011 from  

1 comment:

  1. Also worth a mention are these workshops that took place in the UK in 2010:-


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