Libraries to Cut Academic Journals

Citing budget cuts and minimal usage by patrons, Harvard libraries will end their subscriptions to a variety of technical and academic journals before the end of the year according to library officials.

While cutting journals is not a specific goal for the libraries, reducing the number of subscriptions is a means to deal with the budget shortfalls that have affected departments across the University, said Director of the University Libraries Sidney Verba.

Furthermore, officials say, many journals receive limited or no use.

“Ninety percent of the reading is done in ten percent of the journals,” according to Verba, who is also Pforzheimer University Professor.

While no specific titles of journals on the chopping block were available, Verba said popular journals will not be cut, but bottom-use journals may be up for elimination.

As to why journals have been targeted for reduction, Digital Acquisitions Program Librarian Ivy Anderson cited a marked increase in journal prices in recent years.

“Journal costs have been rising faster than healthcare,” said Anderson.

According to Anderson, the journal industry has an inherent monopoly, as there is only one supplier of such publications as The Journal of the American Medical Association or Architectural Review, providing publishers with a captive market and a great deal of economic leverage.

Journals, which eat up a significant portion of library budgets, are contracted by the calendar year and must be purchased before any new books are acquired. By eliminating some journals, officials said the libraries will be able to devote some portion of the previously allocated money to buying new books or other journals.

The University Library is currently in negotiations with its largest supplier of academic journals, publishing magnate Reed Elsevier, hoping to secure a less restrictive contract.

Currently, Harvard and Reed Elsevier have a three-year contact, covering almost 800 journals, which is set to expire at the end of this year. According to library officials, the contract is very limiting in regards to changing and canceling subscriptions to certain journals.

Libraries system-wide will be cutting at least some portion of their journals, however, each individual library has the decision of how many and which journals to cut. The cuts apply only to print media and “no electronic resources will be affected,” Anderson said.

“They make it difficult to cancel and we get locked into buying. We want to sign a shorter term contract with more flexibility,” said Verba.