This post by Dr Jessica Gardner, Cambridge University Librarian, introduces the context for the ongoing negotiation between Cambridge University and the publisher Elsevier. It is the first in a series of posts on the negotiation from members of the Cambridge community. If you would like to contribute your own post, please get in touch via the link in the post below.
As Cambridge University’s Librarian, I am mindful of the need for our academics to be able to access the journals they require and publish in the journals they feel most befit their research. The library is here to support Cambridge’s academic mission to develop and share new knowledge, which requires comprehensive access to the scientific record. Through the coming months, as we continue our negotiations with Elsevier, we want to listen to the academic community to better understand how these negotiations may impact their work.
But the university and its library also have a strong mission around open research and a commitment to sharing knowledge as openly and freely as possible. Regardless of where you are around the world, we want you to be able to access and build upon the world-leading research produced at Cambridge. As we have seen over the last 18 months of the pandemic, open research has the potential to truly revolutionise how research is conducted and shared, allowing us to address challenges affecting local, national and international communities. The library will continue to lead this open agenda while serving our academic communities with the resources and expertise they need within different disciplinary settings.
Across the UK, our total spend with Elsevier is likely to reach £50 million in 2021. For Cambridge, our share of this figure includes what we pay for journal subscriptions and article-processing charges for open access. With our current agreement due to expire at the end of this year, we have a fiscal responsibility to review this deal and to ensure that we are paying the correct amount to access and publish with Elsevier journals. Working in a consortium organised by Jisc, we are seeking to renegotiate this figure (through a ‘transitional agreement’) while ensuring a meaningful reduction in the price paid. You can read more about the negotiations and our objectives here.
In order to ensure that all voices are heard relating to these negotiations, we are engaging with staff and students through a number of channels. We are seeking input from the Cambridge community, and hope you can tell us what you feel our future relationship with Elsevier should be. There will be a University-wide consultation in Michaelmas Term 2021. In the meantime, we welcome feedback and expressions of interest from anyone wishing to participate in future events and engagement plans. In addition, we will be hosting town hall events in September to keep the community informed and seek further input (stay tuned for details). This blog will also be used to highlight the views from across Cambridge. Please do get in touch with Samuel Moore, Scholarly Communication Specialist at the library, if you would like to write a blog post on any topic relating to the negotiation or the future of scholarly communication at Cambridge.
Though Cambridge is aiming for a deal, it is important to understand that, as in any negotiation, there is a possibility that one cannot be struck. We are committed to dialogue but also aware that we cannot continue to simply meet rising prices year on year or to accept deals that do not further our open access goals. The university sector is facing multiple financial pressures, including those arising from the pandemic, and we expect publishers to take the financial situation and the sector’s needs into account. Given Elsevier is the largest publisher in the world, the stakes are undoubtedly high, but we are confident that our sector will work to get the best deal possible. Nevertheless, as a sector we may have to hold the line, push back and challenge, keeping in mind that many other universities around the world have walked away too. In such a scenario, we know that effective strategies for journal access will be critical to the academic community in Cambridge.
Looking further ahead, it is beholden upon us to look beyond the negotiation with just one publisher. The last twenty years have seen a decided shift towards open access and open research and it is clearly the direction of travel. In some academic subjects, this has been vital to the world-wide pandemic response through rapid sharing of results, such as via preprints and data sharing. Libraries have been committed to the OA agenda and are leading the way through a variety of models, including through the kinds of agreements we are seeking with Elsevier to transition us to a fully open access world. We are now at a point of transformative change that will lead us to a time when it is a normal practice to make things openly accessible, and we look forward to working within the disciplinary needs of the Cambridge community to make this open future a reality.