Tag Archives: negotiations

Michael Williams on the Elsevier negotiations: What’s our ‘Plan B’?

As part of our series on the ongoing negotiations between Elsevier and the UK university sector, this post by Michael Williams, Head of Collection Development & Management at Cambridge University Libraries, explores the University’s plans for continued research access in the event that an agreement cannot be reached.

As negotiations continue between Elsevier and the UK university sector, institutions need to position themselves to ensure that we have a realistic alternative access solution if the decision is to not sign an agreement. But what would happen in the event of a non-renewal scenario? This post explores how we at Cambridge University Libraries are preparing for Plan B and the alternative access solutions we will be providing.  

As Jessica Gardner discussed on this blog, our collective ambition is to negotiate a Read-and-Publish deal with Elsevier that meets the sector’s requirements on costs and open access. However, a decision on the deal is looming in the coming months so we need to ensure we have an effective alternative option for accessing journal content if Elsevier does not meet our requirements. Importantly, however, this Plan B does not just apply to Elsevier but would come into play in the event of opting out of deals with other big commercial publishers in future negotiations.

At Cambridge we are doing our best to engage our research communities with the Elsevier negotiation so that any decisions around the deal and potential implementation of Plan B will only take place following communication and engagement with research-active members of the University. If we need to implement a Plan B, it should not come as a surprise; it will be planned and communicated in advance.

Elements of Plan B

An effective Plan B will enable users to obtain articles with a minimum of intervention and as seamlessly as possible. To achieve this, we are developing an integrated workflow that includes the use of browser extensions for discovery and document delivery services such as Inter-Library Loan (ILL). Additionally, we will subscribe to core titles (rather than a ‘Big Deal’ bundle) to provide continual access to content that we know will be in high demand, and make sure to actively share with our academic communities the post-cancellation access information detailing the journal coverage that will continue beyond the end of the existing deal.

Existing ILL services at Cambridge are being developed and expanded. We are implementing RapidILL, a document delivery service that enables quick turnaround times for the supply of journal articles and book chapters, which integrates with iDiscover and other discovery tools. In addition, we are co-ordinating with other UK universities for the supply of content through new and existing peer networks. The negotiations therefore offer the opportunity to bring our document delivery services up to date for this and any future negotiations. For requests that cannot be supplied by Inter-Library Loan, the library is establishing a funding plan to purchase articles on a case-by-case basis.

Another element of Plan B is the promotion of preprint servers and other openly accessible outputs for obtaining research that may not be the version of record but is still of use to researchers. Many articles will already be available as gold open access via publisher websites, but we also encourage our University members to utilise the vast array of papers uploaded to institutional and subject repositories and other indexes available on the web. These include legal author-sharing networks and Google Scholar. Through these networks, along with plugins such as Lean Library, users may also request access to papers directly from the authors themselves. These networks may be used to share materials under copyright. We should acknowledge that pirate sites are heavily used by some researchers; we will not be promoting these pathways to access through library channels and do not recommend their use.

Communications

Communications with the Cambridge community about how these alternative forms of access will change their workflows are important to the Plan’s success. Users need to understand that changes will be made but that alternatives do exist for accessing content. If we implement Plan B, we need to minimize the impact of non-renewal and provide solutions that deliver content seamlessly. To prepare for this we will be communicating with our users across our research community to inform, receive feedback and to test the services we deliver. We also need to ensure that library colleagues are aware of the changes and are consequently able to advise on how these changes will affect researchers. Plan B is therefore as much about communication as it is about technical changes.

Our website is a central point for information, containing FAQs and ways for researchers to provide feedback on our plans. Many of the services we are implementing would only be publicly available in the event of a non-renewal scenario. This is a good moment to pause and remind ourselves that the sector’s preferred route is to negotiate sustainable transitional agreements that meet our needs to Read and Publish – at an affordable price and meeting the expectations of funder policies. We must not lose sight of this in our Plan B planning.

Final note

If we are to be in a strong negotiating position, we must have a well-planned, credible alternative to proposals put forward by Elsevier or any big publisher. At Cambridge, we have worked hard for this and are prepared for any eventuality. In the event of moving to a Plan B, we aim to minimize the impact of non-renewal and provide solutions that deliver content seamlessly, but it is important to recognise that no Plan B will meet all user needs and be cost- and disruption-free from the user perspective. Access may be clunky and it will not be available ‘anywhere, anytime’ like current journal subscriptions. Depending on the length of time Plan B is needed, the situation may worsen as time passes (as the first thing we would lose is access to the most recently published content) but I am confident that research undertaken at the University of Cambridge will be well served whatever the outcome of the negotiation. Please do get in touch with the Office of Scholarly Communication if you have any questions at all.

This post is released under a Creative Commons Attribution Licence, allowing reusers to distribute, remix, adapt, and build upon the material in any medium or format, so long as attribution is given to the creator.

Dr. Jessica Gardner on the ongoing negotiation between Cambridge and Elsevier

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.