LIS Trends

The Cost of Online Journals/ “Walking Away from The American Chemical Society”

with 2 comments

Have you ever wondered how much books, journals, or other materials cost at  your public or academic libraries? If you have ever worked in a library or are preparing for a future in librarianship, you probably have. The answer is, plainly, a huge amount. Libraries all across the country have to shell out a large quantity of money to keep their resources relevant and helpful to their patronage. Many librarians will tell you that pricing models over the years have increased. What can librarians do that have smaller budgets and are unable to afford these resources? Here is a great example of how it is done:

Jenica Rogers, the Director of Libraries at State University of New York at Potsdam says that balancing budgets and spending them well makes her feel successful. She and other faculty members discussed the pricing model of one particular online journal from the American Chemical Society, and found that their pricing model was unsustainable. (Nearly 10% of her budget for one department’s journals) The ACS has a tiered pricing system with an unaffordable base price for libraries that have smaller funds to allocate.  She says, “We [also] learned that their base price and pricing model, when applied to much larger institutions, did not produce the same unsustainable pricing – I cannot provide numbers, as they are marked SUNY Confidential, but I can easily say that what our ARL peers pay for ACS in support of their doctoral programs is, in my estimation, in no way fair or reflective of the usage, FTE, or budgets of those institutions as compared to the pricing offered my institution for my usage, FTE, and budgets. It seems to me that the tiered increases may be fair and be reflective, but the problem lies with the base price underlying their pricing model. That base price is unsustainable for small institutions.”

This may seem like a small dispute between a journal provider and a Library Director, but the ACS hand out accreditation to college science programs across the country, and their journal had been a part of SUNY’s collections for a considerable amount of time.  Fortunately for Jenica, her Collection Development Coordinator did some research and presented options to their Chemistry faculty. Here were their options:

A) The ACS Core+ Package at the new standardized price, ACS Legacy Archive, 2-3 selected titles outside the Core+, and ILL fill-in as needed beyond the 250 tokens offered. Based on our use stats, this would maintain a comfortable level of access to ACS content, but was going to save us virtually no money over our ACS full package, as we would have to pay the ACS full list prices for the selected titles, plus the $41 per article copyright clearance fee for ILLs beyond the initial free articles.
B) A Wiley 2012 STM package, which offered many chemistry titles. This was about 40% of what we would have spent on ACS content, based on our Wiley print subscriptions and other existing Wiley contracts.
C) A Royal Society of Chemistry Gold Package, and the RSC archive. This was about 54% of what we were projected to spend on ACS content. (Rogers, 2012)

The chemistry faculty (some ACS members) were able to agree on a piecemeal solution from these alternatives that were presented. (It is also noted that they were also shocked by the pricing of the journals so they were not put out by the decision process)

According to her blog this is happening all across the country. Institutions have to find alternatives to the ever-increasing price models of academic journals. What will the future of our academic library’s journal content be like? Will journal providers such as the American Chemical Society make it possible for institutions with smaller resources to obtain their works? Or will Library Directors such as Jenica have to create different options for their faculty or staff? With the ever-growing concerns of pricing models and the “digital divide”   hopefully there will be recognition from journal providers that there is a need for fairness in access to educational content.


Rogers, J. (2012, September 12). Walking Away from the American Chemical Society. Retrieved from


Written by liskris

October 14, 2012 at 3:23 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

2 Responses

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  1. I’m not a proponent of price fixing, but I would’ve thought there would be restrictions on how much an organization could charge for educational materials. Either some competitors need to step up to drive the prices down, or there needs to be a way to get affordable access to these very important resources to the people who need them to do their research. I think the Collection Development Coordinator did the right thing by contacting the patrons who would be using this information and showing them how ridiculous the situation was. If the people who use the information (and are even a part of the information provider’s organization!) see such prices, surely they could speak out and do something about it.

    Isidoro Alastra

    November 18, 2012 at 9:16 pm

  2. Jenica Rogers has a great blog for those who are interested in academic librarianship. As for the escalating prices of journals, I think there will come a time when libraries will have to say no, and walk away from certain subscriptions due to cost. If libraries were to organize themselves and collectively refuse to subscribe to these costly journals, maybe then prices will come down.

    In another course we were told that Wayne State spends about $8 million per year on database subscriptions alone. This amount is more than the entire library budget at my undergraduate institution. Hopefully, more economical options will be available in the near future for libraries to choose from.

    Eric Glover

    November 20, 2012 at 8:51 pm

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