Published: Oct. 11, 2023

CU Boulder faculty are supporting the University Libraries in current negotiations with major academic publishers over licensing agreements that will determine who gets access to academic journals under what terms and conditions and at what cost to the campus. 

The Boulder Faculty Assembly, which is the representative body of the faculty for the Boulder campus, passed a resolution on October 5, 2023, supporting the libraries’ mission to provide equitable access to information and preserve author’s rights. Approved without dissent, the resolution recognizes the impact of subscription costs on the campus budget and champions open access to information and protecting authors rights to retain copyright of their work. 

The faculty support comes as the University Libraries engage in negotiations over fees and terms for renewal of licenses with major academic publishers including Elsevier, Wiley, Springer Nature, Taylor & Francis, and SAGE, who together account for half of worldwide academic publishing revenues. 

At stake are issues such as whether publishers can stop authors from sharing their articles openly with other researchers and the public after they’ve been accepted into academic journals; whether the public has immediate, unfettered access to taxpayer funded research content; whether libraries can share content through Interlibrary Loan; and how much faculty and graduate students must pay publishers to get their articles published.

“I’m heartened to see our CU Boulder faculty supporting the University Libraries as they engage in very difficult licensing negotiations over access to information and how it is managed,’’ said Provost and Executive Vice Chancellor for Academic Affairs Russell L. Moore. “From our perspective, journal content is a result of the labor of our scholars and productivity of our labs and we are buying it back as well as paying to publish.” 

Elsevier is the single largest and most expensive journal license package purchased by the University Libraries amounting to about $2 million or roughly 14% of the library materials budget. The Elsevier negotiations are being conducted through the Colorado Alliance of Research Libraries on behalf of 15 libraries in Colorado and Wyoming. The CU Boulder contingent to that team is composed of librarians and faculty members and is meeting almost weekly this semester to review offers, discuss options, and formulate counter offers. Librarians say the negotiations may run six months or longer.

“Academic publishing under its current model is unsustainable as it continues to charge libraries for read access and charges publishing fees direct to our researchers with no or minimal compensation for the academic labor of writing, peer review and editing,” said Robert H. McDonald, dean of University Libraries and senior vice provost of online education. “Campuses need sustainable publishing models that will support our research enterprise without taxing the limits of what campuses can afford.”

One of the roles of collections librarians is to negotiate alternative agreements with academic publishers that move away from subscription-based reading and towards open access publishing. 

“The Boulder Faculty Assembly resolution signifies a growing awareness among scholars and researchers of the power that academic publishers hold over a critical part of the research lifecycle,” said BFA Chair and Prof. Shelly Miller, Mechanical Engineering. “Our research depends upon timely publication and dissemination as well as open access to enable global scientific collaboration and share scientific results widely.” 

The University Libraries has established licensing priorities for upcoming negotiations which are in the resolution approved by CU Boulder faculty. These include:

  • Prioritizing materials with web accessibility, universal design principles and optimized end-user experiences
  • Reducing subscription costs to a sustainable level
  • Respecting author’s rights to copyright and prioritizing agreements that commit to open access
  • Recognizing researcher needs to perform computational analysis across large volumes of research articles with no additional cost
  • Preserving users rights to privacy and free from scrutiny by the government and other third parties
  • Allowing libraries to borrow and loan materials to each other in print and digital formats
  • Ensuring transparency in license terms by eliminating nondisclosure agreements