Gowers, a British mathematician has a very interesting blog post exploring the ramifications and characteristics of the current market in which universities pay for electronic access to academic journals.
The latter half of the essay has a few details of how Big Deal negotiations and contracts work, and some info on actual prices paid. Just a few details, because the vendors want to keep this all confidential, of course.
Elsevier journals — some facts; from Gowers’ Weblog
Some of the issues discussed certainly differ between the US and the UK (we lack the national centralized negotiating of JISC in the US), but it’s still illuminating how… bizarre it is. I suspect it’s equally bizarre in the US, although in different ways. Even though I work in a library (and am arguably a ‘librarian’), much of this was illuminating to me; I suspect it will be to others too. This stuff is both so secretive, and so complex and technical, that those not directly working on it are often not familiar with it.
Increasing numbers of faculty seem to be paying attention to these sorts of issues, which is encouraging as libraries are pretty much beholden to faculty desires (regardless of how reasonable they are), and we’re not going to be able to change the market much without faculty education and support. Gowers focuses on Elsevier — for reasons not entirely clear to me, Elsevier especially is bearing the brunt of faculty ire. I’m not sure they are particularly worse than anyone else, but I guess they are in some ways bigger and more central than anyone else, as a very large publisher that hosts and provides electronic access directly (instead of using an intermediary aggregator or provider).
It would be nice if more librarians were publishing educational essays and articles on this topic; seems like it ought to be a core part of our role to be educating our peers and faculty on these issues, not just leaving it to the faculty. (I don’t know how much of that lack is because librarians are scared to offend the publishers/providers, while a faculty member can be more insulated from that concern.)
One welcome example of librarians publishing articles on scholarly communication is a recent piece in the online journal-blog, In the Library with the Lead Pipe: Librarian, Heal Thyself: A Scholarly Communication Analysis of LIS Journals by Micah Vandegrift and Chealsye Bowley. I haven’t had a chance to read it yet myself, but it’s on my list. Although there’s no reason librarians need to restrict ourselves to analyzing scholarly communication in LIS journals, all scholarly communication is part of our domain of study and expertise!