If you’ve been following the Chronicle and Inside Higher Ed, you may have heard of the “big deal” in library journal packages. But you may be wondering, what is the big deal and why does it matter?
To put it simply, it’s like your cable television package. Instead of subscribing to only a few channels that you really want, you have to select a package and get them all. We do the same thing, but with journal subscriptions. It often is cheaper to have a bundle than subscribe to a few important titles. Moreover, since these packages cover many subjects, it is possible that there is something for everyone. When we buy a package, it’s available for everyone in the UCCS community – even from off-campus, when using our VPN.
If it sounds good, then you might be wondering why it’s been in the news lately, and why some colleges are stepping away from these big deals. This article for instance, talks about how two libraries gave up the big deals for having subscriptions to the specific journals they wanted.*
However, here is where the analogy fails. In your home, you may know which 10 channels you would purchase a la carte, if you had the opportunity. But in a growing university, we are constantly adding new classes and new research areas. A journal that wasn’t popular in the past may suddenly become important with a new course offering. This is where our flexibility lies. These big deals, while expensive, offer a cross-section of topics, that can’t easily be found by selecting individual journals.
Since we’ve moved to the online journal world, the individual journal titles are less important for students- more important are the articles, specifically the peer-reviewed articles that are found in many of our big deals. If you are faculty, you may disagree, as publishing in the premier journal in your research area is still important to you and your colleagues, and carries tremendous weight in your dossier. However, I’ve rarely heard students looking for journal titles by name, unless prompted by a citation. The few exceptions would be Nature and Science. More often, they are looking for articles on a topic, and don’t care as much which journal they use.
American universities aren’t the only ones reconsidering the big deal. This recent article from Inside Higher Ed talks about British libraries having the same discussions. These libraries argue that they will save money by dropping the big deal in favor of subscribing individually to high use journals only. But what if your research area’s premier journal is of low use because you are the only faculty in that area on your campus? That is the case at many medium and small universities as we aren’t large enough to have multiple faculty members researching on the same sub-topic.
Here is an example from my research. I’ve written a few papers on the history of academic libraries and higher education, so I feel that the History of Education Quarterly is an important journal to me. It’s in the Wiley “big deal” package and would be considered a low use journal compared to the journals: Journal of Advanced Nursing, Public Administration Review, Journal of Clinical Nursing, and American Anthropologist which all have high use in Wiley. Does this mean we should not subscribe?
When all the journals were in print, librarians had to make decisions about which journals to subscribe to – but now, we have many more options. We’ve chosen to subscribe to the big deals, which I feel gives our faculty and students access to thousands of journals which we would not be able to afford in print or individual online subscriptions. In fact, when you add our total subscriptions to the numbers of Open Access journals and free government journals, our community has access to more than 76,000 journal titles. Open Access titles are another can of worms among the faculty, but that is another blog post for another day.
*The Chronicle of Higher Ed is one of the journals we subscribe to. If you can’t access this article, you may not be on the VPN.