June 04, 2009

Print only, anyone...

MPOW is trying to finalize a serials cancellation project. Since I gather and analyze usage statistics, I'm a big proponent of using them to help determine what to keep and what to cancel. Granted, there are some titles that need to be kept usage statistics aside, mainly those required to maintain accreditation. The rest, especially in times of declining budgets, to me, are fair game.

Faculty and librarians got a chance to lobby for those titles they considered essential. In a few cases, titles have been declared essential that have little or no usage. At least not electronic usage. There in lies the rub with usage statistics - we only have them for our electronic subscriptions (and a few vendors still don't provide them). Here until very recently, print and electronic was the standard subscription, so some titles could have print usage that I'm not aware of.

What then is the solution when the usage stats say no one is using this title and the faculty and/or librarians say we must have this title? The trend of course is to go electronic for everything. While most of the time, electronic subscriptions are equal in price or cheaper, there are still cases where print only is cheaper (Nature for example, at least at MPOW). So, my query is, if the usage doesn't back up the subscription, but the journal is still given priority, and print only is the same or cheaper, why not consider dropping the electronic piece and go print only? Even if the prices are the same, in some cases, it may still be better to go print only. Electronic only requires a license agreement and several vendors actually set a minimum spend on their agreements, meaning once you sign that agreement, nothing can be cancelled (spend level must be maintained for the life of the license agreement) or a title may be canceled as long as it is replaced with a title that is of equal or higher cost. These vendors may also prefer a multi-year agreement, which given the current budget situation, may not be doable for some libraries. In this case, the overall spend may be the same as electronic, however, there is increased flexibility in managing your subscriptions and there is no set spend amount to the vendor for the next three to five years. Added consideration here is the requirement for shelve space and potential binding costs. Not every vendor requires spending to remain the same, but for those that do, unless the publisher is willing to come up with a more flexible license agreement, libraries will have to look at other options and print only will have to be one of them. Right now, for MPOW, this mainly applies to journals that are not held in aggregators.

Part of this is simply thinking out loud. Trying to maintain electronic subsriptions is tricky when budgets are cut, but I sometimes wonder if we've gotten ourselves over a barrel with our reliance on electronic versions and the ease of use and access they bring. Maybe there are still times when carrying the print and not the electronic is what is most cost effective for the library. The content is still available to patrons, but the convenience is lost. Distance education is the one ara where electonic versions would, of course, win out over print.