June 29, 2010

Rethinking electronic only subscriptions...

I never thought I'd say that. I love electronic. It's available 24/7, can be searched in a variety of ways, and doesn't require binding or storage. However, the past couple of weeks have been an eye opener for me.

Due to budget issues, we had to cancel many subscriptions. This led to a project to verify access information in in my a-z list and, of course, close out records in our OPAC. For a variety of reasons that shall not be mentioned in this post, there is no record in my OPAC for when the subscription went electronic only. I can gather this information for the most part from either the order record or the subscription vendor, but those records only go back three to five years. So, I've made use of the information available via the publishers admin interface, which in most cases is quite robust. What I discovered was that perpetual access to electronic only subscriptions, i.e. the ability to continue to access electronically my electronic subscriptions once I've canceled the subscription, varies widely from publisher to publisher. And, it's not good.

The problem here isn't with the large publishers (the Wiley's or the Elsevier's); it's with the academic presses and the societies. What many say - no access to electronic content once your subscription ceases. Several will send the content that my institution subscribed to on disc or another format of their choice or we can purchase the print backfiles at the current price. One publisher even requires that we purchase the disc or the print if we want what we subscribed to electronically. It's that simple. I understand this with an aggregated database, but was honestly surprised at the degree to which many publishers do not provide perpetual access to e-only subscriptions. With these publishers it's not an electronic subscription, it's a lease and I wish they would call it that. It is in the license agreement, unfortunately, these were switched to electronic several years ago and the process for license review then wasn't all that good. So, for some titles, we subscribed e-only for two to three years and now have nothing.

So, this leaves me with the question of whether I should have an e-only subscription to a title that will not give us perpetual access should we have to cancel it. It makes no sense to do print plus electronic, however, it doesn't make sense to "subscribe" to a journal and have nothing for it should it be canceled. If I subscribe to any title in electronic format, I expect some form of ownership to accompany it. In today's budget landscape, I can't in all good conscience recommend spending money on a e-only subscription for a title that I won't own, which means I'm left going with a print only subscription if I don't want duplicate formats. Which really doesn't provide the access my patrons want or the access we want to provide to the patrons. I'm not really sure what the answer is.