Libraries at University of Nebraska-Lincoln


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Cooper, Danielle and Oya Rieger. "What’s the Big Deal?: How Researchers Are Navigating Changes to Journal Access ." Ithaka S+R. Last Modified 22 June 2021.


Copyright 2021 ITHAKA. This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.


The dominant mode by which research libraries have provided maximum journal access as cheaply as possible—subscription bundles or “Big Deals”—is giving way to new approaches. This transition is taking place through a combination of negotiations, activism, business modeling, user needs research, and decision support, among other factors. To support these processes, Ithaka S+R partnered with 11 academic libraries to understand researcher perceptions to help inform their ongoing strategic decision making about Big Deal journal subscriptions.

Recognizing that libraries must also undertake case-by-case assessments prior to making decisions about any particular journal package, in this report we share findings from the project that merit wider public consideration. We detail patterns in how researchers approach discovery and access to journal content, focusing on their experiences when mechanisms for access change. These experiences are used as a jumping off point to also explore researchers’ perceptions of the various models for facilitating their access to journal content and of the stakeholders engaged in that work.

We found that when a suite of journals is no longer available through a Big Deal subscription package, researchers experience little negative impact in the short term. There are some institutional, disciplinary, and career-stage variations, but overall researchers are able to work around the access barriers they encounter. This reality is deceptively benign. Researchers remain supportive of their libraries and are also interested in broader efforts to challenge the status quo of the scholarly communications business. However, they do not have a solid understanding of the strategies for advancing new modes of journal access beyond the subscription model, nor are they clear on what the library can and should provide in response.

We recommend three areas of activity that institutions should be especially mindful of when considering changes to journal subscription packages:

Create new mechanisms for assessing the impact of lost access to journal subscriptions. Many of the ways that scholars access journal content cannot be easily tracked by libraries, and it is not common for libraries to assess the effects of lost access over time. Should libraries take into consideration the inconvenience of lost access, even if cancellation is not an outright impediment to research?

Library consultative processes work and can be even better leveraged. The strategies for engaging researchers in decision-making processes around journal subscriptions are effective, and there is an opportunity to build on those further. Researchers appreciate transparency about how their library’s decisions relate to the opportunities to change the scholarly communications ecosystem.

Libraries need to do more to navigate the shift in value proposition that comes with the loss of Big Deal journal packages. Researchers still equate the library’s value with the extent to which it facilitates seamless access to journal content. By and large, researchers do not understand how any particular deal that confers new open access privileges for a set of authors at a specific institution represents an improved level of library value creation.