Thought experiment or reality: Walking away from the American Chemical Society?

Jenica Rogers is Director of Libraries at the State University of New York at Potsdam. Like so many institutions SUNY Potsdam subscribes to the suite of journals published by the American Chemical Society. Now, that's always a challenge since the ACS prices their products very aggressively as well as pushing the envelope with annual price increases.

Well, push finally came to show and SUNY Potsdam is Walking away from the American Chemical Society.

The problem:
In May 2012, after much internal discussion and debate, three SUNY library directors from the comprehensive colleges (myself included) and the university centers, along with two SUNY Office of LIbrary and Information Services staff met with three representatives from the ACS at SUNY Plaza in Albany, NY, and discussed their pricing model. The ACS folks were very clear: they are dedicated to moving all customers to a consistent pricing model, the pricing steps in that model are based on a tiered system, and there is a base price underneath all of that. In principle, I absolutely support this kind of move: too many libraryland vendors obscure their pricing models, negotiate great deals with one institution while charging double to someone else, or “have to ask the manager” to approve any offer. In our discussions, the librarian stakeholders noted our support for this approach, but argued that while their tiers are reasonable and based on arguably sound criteria, the base price underlying those steps is unsustainable and inappropriate. (In the case of SUNY Potsdam, the ACS package would have consumed more than 10% of my total acquisitions budget, just for journals for this one department.)


What we did:
Given that there was no apparent ACS-based solution to our budget crunch in the face of what we feel is unsustainable pricing, we went to our Chemistry faculty and discussed all of this with them. This was not our first meeting; we’ve been discussing this since fall 2011 when we clearly understood that ACS pricing would continue to increase, and was pushing at the ceiling of what we could sustain...after two meetings and much discussion of how to reconfigure our ACS subscriptions to meet our budgetary constraints, I believe that we all agreed that this goes beyond having a tight campus or library budget: this is simply not appropriate pricing for an institution like ours. The result of our first meeting was that the chemistry faculty agreed to take their concerns to the ACS based on their individual professional involvements with the organization, talking with sales and the Chemical Information Division about their concerns, and we agreed that we’d look into other library solutions to their chemical information needs.


The dramatic conclusion:
And so that’s where we are. On January 1, 2013 our ACS content will dramatically decline, and our RSC package is already active to pick up the slack. The libraries have agreed to do a robust analysis of how well or poorly this works out in this year, but the chemistry faculty were willing to join the librarians in taking a stand against unsustainable pricing structures...

Librarians are often disinclined to be first to try something – we’d often rather be second, after someone else has found the hidden pitfalls. So here I am, saying that we were willing to be the first to be loud, and to provide you with a public example of what is possible. Our chemistry faculty were willing to follow that lead, and I’m grateful to them for it. I’ll report back on what we learn.

And much more. Go read the entire text of this incredibly important post.

I see a strong tie between my Open Access thought experiment post a while back. In it I imagined a world where librarians would suddenly would wake up one day and suddenly the whole scholarly publishing ecosystem would magically have transformed itself into 100% open access. And what, I asked the world, would you do with all the money we saved by not having to pay for journal subscriptions?

For the sake of my thought experiment I imagined this transformation as something that happened to libraries. But what if libraries fired the first shot in the battle? What if we were proactive instead of reactive? What if we took back our own money instead of having it handed to us?

Indeed, as the Loon has stated, the gauntlet has been thrown.

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