UC Libraries Battle for Open Access to Academic Research


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The University of California libraries are currently in negotiations to maintain low-cost access to academic publications, according to the University of California’s Office of Scholarly Communications. In the midst of rising costs related to publishing academic work, the UC libraries are working to renew their contract with many scholarly journal publishers in accordance with the UC system’s mission to maintain open access for all.

One of the scholarly publishers currently involved in negotiations is Elsevier, one of the world’s largest and most expensive publishers for academic work. Elsevier currently accounts for 17 percent of the world’s scholarly articles, with the UC spending $10 million from its budget for journals on its Elsevier contract alone. The UC system’s previous contract with Elsevier promised low-cost access for UC authors, an agreement considered widely successful given that in 2016, Harvard University announced it could no longer afford Elsevier’s costs.

The UC system, which publishes 10 percent of the nation’s academic research, submitted a proposal calling for Elsevier to cover both subscription charges and publishing fees for UC authors, as well as a more stabilized price structure to combat dramatically rising costs every year. Its success would also mean that the public would have “free, immediate access” to UC research works.

The proposal was submitted for negotiations in October 2018, and both parties have until January 31 to come to an agreement. If no agreement is reached by the deadline, academic works published afterwards, along with a number of historical works, will no longer be available for UC affiliates through Elsevier’s resources. Elsevier may also terminate access to articles published on or after January 1, 2019 and delay access to those articles for UC researchers.

According to a public statement from the UC Presidential Open Access Policy, “The University of California is committed to disseminating its research and scholarship as widely as possible [and] recognizes the benefits that accrue to its authors as individual scholars and to the scholarly enterprise from such wide dissemination, including greater recognition, more thorough review, consideration, and critique, and a general increase in scientific, scholarly, and critical knowledge.”

The UC system currently facilitates 100 libraries among its 10 campuses and serves a UC student and faculty population of 330,000. Because the possibility of a failed negotiation would potentially impact thousands of UC affiliates, the UC San Diego Library has recommended alternative options to publish and access scholarly work through platforms such as UC-eLinks, Open Access Button, Unpaywall, and PubMed Central. The UC Office of Scholarly Communications also emphasizes that in the event of failed negotiations, “UC libraries will provide other ways of accessing articles at no cost to UC readers.” In addition, no matter what the outcome of the negotiations are, “UC scholars will still be able to use ScienceDirect to access most articles published prior to January 1, 2019,” according to the Office.

The UCSD Library will host a town hall meeting on February 6 for those interested in staying up to date with the negotiations.

Anabel King is the Assistant Managing Editor for The Triton. You can follow her at @anabelkingg.