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Wednesday, April 17, 2024

UC’s demand for open access to academic publications stalls renewed contract with Elsevier

UC, Elsevier in deliberation over policies which would make scholarly journal articles available to general public free of charge

The UC and the online journal publisher Elsevier are struggling to reach a consensual agreement in the process of renewing the UC’s contract with the company.

Currently, the UC is on a subscription-based policy with the publishing company and pays roughly $11 million a year to allow all of the UC campuses access to content published by Elsevier.

The UC is pushing for a shift in policy to favor open access content. Under open access, once Elsevier publishes an article written by a UC-affiliated researcher, any reader — within the university or not — would have the ability to read it, free of charge. As it stands now, open access for UC-published articles can only be acquired through a supplemental fee.

“Our objectives are twofold — to reduce the price paid by UC, and to ensure that by default all research published by UC authors would be immediately and completely available, in its final published form, to everyone in the world,” explained Ivy Anderson, the associate executive director of the UC’s California Digital Library and co-chair of the UC’s Publisher Negotiation Task Force, via email.

The UC and Elsevier’s five-year contract expired on Dec. 31, and an agreement wasn’t reached by the end of the year. The deadline for contract negotiations, however, has been extended until Jan. 31. This deadline extension was announced Dec. 21, just 10 days before the expiration.

Dennis Ventry Jr., a UC Davis law professor and vice chair of the Academic Senate University Committee on Library and Scholarly Communication, said in addition to the estimated $11 million yearly subscription fees, there are additional fees required to ensure that articles are made available without a paywall.

“If you want your article made available by open access — that it’ll be available for everyone to see and not behind a paywall — […] then the researcher has to pay Elsevier again in the form of something called APCs or Article Processing Charges,” Ventry Jr. said. “Those charges can run from $2-5,000 and the UC author has to come up with that money.”

Elsevier, a major distributor of content ranging from science, medicine and humanities, has been in partnership with the UC for 20 years, according to Anderson. Negotiations began in July with face-to-face meetings with Elsevier’s negotiations team.

Tom Reller, the vice president of global communications and head of global media relations at Elsevier, referred The California Aggie to a joint statement from Elsevier and the UC posted via his Twitter account when reached for comment.

“The University of California and Elsevier are continuing discussions in January in a good-faith effort to conclude negotiations by January 31,” the statement reads. “As part of both parties’ good-faith efforts, in January UC and Elsevier have agreed that access will be extended to the University of California during this time, to allow one more month to conclude discussions.”

Students and faculty covered under the previous five-year contract are assured they will still have access to Elsevier’s journals during the extension.

“During that time, UC scholars will see no change to their access to Elsevier journal article,” Jeff MacKie-Mason, a UC Berkeley librarian and co-chair of the UC’s Publisher Negotiation Task Force, said. “What happens after January 31 depends on the progress of the negotiations. With that said, no matter what happens moving forward, UC scholars will still be able to use Elsevier’s ScienceDirect platform to access most articles with a publication date prior to January 1, 2019, because UC has permanent access rights to them.”

The first push for open access policies came with the UC Systemwide Academic Senate Open Access Policy adopted on April 24, 2013. In 2015, the UC Presidential Open Access policy was issued which was subsequently followed by two committees: the University Committee on Library and Scholarly Communication and the Systemwide Library and Scholarly Information Committee.

Both committees called “for the UC to include open access goals in its agreements with publishers,” Anderson said.

According to MacKenzie Smith, the UC Davis librarian and vice provost of digital scholarship, the UC’s aims for UC authors’ research to be made available to anyone upon publication would extend to undergraduate, graduate and faculty authors.

“We are a public institution, we get paid by the public,” Ventry said. “Taxes pay our salary and [are] funding our research, but that research is not freely available to the public that actually pays our salary. And we view that as a problem.”

Smith said the UC’s negotiations with Elsevier would lead to similar negotiations with other publishers to successfully shift from a subscription-based system to a default open access system.

Written by: Elizabeth Mercado — campus@theaggie.org

Editor’s note: A previous version of this article stated that open access policy was issued by two committees: the University Committee on Library and Scholarly Communication and the University Committee on Library and Scholarly Communication. That is incorrect. The policy was issued by the University Committee on Library and Scholarly Communication and the Systemwide Library and Scholarly Information Committee. The Aggie regrets the error.


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