James Galbraith, Head of Collection Development, and Stephanie Hess, Electronic Resources Librarian, Binghamton University discussed their experiences with the Big Deal. Binghamton is one of the 4 State University of New York (SUNY) universities. It is still primarily and undergraduate institution. Binghamton participates in 4 large Big Deals which cost $2.355M, and account for 32% of their collection budget. The serials crisis of the early 1990s led to rising serial costs and declining library budgets and resulted in a vicious cycle, which was compounded by a shift of print to electronic. (Data from many institutions on Big Deals are available in SPARC’s Big Deal Database and Big Deal Cancellation Tracker.)
The Big Deal occurs when publishers bundle their journals into a single package at a significant discount over the prices of the individual journals. There are advantages to this arrangement for both vendors and libraries; vendors receive steady revenues higher than they would have received for individual subscriptions and customer billing is simplified, Libraries gain access to journals formerly unaffordable and short-term predictability of pricing. Scholarly publishing by their faculty is supported, and staff workflow is streamlined. In practice, however, costs still increased, and library budgets could not cope. Here are the lessons to be learned:
- Recognize that some Big Deal models are not working.
- Determine the “Right Size” Deal for your library
- Acknowledge that just because you can afford it, it may not be necessary to buy it.
- Be aware of your information needs and continue to assess the value of the Big Deal in the light of budgetary and financial considerations.
Last year, Binghamton had a $450K budget cut, and its membership in the Center for Academic Libraries was targeted. A reallocation project including ongoing tracking of budget, curriculum, research interests (faculty and student), departmental revenue (based on enrollment) was undertaken. In a deeper analysis of collections to analyze how many periodicals make up 70% of usage, journals not of interest to many users on campus so the Big Deal may not be appropriate for them.
When approaching negotiations, acknowledge that you have limited control, establish baseline rules, understand if content will meet your users’ needs. Walking away can be complex and challenging. Recognize solidarity: what is good for Binghamton but also for the SUNY system. Aim for transparency with stakeholders and let faculty know what is going on. Recognize that Big Deals will always be with us; analyze pressure points and be willing to walk away if necessary.