Elsevier Journals Contract Change

The Library is currently reevaluating its contract with journal publisher Elsevier. Below you’ll find answers to some questions researchers and students at UI might have regarding this change.


Like the rest of the university, the Library has been affected by recent budget holdbacks. These holdbacks, combined with unsustainably high inflation of our electronic resources costs (which make up approximately half of our total budget and approximately 90% of our collections budget), create a situation that requires us to find ways to reduce expenditures.

Our contract with Elsevier for their ScienceDirect journal package is up for renewal this year. While the journals and the platform are well used by our university community, it is also our most expensive database package by a large margin. Currently, approximately one-third of our entire annual collections budget goes to maintaining this package and the cost is rising quickly due to annual inflation.

Right now our only viable option appears to be opting out of our current “big deal” package (see below) in favor of subscribing to a subset of individual Elsevier journal titles. This means that we will lose access to many Elsevier journals, but not all.

Until the contract with Elsevier is renegotiated, we do not know which journal subscriptions will continue. Every effort will be made to retain high-use and important journals across a range of disciplines. We will communicate the outcomes of the negotiation with the campus community as soon as possible and we will be open and responsive to the feedback we receive.

Currently, the library’s Elsevier subscription takes the form of a “big deal” package. Unlike “a la carte” subscriptions, which allow libraries to pick and choose individual titles, a big deal subscription consists of a bundled assortment of journal titles. While a big deal package allows access to a greater number of titles overall, it means the library has less control over which individual titles are included in the package. Some titles in the package may be heavily used and valued by researchers while others receive low to no use. In a big deal package, the library cannot cancel individual low-use titles without also affecting access to the high-use titles, so we continue to be charged for everything in the package.

For the library to have complete control over choosing our Elsevier journal title subscriptions, we need to dismantle the big deal. The result will likely be that prices for each individual journal title that the library selects will increase. However, the library will no longer be forced to pay the ever-increasing big deal price for titles that are infrequently used. This will allow the library to tailor our subscription choices to meet the needs of the University of Idaho Library community while staying within our budget.

There are many resources to fill the gaps if the Library can no longer provide access to a particular journal. The first step for many will be interlibrary loan (ILL). While ILL will not provide the immediate access that a subscription will, our turnaround times are fast. Outside of traditional library modes of delivery, Google Scholar will sometimes find copies of papers that are available via institutional repositories, open access directories, and other websites. While these resources will sometimes be pre-publication versions of the article, they can bridge the gap until a final version of the paper can be obtained.

  • Unpaywall is a browser extension that will search more than 50,000 open access resources for articles that you find online.
  • The Directory of Open Access Journals is another good resource for finding both articles and publication venues.
  • ScienceOpen features over 58 million article records.
  • Open Research Central is a portal for open research publishing.
  • CORE aggregates outputs from repositories and journals worldwide.

Your liaison librarian is here to help you find the research you need. Feel free to contact us.

Institutions throughout the United States and the world are facing unsustainable big deal contracts. Although these issues recently garnered national attention when the University of California system cancelled their Elsevier contract, they are not new.

Since 2008, at least 33 colleges and universities in the United States, as well as institutions in Germany, France, and Sweden, have reduced or cancelled their big deal packages with a number of publishers.

So far, at least nine land-grant universities have taken similar steps: Kansas State University, Louisiana State University, Mississippi State University, New Mexico State University, University of California System, University of Maryland, University of Massachusetts Amherst, University of Missouri, and West Virginia University. By reducing or cancelling their big deals, all institutions, including these nine land-grant universities, have gained greater control and flexibility over their collections budgets, making them better equipped to meet the unique needs of their communities.

The Library has been championing Open Access in a variety of ways for several years.

  • Our Open Access Publishing Fund, currently in its second year, helps University of Idaho scholars pay article processing charges for open access journals.
  • Our Think Open Fellowship Program supports the use of open textbooks in the classroom, which has led to more than $200,000 in savings for students over its three years.
  • The Library’s Digital Initiatives program also provides open access to a wide variety of university research outputs, from extension bulletins to forestry research articles.

If you’d like to take steps toward making your research openly available, we are happy to help you deposit your materials in our institutional repository or work with you to find an open access repository that fits your discipline. Please contact your library liaison or our digital initiatives librarian, Olivia Wikle (omwikle@uidaho.edu), for assistance.


Questions? Comments?

We take our responsibility to provide our campus with access to scholarly materials very seriously and we realize that these journal cuts will cause difficulties for many people. We welcome your comments, thoughts, and questions. Please feel free to contact Ben Hunter, Dean of University Libraries, at bhunter@uidaho.edu, or the liaison librarian assigned to your discipline.