Earlier this spring we announced that we were going to begin a new collaborative project on the impact of Big Deal cancellations on users, including their strategies for accessing content, and their perceptions of the library’s role in providing access. While at the time Ithaka S+R was only just beginning to anticipate the conditions universities and their libraries are facing now, it is already clear that the research is more important than ever. Ithaka S+R is excited to share that the project launches today in partnership with 11 research libraries.

The pandemic is intensifying budgetary challenges that were already leading many academic libraries to consider subscription cancellations, including Big Deal packages. Due to this challenging financial context it is increasingly unlikely that these packages will be replaced with alternative agreements, such as Transformative Agreements, that ensure continuing access to the full suite of titles previously available. This trend will lead to gaps in coverage for patrons and increase reliance on alternative access channels including interlibrary loan, preprints, and peer networks. In this rapidly shifting resource landscape, it is imperative for academic libraries to understand researchers’ evolving strategies for discovering and accessing scholarly resources and how these shifts are affecting their perceptions of the library.

Our project is not only timely but also takes a novel approach. Previous research has focused primarily on how a Big Deal cancellation might affect one institution or system, and typically this analysis is conducted for the purposes of identifying which journals a library can cut. But our research seeks to understand the long-term effects of cancellation on researchers. Half the members of our diverse cohort have cancelled one or more Big Deals in the past three years and will be examining the impact on researchers at their institutions. The remaining half will be exploring the potential effects on their researchers should they cancel one of their existing Big Deals. Ithaka S+R has designed a collections assessment exercise to ensure that each institution creates an effective sampling strategy to target researchers to interview about their evolving practices and perceptions holistically. Ithaka S+R will then analyze the data collected across the cohort and publish a report of the findings.

From the outset, our project was designed to ensure that it could be effectively undertaken during this time of unprecedented disruption. As the project launches today, Ithaka S+R will be holding a virtual workshop with all project participants to provide methodological training. The interviews with faculty that the cohort will undertake are designed to be done either in person or remotely, depending on local circumstances. The affordances of remote technologies are also providing a unique opportunity to bring our partners together across time zones and continents. Throughout the project the cohort will come together virtually at key junctures to consider the implications of what we are exploring, both for the collecting strategies of individual institutions and for the field more widely. 

As the pandemic has caused incredible disruption to teaching and research, remote access to scholarly resources has been essential to maintaining some semblance of continuity to academic activity. As many institutions contemplate difficult decisions about how and to what extent they can ensure access to scholarly resources going forward, our project will contribute to understanding the effects these decisions will have in the longer term. 

Canceling the Big Deal Project Partners

Florida State University
Freie Universität Berlin
Ohio University
Oklahoma University
Pennsylvania State University
University at Buffalo (SUNY)
University of Denver
University of Kansas
University of Pittsburgh
University of Wyoming
Wesleyan University