This post was updated July 14 at 4:21 p.m.
The University of California lost access to the world’s largest scientific publisher Wednesday.
Elsevier, which provides access to over 2,500 journals, had been negotiating with the UC’s California Digital Library since early this year to provide UC students and researchers with access to its content.
While the contract between the UC and Elsevier ended Dec. 31, Elsevier continued to provide access to all UC campuses while it worked to form an agreement. As both organizations have been unable to find a solution, and the CDL hasn’t renewed its contract, Elsevier implemented CDL’s cancellation request, effective Wednesday.
Gemma Hersh, the senior vice president of global research solutions at Elsevier, said in an email statement that the cancellation will end a decades-long partnership between the company and the UC.
“It saddens us, because we believe it will have a negative impact on the UC’s renowned research community and because lack of our services will prevent UC students, faculty, researchers and medical professionals benefiting from reliable, real-time access to peer-reviewed, published research,” Hersh said.
The UC did not agree with Elsevier’s contract proposal, which would have placed new charges on top of the University’s current multimillion-dollar subscription while diminishing the UC’s rights to Elsevier content, according to an open statement published by the UC’s Office of Scholarly Communication on March 20.
“The University of California has taken a firm stand on both open access to publicly funded research and fiscal responsibility by deciding not to renew its journal subscriptions with Elsevier,” the UC-Elsevier negotiating team said in the statement.
University of California users of Elsevier downloaded around 11 million articles in 2018, which is approximately 30% of all downloads of all publishers, according to an email statement from Elsevier.
Ivy Anderson, director of collection development and management at CDL and co-chair of the UC’s negotiations team, said in an email statement that the UC hopes to enable all of its authors to publish their work as open access, in line with the University’s mission as a public institution.
“Elsevier, as one of the world’s largest academic publishers, was the first major publisher with which we sought to craft an innovative open access agreement,” Anderson said.
“Elsevier is also the most expensive publisher for UC, and we believe strongly that a transition to open access should not increase our costs; it is simply a change of business model for the same publishing service,” she added.
Anderson said Elsevier was unwilling to accept the UC’s proposal to transition all of its articles to open access without a large increase in cost, leading the UC to discontinue its agreement with the publisher.
Hersh said Elsevier had worked with CDL and extended access over the past six months in the hope that the two parties would reach a mutually beneficial compromise.
“We find it hard to believe this was about ‘open access,’” Hersh said. “Elsevier is already one of the world’s leading open access publishers and offered to support a five-fold increase in the number of UC open access articles published in its journals.”
The UC will continue to have access through Elsevier’s online platform to most articles that were published through the end of 2018 under the terms of previous contracts, Anderson said.
“There is a subset of journals, amounting to about 5% of previous usage, for which we will lose both historical as well as current access,” she said. “The Libraries have put a variety of mechanisms in place to help students, faculty and other UC researchers obtain any articles they need.”
She added that based on the experiences of other academic institutions that have taken similar actions, the UC believes the measures it has put in place will be sufficient to meet user demand for journals.
The UC is currently negotiating similar agreements with other publishers, Anderson said. She added CDL recently signed a transformative open access agreement with Cambridge University Press, which is the same type of agreement the UC was seeking with Elsevier.
“We’re quite excited about this new partnership with Cambridge, which will allow any UC corresponding author to publish their Cambridge articles with open access,” Anderson said. “We’re in similar discussions with a number of other publishers and hope to be able to announce additional agreements before the end of the calendar year.”
Mohammad Kachuee, a doctoral student in computer science, said he thinks the number of high-quality papers Elsevier has in computer science is very low and added he thinks the UC’s loss of access to Elsevier papers will have a minimal impact on his own research.
“I mean Elsevier is not, you know, (an) important source for our major,” Kachuee said. “I search for an Elsevier paper, open it up and mostly it’s not good. There are good papers, but it’s very rare.”
Kachuee said he thinks other publishers, such as The Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers and the Association for Computing Machinery, provide better services than Elsevier.
“The editorial service (Elsevier) offers, like reviewing papers (and) editing papers, is nothing compared to the IEEE or ACM (or) other publishers because Elsevier is mostly concerned about making money,” he said. “It’s not like, you know, some society contributing towards science. … Elsevier is just a publisher trying to sell more.”
Hersh said Elsevier still hopes to resume negotiations with CDL.
“We believe we can find a pragmatic way forward if there is will and engagement from both sides,” Hersh said.
Anderson said the UC is ready to reopen negotiations when it sees more progress toward its goals. She added the UC hopes Elsevier will recognize the opportunities of open access.
“Open access offers great promise to democratize access to knowledge, speed scientific advances, and accelerate innovation, for the benefit of California’s citizens and the world at large,” Anderson said. “UC is at the forefront of these developments – it’s an exciting time to be working in this arena.”