British Library Group Develops Cost-Benefit Tool to Analyze Journal Pricing

As libraries rethink so-called Big Deals with publishers and take a hard look at what journals cost, they have to make tough decisions about what’s really worth their money. A new, customizable tool developed by the Research Libraries UK group seeks to help libraries make the best cost-benefit analysis they can based on usage statistics and pricing information. The group has taken a public stand against the high cost of some Big Deals.

The new tool “allows members to carefully analyze the value-for-money of publisher packages and to determine whether there would be cost savings to be made from moving back to title-by-title purchasing,” the library group said in an announcement. “The model allows each member to combine pricing information with the usage their community makes of the relevant journals. The library can then alter the combination of title-by-title subscriptions and document delivery options and compare the costs of these combinations to the cost of the Big Deals.”

David C. Prosser, the group’s executive director, described the subscription-analysis tool as a souped-up Excel spreadsheet that allows individual libraries to enter their own data sets. They can tailor the analysis to take into account such factors as how much money they want to save and whether they want to retain specific journals that may be little used but important to their patrons.

Combining the data in different ways “begins to give the libraries some idea of what they might do if the figures show it might be cost effective to move away from a Big Deal,” Mr. Prosser said. In some cases, the analysis may show that a Big Deal is still the best deal, he added. But Mr. Prosser thinks the tool has potential beyond helping libraries save money. It could give them a way to manage their collections better.

The library group also wants to see if it can detect broader trends among research libraries. It has asked all of its members to run an analysis of deals with a handful of publishers—Mr. Prosser wouldn’t say which ones—and then share the results centrally. “We’re going to going to try and see if we can reach any conclusions about patterns,” Mr. Prosser said. “We are going to try to tease out some conclusions about what’s happening nationally by bringing together all of the results for a small number of publishers.”

The tool was developed at Imperial College London and road-tested by librarians at the universities of Cambridge, Liverpool, and Manchester, according to Mr. Prosser. The eventual goal is to share it with nonmember libraries as well.

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