Posted by: bluesyemre | April 21, 2020

Costs Outstrip Library Budgets | Periodicals Price Survey 2020


New approaches have emerged, but none offer a solution to serial costs continuing to rise higher than library budgets…

“Follow the money,” a catchphrase used in politics and investigative journalism, suggests that understanding the way campaign cash flows sheds light on the way the political winds blow. Applied to the periodicals market, following the money reveals trends in the publishing industry, higher education, and library collection development.

Higher education continues to grapple with an uncertain future of flat or declining student enrollment and mounting financial pressures. Library budgets are for the most part flat or diminishing leaving libraries to yet again battle the terrible twins of cost inflation and revenue stagnation. Many libraries are cutting continuing expenditures by cancelling or breaking up journal packages and buying only those titles for which use or demand justifies the price. Others are aggressively renegotiating contracts with publishers to reduce ongoing costs.

Still others are turning to Open Access (OA) to freely distribute research outputs to all. But while it shifts the cost from readers’ institutions to researchers’, OA is not free. Of the multiple OA models that have taken root, none offer a solution for content costs that outpace library budget increases.


U.S. economic growth remained stable this year. According to the Bureau of Economic Analysis, the gross domestic product increased at an annual rate of 2.3 percent in 2019 compared to 2.9 percent in 2018. Total state spending grew moderately: The National Association of State Budget Officers reported that total state spending rose by 5.7 percent in FY2019, compared to 3.4 percent in FY2018. Comparably, from January 2019 to January 2020, the Consumer Price Index for All Urban Consumers rose 2.5 percent, suggesting that state budgets have begun to stabilize after years of cuts. Compared with the outlook in 2010, the nation’s projected long-term finances have improved, largely due to significant reductions in prospective health care cost growth and low interest rates.

Despite a stable economy and an improving state budget outlook, higher education continues to grapple with the challenges of increased costs, shaky funding, and declining enrollments. A January 2020 Chronicle of Higher Education (CHE) article states American colleges saw a 2.5 percent increase in costs during 2019 compared to 2.8 percent in 2018. Similarly, a CHE 2019 roundtable report, Beyond Budgets, states that higher education faces several financial challenges as public investment and tuition revenue are on the decline while labor and facility costs continue to rise.

The State Higher Education Executive Officers (SHEEO) annual finance report for 2018 shows that ten years after the start of the Great Recession, state funding for higher education has only partially recovered. Progressive and conservative think tanks agree that state funding for higher education remains volatile year over year, but disagree over the impact of that volatility and over whether state funding for higher education has decreased or remained stable over time. The Center on Budget and Policy Priorities reported in 2019 that deep state cuts in funding for higher education since 2008 have contributed to rapid, significant tuition increases and pushed more of the costs of college to students, making it harder for them to enroll and graduate. Conversely, the Texas Public Policy Foundation reported that, when inflation is considered, higher education spending per student is higher now than it was in 1980. Regardless, SHEEO notes that swings in state funding can highly stress institutional budgets and that net tuition revenue is higher now than at any point since 1980, in part because state funding declines are the biggest cause of tuition increases.

Enrollment is expected to remain flat or decrease through at least 2027, and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports that U.S. births fell to a 32-year low in 2018. National Student Clearinghouse Research Center Current Term Enrollment – Spring 2019 found that overall post-secondary enrollments decreased 1.7 percent from the previous spring. The National Center for Education Statistics (NCES) Integrated Postsecondary Education Data System updates on 2019 enrollment show that about 19.9 million students will attend colleges and universities in fall 2019, about 5 percent lower than the peak of 21 million in fall 2010.

Both Simba Information and NCES sources indicate that degree-granting higher education institutions are continuing to decline in number, either through closure or consolidation. The number of Title IV institutions dropped from 6,642 in 2017/2018 to 6,281 in 2018/2019, with private institutions seeing the greatest drop in numbers, making the financial situation even more dire for higher education.


For the most part, a decade of U.S. economic growth has not trickled down to academic library collection budgets. Although spending on higher education has improved since the Great Recession, many institutions are not funding their libraries to the same extent as in previous years, and many libraries are opting to allocate their moderate budget increases to new services rather than collections.

The 2018 Association of College and Research Libraries (ACRL) Academic Library Trends and Statistics, published in July 2019, reported that library expenditures for collection materials averaged $5.3 million for doctoral degree-granting institutions; $684,000 for comprehensive degree-granting institutions; $498,000 for baccalaureate schools, and $196,000 for associate-degree granting institutions. On average, doctoral degree-granting institutions spent 77.2 percent of their materials budgets on ongoing commitments to subscriptions in 2017; comprehensive schools spent an average of 82.4 percent; baccalaureate schools spent an average of 79.5 percent, and associate degree-granting institutions spent an average of 64.9 percent. On average, academic libraries spent 76 percent of their materials budget on ongoing subscriptions.

The picture is slightly better for public libraries. Library Journal’s 2019 Budgets and Funding survey of U.S. public libraries shows that total operating budgets rose 3.5 percent in 2018, besting 2017’s rise of 2.8 percent and 2016’s rise of 3.4 percent gains. While slightly fewer libraries saw their operating budgets grow, those that did saw a larger increase. Resources budgets grew by 2.4 percent in 2018, a slight decrease compared to 2017’s 2.5 percent.

A Strategic Library 2020 Library Purchasing Survey of libraries of all types reported that almost 60 percent of respondents had a flat budget. The latest Publishers Communication Group (PCG) whitepaper Library Budget Predictions for 2018 reports that overall library budget predictions for growth are modest at a 1 percent increase. Asia Pacific countries continue to provide higher levels of growth (3 percent) compared to large markets in Europe (0.4 percent increase) and North America (0.2 percent decrease). According to PCG, this growth will not aid librarians’ purchasing power—in fact, it will be challenging just to maintain existing holdings. Simba Information’s Global Scientific & Technical Publishing 2019-2023 report notes that while academic library budgets are expected to grow moderately in the future (1.3 to 1.8 percent), mirroring the increase in budgets for higher education, this does not always translate to increases in collections budgets. Simba points to a shift in publishers’ mergers and acquisitions as they invest in related service areas such as analytical tools, workflow solutions, and artificial intelligence, as opposed to acquiring more content by buying smaller publishers.


The price survey, with the exception of Table 3, uses a print-preferred pricing model based on the standard retail price for the titles in the selected indexes. Print pricing is used for consistency because not all publishers make their online-only pricing available or have a standard online-only retail price. The index contains pricing for print plus online and online-only only if those were the only rates offered. Print-only pricing is now 35 percent of the data used in these tables, so, despite difficulties in getting online pricing, more journals are shifting to some form of online for their pricing, reflecting the overall decline in print.

The survey uses a combination of title sets to provide different views of the impact of inflation on libraries. Titles indexed in the Clarivate Analytics Citation Indexes (Arts and Humanities, Science, and Social Science) and titles from SCOPUS provide data that is useful for large academic libraries. The data from these indexes is sorted by discipline as well as by format. Titles indexed in EBSCO’s Academic Search Ultimate database represent the titles most held in general academic and public library collections. Titles from EBSCO’s MasterFILE Complete provide a data set germane to smaller public and school libraries.

Costs Outstrip Library Budgets – Periodicals Price Survey 2020 – Library Journal

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