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Case study

Partnering for an open future: Sharing successes and lessons learned

Library leaders describe how their institutions have benefited from transformative agreements and reflect on their experiences

There is a steady rise in the number and scope of transformative agreements between institutions/consortia and scholarly publishers. And while these agreements may vary in form, they all share a common vision — to progress the transition to open access (OA) publishing.

In this series of three case studies, we highlight the stories of three library leaders who have partnered with Elsevier to develop agreements that support their institutions’ strategic goals. Together, they provide a unique insight into the agreement process.

In this final installment, our interviewees talk about their experiences since rolling out the agreements — the rewards they’ve reaped along with the issues they’ve faced, and how they have worked with publishers to resolve them.

Evaluating the benefits

While interest in transformative agreements is growing globally, for some institutions and consortia, they remain a relatively new concept. But with a combined 35+ transformative agreements under their belts, the organizations participating in these case studies have witnessed firsthand the value they can bring.

Increasing the volume of open access publishing

When the Council of Australian University Librarians (CAUL)S’ouvre dans une nouvelle fenêtre decided to pursue transformative agreements back in 2018, they did so with a clear goal in mind. As Bob GerrityS’ouvre dans une nouvelle fenêtre, former Program Director of CAUL’s Procurement Program, explains: “It was really about wanting to leverage our large collective spend on journal subscription agreements to support an accelerated transition to open access.” At that time, CAUL members were primarily focused on green open access, in which authors share an earlier version of their article online in a publicly accessible location, such as an institutional repository or funder website. But Bob and his colleagues realized that unless they changed course, “reaching 100% open access would take us forever.”

With member support, CAUL began to negotiate the inclusion of open access publishing entitlements into its agreements with publishers, with the first deal in place in 2019. Today, the organization has 24 in place, including one with Elsevier.

According to Bob, prior to the deals, the percentage of open access publishing in Australia and New Zealand was below the world average, with more than 50% of publishing still behind a paywall. However, as a result of the agreements, the majority of research publications are now OA. “That’s a real benefit,” he adds.

“Transformative agreements are really moving the dial on open access.”

Bob Gerrity

BG

Bob Gerrity

CAUL

In the US, Carnegie Mellon University (CMU)S’ouvre dans une nouvelle fenêtre signed a transformational agreement with Elsevier — its first with a publisher — in 2019. For Dean of University Libraries Keith WebsterS’ouvre dans une nouvelle fenêtre, the subsequent rise in OA publishing at CMU has only confirmed that “a funded open access system is indeed the way to go.” With the end of the four-year agreement now approaching, discussions are already in motion for a renewal.

Keith adds: “I do worry, however, that if enough institutional leaders decide that they want to use repositories, neither publishers nor universities will make the progress required to rethink the scholarly publishing system.”

A quick guide to the three transformative agreements

  • Carnegie Mellon University: In 2019, the university signed its first transformative agreement with a publisher: a four-year deal with Elsevier. It was also the first deal of its kind between Elsevier and a university in the United States. Today, CMU has agreements in place with an additional five major publishers. Find out more about the Elsevier agreement.

  • Tulane University: The four-year transformative agreement the university signed with Elsevier in 2022 was the first of five they now have in place with publishers. Find out more about the Elsevier agreement.

  • Council of Australian University Librarians (CAUL): CAUL signed a three-year transformative agreement with Elsevier in 2022 — the largest of its kind in the Australasian region — bringing the total number of CAUL’s transformative deals to 24. Find out more about the Elsevier agreement.

Building closer relationships

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Another tangible benefit of the agreements has been the deepening of bonds between stakeholder groups.

For example, since discussions opened with Elsevier, Bob has seen a positive change in interactions between CAUL and the publisher: “We work much more closely with the local sales and support teams. It has always been clear that they are committed to making this work.”

His story echoes the experiences of Dr Andy CorriganS’ouvre dans une nouvelle fenêtre, Associate Dean of Libraries at Tulane UniversityS’ouvre dans une nouvelle fenêtre in the US. In 2019, Andy attended what he anticipated would be his usual meeting with Elsevier representatives to discuss an upcoming multiyear deal. But when he opened up about his budget challenges, the conversation changed direction. “There was this sense that Elsevier was willing to look at things differently, which was not something we had seen before or from other publishers,” he recalls. Those discussions ultimately led to Tulane signing a four-year open access agreement with Elsevier in 2022.

Bob has also noted a positive change in the relationships between CAUL’s member libraries and their stakeholders on campus. He explains: “These agreements have been a great vehicle for them to engage within their own institutions and show the relevance of what libraries are doing.”

In the case of CMU, early discussions around the potential of transformational agreements proved to be a springboard for a more “mature and informed” conversation about open access on campus.

“These deals give libraries a hook for conversations within their research office and with individual researchers. The old discussions about gold versus green versus diamond have been replaced by better, more constructive conversations about achieving full open access.”

Bob Gerrity

BG

Bob Gerrity

CAUL

Partnering to find solutions

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At all three organizations, administering the transformational agreements has now become largely “business as usual.” However, occasionally issues still arise, usually around workflows. When these do crop up, Andy, Bob and Keith each work collaboratively with publishers to resolve them.

Addressing “author tourism”

According to Keith, this surfaces periodically at his university, and typically involves someone who has moved to another institution after completing their PhD or postdoc at CMU. “They submit articles based on the work done at CMU, but under their new institutional affiliation,” he explains. “Luckily, Elsevier has been really good at flagging these and treating them sensibly on a case-by-case basis. Usually they accept our indication.”

Authors selecting the subscription route

In hybrid open access journals, corresponding authors choose between publishing their article under the subscription model or the open access model. Following up with CMU corresponding authors who decline the open access option — even though CMU has an OA agreement in place with the publisher — is another administrative task for Keith’s team. According to Keith, when they ask these researchers why they didn’t choose OA, “90% respond ‘I couldn't figure it out’ or ‘I was too busy’; clearer messaging and simpler workflows at the submission stage would help.”

Bob and his colleagues have faced similar issues at CAUL. “Quite early on, we discovered that the level of OA publishing with Elsevier was lower than expected, and we were unlikely to reach our agreed cap for the first year,” Bob explains. “In particular, we were seeing a high opt-out rate.”

In cases like these, publishers and librarians can work together to understand the reasons behind the lower-than-expected uptake — and find ways to increase it. For instance, CAUL and Elsevier collaborated to provide researchers with additional information about the agreement, streamline librarian and author workflows, and communicate more clearly at key points in the publishing journey. Bob reflects: “In the subscription world, we don’t have this kind of insight into what researchers see because it’s not really relevant — it is all about the access. Now, we do have visibility; we are discovering differences across publishers’ platforms, particularly with the larger publishers who have big portfolios that include society journals. Standardizing platforms would be very helpful.”

This is a point Keith endorses: “Every publisher does things differently. … It’s something I’d like to see change.”

Developing sustainability for open access

Transformative agreements can bring many benefits, from improving global access to research to supporting the sustainable growth of open access.

But achieving equitable cost allocation remains a challenge for some stakeholders. For example, it’s an issue CAUL has been wrestling with for many years: The varying levels of research outputs and reading across its member institutions can make it difficult to assess the proper balance of cost for each institution. As a result, Bob says, this is a major focus for the organization in all its open access agreement discussions:

We have been quite clear with publishers that we want a logical, transparent basis for how we allocate costs in a consortium environment. This basis should cater to a range of institutions, from small teaching-focused universities to really large research-intensive ones. For us, that’s really the transformative part of these agreements.

After signing seven open access agreements, Andy says, Tulane University is looking to secure two more, then “sit back a bit.” He adds: “What we’ve learned is that there are good agreements and a few that aren’t really working that well.”

Ensuring researchers have equitable access to open access publishing is another important aspect of sustainable OA growth. With this in mind, Keith considers different options for funding publishing at CMU. But, he adds:

If you consider the global stage, how do you reflect that in relation to individual national economies? Do you have a single APC tariff as the basis for your calculation? Or do you adjust that by some sort of purchasing power parity to recognize that researchers in South Africa have very reduced funding opportunities compared to researchers at Carnegie Mellon?

Keith was keen to discuss these issues with Elsevier to figure out a solution, even though “this was a situation where both parties had fairly different objectives.” However, although he found the publisher was happy to talk about them during agreement discussions in 2019, he adds: “I don't think either of us had a really good solution.”

In the intervening years, Elsevier has continued to explore options to make open access more equitable. Notable progress in 2023 included the launch of a transformative agreement in South Africa and a geographical pricing pilot to make APCs more affordable for authors in low- and middle-income countries.

Determining measures of success

Because CAUL embarked on transformative agreements with the goal of increasing open access, Bob has always been clear on how deals with publishers should be evaluated. “It’s very blunt — we want to achieve as much OA publishing as possible within our existing expenditure.”

CAUL member institutions can track the volume of their OA publications via online dashboards provided by the organization. These are updated monthly using publisher reports. Bob adds: “We also provide members with a cost-benefit analysis; for example, if your medical faculty had paid their own APCs, here’s what it would have cost your department.”

“The results of our agreements have attracted a lot of recognition from the Office of the Provost.”

Andy Corrigan

AC

Andy Corrigan

Tulane University

Andy said it helped that while he was working toward a four-year open access agreement with Elsevier, he was able to tell Tulane University stakeholders that the agreement would lead to a better return on investment (ROI) for the university since the library would be leveraging its subscription costs while additionally supporting the cost of Tulane authors’ open access article publication fees. So, when it comes to evaluating the success of that agreement, Andy and his colleagues focus on broader figures: “We have been able to show the university that we have a new ROI that is actually making a budget difference overall, and that the multi-year aspect of the deal is helping to keep our annual costs more sustainable.”

Andy recognizes the benefits of making library actions visible to those focusing on the university’s budgets:

They know that we’re offsetting the research cost for the faculty. That’s absolutely the most important thing. In the end, they may still cut our budget, but probably for other reasons. And I think had we not done something like this, there would be less pause in cutting our budget — or maybe we'd be in worse shape.

We hope that you have enjoyed reading the case studies in this series. The experiences of all three library leaders show the power of transformational agreements to advance open access goals, from increasing the volume of open access publications to managing budgets sustainably. Importantly, they demonstrate that if we want to achieve scalable open access solutions, a willingness to engage and work in partnership will be crucial. We would like to extend our sincere thanks to Andy Corrigan, Bob Gerrity and Keith Webster for their generosity in agreeing to be interviewed and for sharing their stories so honestly. 

Learn more

Yet to read the other two case studies in this series?

In our first case study — Preparing for a transformative agreement — library leaders explain how they determined whether an open access agreement was the right fit for their institution.

In our second case study — Securing and implementing a transformative agreement — we take a closer look at how the three organizations prepared for their transformative agreement discussions with Elsevier and other publishers. Our interviewees also touch on how they rolled out the agreements to stakeholders.

Discover the series page Building open access sustainability with transformative agreements — to view all three case studies holistically, explore key takeaways and gain essential insights.

The interviewees

Andy Corrigan

Associate Dean of Libraries at Tulane University, USA 

Andy has been Associate Dean of Libraries at Tulane since 2005, having first joined the university in the summer of 1994. He is also the library’s Chief Collections Officer and directs its collections planning and expenditures. He directed the library’s recovery initiatives after Hurricane Katrina, which included the salvage and replacement of lost or damaged collections. As part of the eventual remediation of the library’s flooded spaces, he was the library’s project manager in the group that oversaw the FEMA-assisted construction of a 5th- and 6th-floor addition atop the Howard-Tilton library building. 

He holds an EdD in Educational Administration from West Virginia University and an MLIS in Library and Information Science from the University of Rhode Island. 

Andy Corrigan

Andy Corrigan

Bob Gerrity 

University Librarian at Monash University, Australia, and former Program Director of the Procurement Program for CAUL (Council of Australian University Librarians)

Bob commenced as University Librarian at Monash University in March 2018, overseeing all aspects of Library service to Monash’s 85,000 students and 17,000 professional and academic staff. Since joining Monash, he has led a program of modernization, bringing the library in line with the University’s global ambitions. Bob was Program Director for the Council of Australian University Librarian’s’ Procurement Program from 2018 to 2023, leading CAUL’s efforts to leverage the consortium’s large collective subscriptions spend to advanced open access, through transformative agreements. Prior to his appointment at Monash, Bob was the University Librarian at the University of Queensland for five years. Earlier in his career, he spent 19 years in technology leadership positions at the Boston Public Library and the Boston College Libraries.

Bob Gerrity

Bob Gerrity

Keith Webster 

Helen and Henry Posner, Jr. Dean of the University Libraries at Carnegie Mellon University, USA

Keith was appointed Dean of University Libraries at Carnegie Mellon University in July 2013 and was additionally appointed as Director of Emerging and Integrative Media Initiatives in July 2015 and Posner Dean’s Chair in 2021. Previously, Keith was Vice President and Director of Academic Relations and Strategy for the publisher Wiley. Keith has held professorships in information science at Victoria University of Wellington and City University, London. He has served on government advisory boards, journal editorial boards, and as an officer in professional and learned societies around the world. Keith’s professional interests include research evaluation, learning space design, and trends in scholarly communication. He is a regular speaker on topics such as the future of research libraries and the impact of open science on publishing and libraries. 

Keith Webster

Keith Webster