ECU Libraries negotiate new agreement with Elsevier

The East Carolina University Libraries recently completed contract negotiations with Elsevier, the largest publisher of scholarly journals in the world, for a customized journal package that includes the titles most critical for ECU faculty and students. For more than a decade, the ECU Libraries licensed Elsevier’s “Big Deal” Freedom Collection, but the cost of that collection was unsustainable in light of budget cuts and price increases. ECU’s five-year agreement for the Freedom Collection was scheduled to end on December 31, 2021, but in July, the ECU Libraries exercised the early termination clause in the agreement to end it a year early.

Negotiations then began with Elsevier for a new agreement. Simultaneously, library staff collected and analyzed information to determine the new title list. A faculty survey provided valuable information about the titles most important for teaching and research. The new UnSub service helped the Libraries predict costs and fulfillment in various cancellation scenarios. This analysis incorporated usage and cost per use data as well as articles published and cited by ECU authors. Since the Libraries will continue ClinicalKey and ClinicalKey Nursing licenses, the list was modified to remove journal titles they provide. The Libraries then developed a ranked list of priority journals, obtained price information from Elsevier and finalized the list.

In addition to determining a new subscription list that fit its budget, the ECU Libraries prioritized negotiating changes to Elsevier’s proffered agreement to align it with their values for sustainable scholarship. These included removing Elsevier’s standard confidentiality clause, adding accessibility language and privacy protections for users, clarifying post-termination access, and reducing Elsevier’s proposed annual price increases. Elsevier agreed to all the requested changes. The four-year agreement can be terminated early if sufficient funds are not allocated to enable ECU, in the exercise of its reasonable administrative discretion, to continue the agreement.

The new agreement reduces the ECU Libraries’ spend for Elsevier Freedom Collection journals by 75 percent. The savings will first and foremost allow the ECU Libraries to balance their existing state budget. They will also be used to further our commitment to sustainable scholarship by redirecting funds to information vendors that emphasize open access, transparency in pricing, and financially viable business models and by investing in systems that foster open scholarship and information sharing. These efforts will allow the Libraries to build a more tailored collection from diverse vendors that better meets the needs of the university and aligns with its mission. The new title list is available on the ECU Libraries website at The ECU Libraries will also continue to provide access to the nearly 600 open access titles published by Elsevier.

Researchers will continue to have access to Elsevier journal content through existing library subscriptions and purchased backfiles, open access journals and repositories. For access to non-subscribed content, the ECU libraries encourage them to take advantage of our robust interlibrary loan services or to search for legal open access copies using tools like Unpaywall or the Open Access Button. Library staff will monitor use and demand and make adjustments as needed.

Janice S. Lewis, director of Academic Library Services, said, “While this change was driven by the immediate budget shortfall facing the ECU Libraries caused in part by the COVID-19 pandemic, I believe that it is a necessary first step in aligning library subscriptions and commitments with our existing budget and with university and UNC System values and mission. The support of the ECU Academic Council, the Deans Councils, the Faculty Senate and the University Libraries Committee has been invaluable throughout this process. We also appreciate the counsel and resources provided by colleagues in the Carolina Consortium, the Association of Southeastern Research Libraries and the Scholarly Publishing and Academic Resources Coalition. We will share our new license agreement with these organizations to ‘pay it forward’ and assist in our colleagues’ future negotiations with Elsevier.”

Beth Ketterman, director of Laupus Library, said, “The project management and negotiations around this change to our Elsevier deal are both great examples of how our libraries work well together. Library leadership and key decision-makers were able to come to the table with the shared goal of reducing expenses while prioritizing critical information investments for our ECU community of scholars. This process also helped us develop and communicate our vision for what sustainable scholarship is for the university which will be critical for us as the publishing landscape continues to evolve in the years to come.”