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Calgary Universities facing crisis in academic journal collections

With a weak Canadian dollar research libraries in Calgary and across Canada are making tough choices

With every cent lost from the Canadian dollar, the University of Calgary loses $100,000 in academic journal purchasing power.

Jennifer Friesen/ for Metro

With every cent lost from the Canadian dollar, the University of Calgary loses $100,000 in academic journal purchasing power.

A low Canadian dollar and vicious licensing fees are putting Calgary universities in a tough spot when it comes to their academic journal purchasing power.

According to Tom Hickerson, vice-provost of libraries and cultural resources, about 80 per cent of the University of Calgary's annual library budget is spent in US dollars. He said the school has lost about 22 per cent of their purchasing capacity. So, every time the dollar shifts by a penny, $100,000 dollars in academic journal funds is lost.

Further, academic journal subscriptions have been explained much like cable subscriptions. Schools have to buy into packages, but may only get a few in the bundle they're interested in. The bulk of the cost comes from licensing fees alone.

"This has been a terrible situation for research libraries for a long time, but now we have the Canadian dollar losing its value," said Hickerson. "I look every morning, it's like looking into the face of doom."

Hickerson pointed out that the U of C isn't alone. Most universities are having trouble with the academic subscriptions, which have been going up in price about six per cent annually.  

Over at Mount Royal University the situation is no different. In a written statement, University Librarian Carol Shepstone said they've been carefully monitoring the declining Canadian dollar and its impact on their subscription costs.

"The University has provided direct funding to the library to help mitigate this significant decrease in purchasing power and to-date the library has been able to avoid large-scale cancellations and loss of important information resources," wrote Shepstone. "The falling Canadian dollar, however, has only accentuated a precarious scholarly publishing system that sees average annual subscription cost increases of 6 per cent for costly "big deal" packages of journals which do not allow for selective title-by-title subscriptions. Reconsideration of the "big deal," as well as alternative publishing models such as open access initiatives may provide some relief to the current challenging environment."

Currently the University of Calgary is examining their packages and eliminating those with the lowest use. Hickerson said they've set a goal to cut back $662,000. He estimates in next year's budget the university will have already lost over $1 million in purchasing power.  

"We really need to make some hard choices," Hickerson said.

Student Union vice president academic Stephan Guscott said it's not as bad as it was in 1997, when a student referendum led to the implementation of a $10 library fee to help subsidize the purchase of journal packages. This fee is now at around $7.50 a year.

"Because it is a bit more of a challenging economic environment, it seems like the university is trying to find ways to stretch the dollars a bit more and find some efficiencies," Guscott said. "In an environment where there is less collections available it can be a bit more difficult if a student is looking for something really specific…but when there are more collections available it doesn't necessarily have to be the most current collection."

Guscott said the library is doing it's best to get resources to students.

In the past the University of Calgary has stepped in with extra dollars for the library, something Hickerson believes may happen again.

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