Yale University's science and medicine libraries have decided to discontinue their membership to BioMed Central (BMC), an open access publishing company, citing skyrocketing membership costs in a public statement
issued last Friday (Aug 3).
The Cushing/Whitney Medical and Kline Science Libraries at Yale have been members of BMC since 2003. The libraries have covered the costs of membership on behalf of the university and its researchers but can no longer absorb membership fees that have grown in excess of $30,000 over the past year, Kenny Marone, director of the medical library, told The Scientist
"The library paying for faculty publishing has not been supported by the institution, we haven't been given additional money for this," Marone said. "If we have to make cuts this becomes one of the first things we cut." Marone added that while the libraries supported open access publishing, some of the costs should be absorbed by the individual researchers, research funders or the readers who benefit from the published articles.
The costs of open access publishing in BMC are comparable to traditional subscriptions, Matthew Cockerill, publisher of BMC (a sister company of The Scientist
) told The Scientist
. But, he added, as opposed to fixed rates for subscription journals, open access publishing costs continue to rise as more authors submit their articles for publication, demanding more resources for peer review, layout, processing, and internet servers. BMC offers three different membership options: the prepay membership, which is the most expensive, covering all publishing costs of the institution's researchers in one lump sum; a quarterly pay membership paid by the institution after articles are published; and the supporters membership, a flat fee paid by the institutions that lets authors pay for publishing at a 15% discount.
Under Yale's prepay membership to BMC, the institution had to pay a fee to completely cover publication costs for each article submitted by their researchers. Marone said it wasn't in the library's budget to downgrade Yale's membership. The university still has a membership to Public Library of Science
-- another open access publisher -- under a fixed fee scheme.
"We [paid for membership] initially because we did have the funds, we thought it was a good cause, and we wanted to support the content," Marone said. But with other scholarly journals increasing their publishing fees by 1000% in some cases, and a 45% increase in their bill for the electronic journal database EBSCO, the membership became unsustainable, she added. According to the most recent report available from the Association of Research Libraries
, Yale spent more than $2 million in serial subscriptions in 2004-2005.
"The impact factor for some of the journals in BMC is not as high as for Nature
or The New England Journal of Medicine
, and of course that always figures into decisions," Marone said. She added there is no quantitative method that the libraries use to determine what's worth keeping in the budget. The New England Journal of Medicine
has an impact factor of 51.296, whereas BMC's journal Genome Biology
carries the publisher's highest ranking impact factor of 7.172, according to ISI's Journal Citation Reports.
Yale is one of 16 institutions whose BMC memberships have not been renewed thus far in 2007, leaving 107 member institutions in the US, and 209 international members. The University of North Texas Health Science Center, which held a flat fee membership, did not renew it as of July 31. "The 15% discount did not make it financially worthwhile," Craig Elam, senior director for technical services at the University of North Texas Health Science Center, told The Scientist
. "We like the idea of open access and I'd like to be able to support local faculty but the institution wasn't giving us the funds to do that. We had a flat budget."
John Schumacher, electronic resources manager at the State University of New York, told The Scientist
that they ended their BMC membership in April of this year due to rising costs that he assumed BMC was putting towards publishing costs. Deciding if the membership was worth keeping was "evaluated by impact factor, in general," he said.
Two other university libraries that have recently dropped their BMC memberships did not respond for comment.
"The fact that Yale dropped its membership does mean that other institutions might do so as well," Peter Suber
, director of the Open Access Project
at Public Knowledge, a public-interest advocacy group, told The Scientist
in an Email. Even so, "institutional memberships make good sense for both open access publishers and universities," he added, "and I believe that BMC will continue to revise its terms to keep the program attractive to universities."
Ann Wolpert, director of libraries at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology told The Scientist
that Yale's decision will not affect their membership to BMC. The institution's libraries have a flat-fee membership plan. "I don't think Yale faculty has taken advantage of BioMed Central to the extent that MIT faculty has," Wolpert said. "It is used very heavily [here], and our researchers are heavily cited."
The bioscience library at the University of California, Berkeley, will also not be changing its BMC membership status, Beth Weil, director of the bioscience library, told The Scientist
. Berkeley libraries pay a flat fee for BMC membership and encourage research funders to pick up the publication costs, while keeping a close eye on citation rates in all of their journals. "Most of the high impact, society journals do have charges, and they can be substantially more than BioMed Central," Weil said. Dropping their membership was "a decision that Yale made, and that's fine, but I don't think it's one of those things that's going to ricochet around the library world."
Three other prominent research university libraries did not respond or were not available to comment.
Yale's decision is part of the growing pains associated with the transition from the traditional publishing funding model to an open access funding model, said Cockerill. "That transition is made difficult by the fact that library budgets are already tied, subscriptions have a lock in." Libraries have to maintain access to their subscription journals and therefore struggle to support alternative models, he added. The open access mandates issued by large research funders like the Wellcome Trust and Howard Hughes Medical Institute, in addition to pending legislation
requiring all research funded by NIH to be made publicly accessible, may shift the burden of publishing costs from the researcher to the funding institution, Cockerill added.
How much use do you make of BMC or other open access journals? Tell us in a comment on this article.
Editor's note (posted August 10): When originally posted, the article contained a typo in a quote from Kenny Marone, director of the medical library at Yale. The error has been corrected.
Links within this article:
Yale library statement
Association of Research Libraries
Open Access Project
T. Agres. "'Open Access' opens wider," The Scientist
, July 5, 2007.