A North American framework for creating transformative change in the scholarly publishing industry based on initial insights from the
University of California’s 2018-19 negotiations with Elsevier

Prepared by the UC Publisher Strategy and Negotiation Task Force
May 2019

A printer-friendly version of this toolkit is available as a PDF.

The University of California’s (UC) 2018-19 journal contract negotiation with Elsevier has been widely followed. In response to ongoing demand for information, this negotiation toolkit was created to provide support and insight for institutions, particularly university librarians/directors and faculty in North America, interested in restructuring their publisher contracts for journal content.

UC greatly appreciates the messages of encouragement and congratulations that have poured in from around the world — including, as of May 2019, 17 statements of support representing 41 higher education institutions across the United States and Canada. This support testifies that there is a growing will to utilize publisher negotiations to sustainably reduce expenditures for academic journal subscriptions in the service of transforming journal publishing to open access.

While UC has not yet secured a transformative open access agreement with Elsevier, the university has successfully built a strong internal coalition around taking a principled stance in publisher negotiations and, in April 2019, UC and Cambridge University Press entered into a transformative open access agreement — UC’s first, and Cambridge’s first in the Americas. UC’s negotiations have also started a national conversation about how libraries can restructure their publisher contracts in the service of open access publishing and the central role that faculty must play in these conversations.

Thanks to the efforts of open access pioneers around the world and, in particular, our European colleagues (including Projekt DEAL, the Bibsam Consortium, FinELib, Hungary’s Electronic Information Service National Programme, and more), UC has stood on the shoulders of giants, building upon existing knowledge and expertise to leverage publisher negotiations to effect a transition away from the standard subscription model and towards open access.

With this toolkit, UC hopes to enable others to do the same, following UC President Janet Napolitano’s open access call to action:

I urge my colleagues at universities nationwide and worldwide to join the University of California in advocating for open access to the groundbreaking research taking place on our campuses and in our laboratories every day. Now is the time to take a stand — together — and launch the next information revolution by ensuring that publicly funded research can benefit all humankind.

The time to reinvest subscription funds into open access by radically rethinking and restructuring publisher agreements is now.

How To Use This Toolkit

This toolkit begins with an introductory guide to transformative agreements and UC’s unique multi-payer model, which is the model that UC proposed to Elsevier and that has formed the basis for our discussions with other publishers.

UC’s model was created to allow large research-intensive institutions to sustainably transition from the current business model underpinning journal publication, which is based on reading, to one based on open access publishing. Many of the recommendations in this toolkit are applicable to a variety of negotiation strategies related to restructuring publisher contracts, including off-setting and breaking up big deals.

The toolkit sections that follow mirror the organizational structure that was established to aid planning and activities related to UC’s negotiation with Elsevier. A negotiation task force was formed to guide UC’s negotiations with Elsevier and to manage systemwide committee engagement and stewardship of UC’s shared negotiation goals. UC’s library leadership committee charged the task force and received endorsement from the systemwide Provost’s scholarly communication committee and the Academic Senate library committee.

The task force included university librarians; faculty; associate university librarians for collections; representatives of the California Digital Library (CDL), the UC body responsible for systemwide online journal subscriptions; and communications experts. The task force was chaired by a university librarian and the CDL director for collection development and management, and was empowered to charge activity-based teams as necessary. The teams that reported to the task force were:

  • Negotiation team: Comprised of the task force co-chairs, faculty, and CDL representatives. Refined CDL’s original negotiation proposal and participated in all negotiating sessions, presenting a unified library-faculty front.
  • Communications team: Communications directors from three UC libraries developed and oversaw strategy for communicating with all audiences, including university administration, faculty, students, the media, and the public.
  • Analytics team: Data analysts, collections staff, and a university librarian analyzed Elsevier holdings value and publication output, and developed draft negotiation targets and proposals.
  • Alternative access team: Resource sharing, technology, and public services staff provided recommendations for alternative access strategies and implementation.

It is important to note that context is different at every institution, and while the onramp for pursuing transformative open access agreements is now shorter (institutions can build on the work of UC and those in Europe, and publishers are more familiar with the various models for such agreements), it can take time to engage stakeholders and establish shared objectives.


About the authors

This toolkit was prepared by the following members of the UC Publisher Strategy and Negotiation Task Force and its support teams. The task force represents UC’s faculty University Committee on Library and Scholarly Communication, the Council of University Librarians, and the California Digital Library.

  • Ivy Anderson, Associate Executive Director and Director of Collection Development and Management, California Digital Library, and task force co-chair
  • Jeffrey MacKie-Mason, University Librarian, Chief Digital Scholarship Officer, and professor in the School of Information and the Department of Economics, UC Berkeley, and task force co-chair
  • Kemi Amin, Communications Manager, UCSF Library
  • Kristin Antelman, University Librarian, UC Santa Barbara Library
  • Tiffany Grandstaff, Director of Communications, UC Berkeley Library
  • Sarah Houghton, Director of the Discovery and Delivery Program, California Digital Library
  • Jessica Nusbaum, Director of Communications and Marketing, UC Davis Library
  • Nga Ong, Collection Assessment Analyst, California Digital Library
  • Rich Schneider, Associate Professor of Orthopaedic Surgery, UCSF School of Medicine
  • Dawn Setzer, Director of Communications, UCLA Library
  • Virginia Steel, Norman and Armena Powell University Librarian, UCLA Library
  • Günter Waibel, Associate Vice Provost and Executive Director, California Digital Library
  • Danielle Watters Westbrook, Systemwide Library Planning Analyst, California Digital Library
  • Mathew Willmott, Scholarly Publishing Data Analyst, California Digital Library

Please address questions regarding this toolkit to negotiationtoolkit-l@ucop.edu.

Next: An introductory guide to the UC Model transformative agreement