Gavia Libraria

Learning from the Université de Montréal

So while the Loon and others (including @OpenAccessHulk of late on Twitter) have been gassing about the benefits of dropping Big Deals, the Université de Montréal has been quietly doing it—not just once, but at least three times. The Loon’s tweet about this has been her most liked and retweeted ever, so she cannot be the only one pleasantly surprised to learn this.

(How did the Loon figure out UM’s trifecta? She remembered the university name coming up in prior work on a course syllabus. A quick search through her store of potential readings turned up one of the earlier cancellations, and from there further digging via search engine was quite straightforward—UM’s communication with its publics is excellent.)

Worth asking: how novel is this, really? Big Deals have been slimming down for quite a while in quite a few academic libraries. Nor is UM’s choice methodology particularly unusual; they sliced and diced usage statistics along the usual axes and came to entirely defensible decisions. The Loon’s take:

  • Much of the Big Deal slimming-down has been happening on campuses much smaller than UM, which is truly monster-sized, arguably consortium-sized.
  • Much of the Big Deal slimming-down to date has gone after what the Loon for the sake of argument will call “non-core” publishers. Dropping Haworth or Emerald (just to pick two) barely causes a blink. Wiley, Springer, and Taylor and Francis cut close to almost any journal-publishing core one would care to list. Defying all three of them strikes the Loon as genuinely impressive.
  • UM tolerated at least one major service interruption (Wiley) in service of obtaining a better deal (which they eventually achieved). This, too, is unusual; even several libraries/consortia involved in the various current Elsevier contretemps are bending over fairly far backwards to avoid service interruption.
  • No backlash to speak of. Yes, one or two of these cancellations made the local press, but the sky did not fall. Doubtless the first cancellation was the most difficult; after that, the first cancellation forms precedent for others.

So how did UM pull this off, not just once but thrice? As usual, the Loon has little direct information, and no behind-the-scenes knowledge. Here are her guesses:

  • Someone on Twitter suggested that the analysis work and other aid of information-school faculty member Vincent Larivière turned out to be material. This may well be. The Loon would be interested in teasing out the role of Dr. Larivière as analyst vs. Dr. Larivière as faculty shield for librarian decisionmaking. She may well be wrong—in this specific case as well as generally—but she does suspect the latter role to be of significant utility; faculty are less likely to attack a decision with faculty imprimatur.
  • UM’s communication style throughout has been matter-of-fact, unapologetic, and quietly blame-the-vendorish (see the list of unflattering-to-publishers links at the bottom of each cancellation announcement). No promises, no conciliatory doing-our-best-please-don’t-hurt-us rhetoric, nothing. This seems partly a Canadian quirk; Simon Fraser University’s librarians are also masters of this public-relations style. Compare it to panicky placating CONCYTEC, however; night and day! The Loon, brushing off her ancient readings in reader-response theory, does think this matters. Faculty take emotional cues from library communications about cancellation: when those communications all but invite them to pitch entitled wobblies, that’s exactly what they do. Faced with business-as-usual, they ignore it.

But does this strategy work, some reader is exasperatedly muttering at the Loon right now. The Loon wishes she could have a good gander at UM’s serials budget, and budgets at comparable institutions to compare it to! She doesn’t, so she can only guess.

She would guess that all things and the Canadian dollar considered, UM is doing better than many. US, UK, and Peruvian academic librarianship could learn from this.