At its best, library research can feel like magic. With just a few keystrokes, you can find almost anything you’re looking for, no matter how obscure. Better still, you can often access it instantly, without having to set foot inside the actual library. The laptop is your library, without all those pesky stairs to climb or stacks to search.
But let us assure you, providing online access to millions of books, journals, and other media is anything but magic. And people are often surprised by how much it costs. So we thought it would be fun to test your knowledge of the business of knowledge, so to speak. Take our short quiz and see how much you know about the true cost of all that information at your fingertips—and learn more about what the Duke University Libraries are doing to keep it affordable.
Scroll down for answers.
1. Which costs more?
a. What Duke pays for one year of access to a package of online journals published by the academic publishing giant Elsevier.
b. Your own private hundred-acre island in the Bahamas.
2. Which costs less?
a. Duke’s annual subscription to Web of Science, a database that provides reference and citation data from academic journals, conference proceedings, and other documents in various academic disciplines.
b. A four-year undergraduate degree from Duke, paying full tuition.
3. Multiplication time! How much more expensive is it for Duke to subscribe to a scientific journal like Nature than it is for you to subscribe as an individual?
a. 10 times
b. 25 times
c. 75 times
4. How many times would a family of four have to go out to the movies to equal the cost of a subscription to Academic Video Online, a database of streaming films available through the Duke University Libraries?
5. This textbook is required for one of the largest lecture classes at Duke and costs around $175 at the campus bookstore. Which would cost more?
a. Giving away a print copy of the textbook to every student who takes organic chemistry at Duke for the next ten years.
b. Purchasing the e-book version of the textbook and letting students access it through the library for one year.
For just about $2 million, you can own a little slice of paradise in the Bahamas’ Exuma Cays—or, if you prefer, a big slice of a research library’s collections budget.
Elsevier is one of a handful of for-profit corporations that control most of the academic journal market. Like cable TV providers, these companies push libraries to purchase “Big Deal” bundles of journals, only a small percentage of which receive the majority of use.
Over the last two years, library staff across Duke have been working to renegotiate these “Big Deal” journal packages. We’ve been scrutinizing each journal title with an eye on usage, price, cost-per-use, relevance to Duke’s research profile, journal impact factor, volume of articles authored by Duke researchers, and more factors. All told, those efforts have saved Duke about $1 million annually. But the rising cost of academic journals, concentrated in the hands of a few profit-driven publishing giants, remains unsustainable.
That’s right. A Duke education isn’t cheap, especially if you’re paying full freight. But you can still get one for less than what we pay annually for some scholarly databases. Ongoing subscriptions to electronic resources make up approximately two-thirds of our total library collections budget, a percentage that has been steadily rising over time. That means fewer dollars available to spend on print materials and other resources library users expect us to have.
The skyrocketing price of academic journals is most noticeable in the sciences, where access to the latest information is crucial and certain high-profile journals carry enormous influence. For researchers in these disciplines, having an article accepted by a prestigious journal like Nature can lead to promotions, grant funding, and attention from the mainstream media. As a result, competition among scientists to publish in such high-impact journals is fierce. Also as a result, journals like Nature command the highest institutional subscription fees.
The Duke University Libraries have long been strong proponents of open access publishing. Through a variety of funding and publishing models, Duke researchers can increasingly make their publications, data, and other research outputs freely available to anyone to read and use, without a paywall, resulting in increased reach and impact for Duke research, and benefits to the world at large. Free and unfettered access to academic research is critical to a healthy and open society. To learn more about specific ways we’re working to increase open access to Duke research and promote a more equitable scholarly publishing ecosystem, visit scholarworks.duke.edu.
Everyone loves the convenience of streaming video—including us! Streaming videos take up zero shelf space, can be “checked out” and viewed by many people at once, and check themselves back in with no reshelving or handling required.
But providing broad-based access to streaming video is costly. It’s not as simple as signing up for a Netflix or Hulu account and sharing it with everyone at Duke. Instead, libraries work with specialized vendors who license film content or provide subscriptions. In some cases, we’re able to license films directly ourselves. Contrary to what you might think, educational and documentary films are usually more expensive to purchase or license than commercial blockbusters.
As of this writing, there are over 100,000 streaming video titles available to Duke users through the Libraries—far more than you can find on any popular commercial streaming service.
5. Trick question!
Although many print textbooks are available as e-books (including this one), textbook publishers often won’t sell them to libraries—or else strictly limit how many people can use them at one time. We can’t buy the e-book version of this required course material and make it easily available to all Duke students enrolled in the course at any price. It’s just another example of how the academic publishing market doesn’t align with the mission of higher education or the interests of students.
To reduce the burden of textbook costs for our student population, the Duke University Libraries have for a number of years purchased print copies of the textbooks for the 100 largest courses on campus and let students check them out for a few hours at a time. We also encourage students to donate their textbooks to the Libraries at the end of the year, so that future students can check them out for free.
When asked about library services that are important to them, 39 percent of Duke undergraduates list our “Top Textbooks” program as important, which means it ranks just below core services like printing, reservable rooms, and in-person assistance at a service desk. It’s just one small way we’re working to make a Duke education more affordable for all.
Thanks to the University of Virginia Library for the inspiration behind this quiz.