University of Pittsburgh's Homepage


The landscape


Over the last 50 years the world has seen unprecedented growth in scholarly journal article publishing. For instance, there were 41,000 active scholarly journal titles  indexed in Ulrich's in 1990 and there are just over 91,000 in 2015 (see chart).   It is estimated that the number of journal papers doubles every 24 years (Jinah, A.E. , 2010 Learned Publishing v 23 p. 258-263 ).  

growth in scholarly and peer reviewed literature

Source: Ulrich's,
Search parameters to identify scholarly peer reviewed; academic/scholarly; refereed; active
Search parameters to identify scholarly journals: academic/scholarly; active

For a number of years the journal rate of inflation has been nearly three times higher than the standard rate of inflation (CPI) (6% inflation for journals vs. 2% CPI in 2013).  This trend, coupled with the static library budgets, has forced libraries around the world to look more closely at their journal subscriptions.

arl expenditure trends

inflation rates


Currently ULS provides direct access to some 37,500 scholarly journals.  These journals are acquired in one of three ways. One, as a part of large  packages (so called "big deals").  These include such packages as Elsevier's Science Direct, Wiley's Wiley's Online or JSTOR.  These packages are negotiated every 3 to 5 years and allow access to large number of titles, bundled and subscribed to as a single subscription.  It is very difficult to remove or add individual titles to these bundles; in fact, removing titles may  trigger a price increase.  On the other hand, one benefit of these is that they limit annual inflationary increases. The second way is a subscription to an individual title, which usually are available from smaller publishers and renewed annually.  The third way is through a subscription to an aggregated full text database (e.g. EBSCO). The journals available through these agregated databases usually changes over time, with titles being dropped or added with some frequency. The current inflation rate for databases is at 4.5% . Finally, a small but growing proportion of the journals we provide access to is open access, meaning they are freely available to the global research community.


Last year ULS spent $4.4 mil. on journal subscriptions and $3.9 mil. on databases.  For 2015 alone, to maintain the current number of subscriptions would require an additional $300,000, leaving no room to add subscriptions to new titles.

ULS materials expenditures


The library budget has been static for the last several years.  In order to maintain our existing subscriptions, we have had to supplement our acquisitions budget from both operational and salary budget lines.  The operational budget pays for furniture, the creation of new student spaces, like the PhD room on the Hillman’s 4th floor, and additional group and individual study spaces across the building.  This is not a model that we can sustain in the long-term.     


Global responses to these issues


Responses of research libraries around the world to these pressures vary from boycotts to cancelations of large numbers of titles,  on the one hand , to libraries developing methodologies to identify low or no use journals for potential cancelation on the other. Some examples:


ULS's response


Electronic Periodicals Use Exercise

ULS is committed to serving the needs of the Pitt research community by providing access to wide range of high quality scholarly content.

ULS is also considering how to ensure that we can provide the Pitt community with the resources it needs while at the same time being responsible stewards of the library budget.  An ongoing exercise has identified 1,189 titles to which we have a ‘stand-alone” subscription.  These titles constitute 0.8% of our current subscriptions. We have analyzed these, one by one, looking at their use over the last three years, annual subscription cost, impact factor (excluding humanities titles) value and subject area.  
We have divided these into five categories, based on their current use* statistics:
  • no use over the last three years or no use data - 505 titles (42% of titles under consideration)
  • very low use (four or fewer uses per year over last three years) – 119 titles (10%) 
  • low use (used once a month or less) – 103 titles (8.7%)
  • moderate use (once a week or less) – 222 titles  (21%)
  • high use (used more than once a week) – 207 titles (17%)
The highest use titles show consistent use of more than once a day. 
In FY16, we propose cancelling all titles which registered no use in the last three years or (505 titles with total savings of around $200,000) as well as all titles with annual usage of four or fewer uses (119 titles).
We have been monitoring the use of our 2,000 print journals since September 2014 and will continue over the next four terms to identify titles with no or little use to determine potential cancellations.  Note that titles which are associated with Area Studies collections will be exempt from this process.  “Use” in the case of physical titles is captured when journals are re-shelved by library staff.   

*We have defined “use” using an industry- standard definition of “successful full text article requests” (COUNTER code of practice:

Open Access

Partially as a response to the pressures noted above, the ULS is an enthusiastic participant in the Open Access movement, a movement in higher education which strives to increase access to scholarly research and communication, not limiting it solely to those who can afford to subscribe or purchase works. The ULS supports Open Access both in theory and in practice by acting as an Open Access publisher of some 40 scholarly peer reviewed journals, offering a viable alternative to journal publishing from for-profit publishers.


Our commitment to getting you the scholarly content you need


We remain committed to getting you scholarly content that you need and if we do not have subscription access to a particular title, we will supply the article via Interlibrary Loan services. In addition, with funds currently being used for low or no use subscriptions freed, we will consider requests to add new titles, as we recognize the teaching and research needs of the Pitt community change over time. 

To discuss any issues or concerns please contact your liaison librarian.