Prof starts petition to keep online journals and databases available to students

Last month, the University of Ottawa released a strategy to cut costs by reducing spending on subscriptions to thousands of online and print journals and databases to meet the balance of $1.527 million by Dec. 2016.

Tony Horava, associate university librarian (collections), spoke with the Fulcrum about the main reasons why the university made this decision, saying, “We’re facing a bunch of shortfall, about $1.9 million … collections materials costs, like books, journals, and databases go up every year by about five or six per cent.”

Horava also said that due to the exchange rate between the U.S. and Canadian dollar, the U of O loses money when purchasing journals and other material from U.S. providers or publishers.

Another reason for the cuts to these subscriptions was a two per cent cut to all services and departments at the university, which led to a loss of $520,000 to the library, according to Horava.

Horava said that in the spring of 2016, the university cancelled subscriptions to journals and databases that were of “low value” or duplicated by other resources. This year, however, these cancellations “will definitely have an impact on students and researchers.”

However, Horava notes that “There are alternatives out there,” such as open access books or interlibrary loan requests.

In response to these cuts, U of O professor of biology and environmental toxicology Jules Blais started a change.org petition to prevent the university from cancelling its subscriptions to these databases and journals, which features a full list of the proposed publications to be cut.

In an interview with the Fulcrum, Blais said that he believes the U of O has a good financial standing and is doing the best among other universities in the province.

“Last year we posted a $62 million surplus, which means that over the academic year revenues exceeded the expenses by $62 million. If you look at our cumulative surpluses the University of Ottawa has the largest comparative surplus among its comparative group of universities, that includes McMaster, Queens, Western, and York,” said Blais.

Blais believes that the U of O’s decision to cut spending on these library resources is “inexplicable,” considering that “the finances of the U of O are actually quite favourable.”

His decision to start the petition was because he “wanted to defend U of O researchers, who are doing important work and who need access to these journals.”

“By removing these journals, we are removing researchers’ access to the detailed studies, and that means students can no longer assess their value by reading their individual articles,” said Blais.

Blais also believes these cuts will hinder the quality of research done by students.

“If students can’t get access directly, they are simply going to stop reading the articles, they are going to cite articles they haven’t read. I think it diminishes the quality of student research.”

Diana Dominguez, a fourth-year linguistics student at the U of O shared this same concern, saying, “all my research is done through databases, it’s the easiest pathway. You just put in keywords that you need … if they don’t have that than it’s harder to do research, because ours is all dispersed.”

“I believe that a world class institute of learning would protect its academic resources as its first priority … this is the first thing they should be protecting, not the first thing they let go,” said Blais.

According to Horava, the petition will be presented to the U of O Senate at the end of the month, and it may be a decisive factor against the cancellations.