Open and Fair


These days, most of the scholarly resources made available by libraries are digital. On behalf of the communities they serve, libraries typically allot a part of their annual budget to purchase access to these resources under the terms of a license. Such licenses are important for vendors because they define how libraries can preserve and distribute collections while not infringing on the vendor’s profits—for example, licenses prevent something originally purchased for just a few thousand people from being shared with everyone. But licensed subscriptions are also expensive. Every year, about 70% of Cornell University Library’s collection development budget of nearly $20 million is used for licensed subscriptions to e-journals, databases, e-book packages, and other ongoing electronic resources.

Since 2011, Cornell University Library has been among a few U.S. research libraries to express a principled and public stand against nondisclosure clauses in subscription licenses:

To promote openness and fairness among libraries licensing scholarly resources, Cornell University Library will not enter into vendor contracts that require nondisclosure of pricing information or other information that does not constitute a trade secret. [Read the full statement on Cornell University Library’s Position on Nondisclosure Clauses in Licenses.]

Openness and fairness are both important concepts for libraries. In a digital world, openness goes well beyond keeping the library’s doors open as long as possible (although we are always striving on that front, too). Among other things, it includes the idea of transparency and the belief that the world can be improved more than harmed by sharing information thoughtfully. Fairness is a different but related concept. Most of us grew up with an innate sense of fairness. And one of the first things we learn about the law is that it should be not only fair but also seen to be fair. Libraries often equate fairness with balance, as in the fair use of copyrighted materials, but it also carries the sense that all sides of an issue should have access to the same information.

As a natural outcome of all this, Cornell University Library recently decided to share pricing information for the digital scholarly resources it purchases for its community. It has therefore added an important new data set to its digital repository: Continuations Expenditure by Unique Vendor 2015–2018Let me know what you think. We are hoping to expand our Frequently Asked Questions according to your input.

Photograph of Gerald Beasley, Carl A. Kroch University Librarian

Gerald R. Beasley

Carl A. Kroch University Librarian

Cornell University

Video: View from Olin Library by Carla DeMello, Library Communications

Views expressed are the opinions of the author and do not represent endorsement by Cornell University.