May 28, 2022

University of Pittsburgh Reacts to Elsevier Boycott (incl. Info on Elsevier's Contract With Pitt Libraries)

From the University Times (Pitt’s Faculty and Staff Newspaper):

Fellow mathematicians [protest founder Tim Gowers, is a mathematician] including Juan Manfredi, Pitt’s vice provost for Undergraduate Studies, have made up the bulk of the early signers of the declaration. The University administration would not make Manfredi available to comment for this story.


Pitt mathematics professor Thomas Hales, who has joined the boycott, told the University Times that he has been displeased with the publisher’s business practices for years.

“Why should university researchers donate their labor and intellectual property to Elsevier, just to have the publisher turn around and charge university libraries exorbitant prices for access?” Hales said, adding that universities nationwide are facing severe budget cuts while commercial academic publishers are posting huge profits.

“We might all agree that it would be irrational for somebody to donate furniture to a store every morning and buy it back again every evening. Yet this is the accepted practice in publishing. We researchers create the content of the journals. We conduct the research, write the articles, referee the papers and staff the editorial boards. We do this for free every morning and buy the publications back again in the evening,” he said.

“It costs me nothing to submit my research articles to publishers that serve the interests of academia and the public good, rather than to publishers who put their commercial interests first.”

Also signing was Piotr Konieczny, a Pitt PhD candidate in sociology, who labeled the traditional academic publishing model obsolete in the Internet era.


The movement is attracting attention in academic circles and beyond.

The Coalition of Open Access Repositories, a German-based association of more than 80 repository initiatives in 24 countries, added its support in a Feb. 6 open letter to Elsevier (

Head Librarian Comments, Discusses What Elsevier Charges

University Library System director Rush Miller said, “It’s time for people to get mad about this if they care at all about the survival of scholarly communication. The system as it exists today is untenable. It’s unsustainable.

“Over the next 10 or 15 years it will collapse. If we don’t have other alternatives or other ways to disseminate knowledge, a decade from now we’re going to be in trouble,” he said. “We’ll have fewer and fewer people reading fewer and fewer journals if we don’t have open-access alternatives,” he said.

Miller said the move toward open-access publishing is not to tear down the established system, but to build around it with a better way to disseminate knowledge. “So, when scholarly publishing can really not be sustained, we’ll transition to something better and more affordable,” he said.

“Whether these commercial companies will become part of the solution or stay part of the problem remains to be seen.”

He said librarians have been trying to call attention to the increasingly high cost of commercially published journals for years.

“It’s about time that faculty woke up and realized their interests aren’t different from those of the librarians,” Miller said.

“Faculty in many disciplines have really not been concerned. They know what they need to do to get tenure and promotion,” he said, noting that the high-impact journals they need to publish in often are controlled by large commercial publishers. “They weren’t having to pay for journals out of their budgets. They just knew we needed to have them and they needed to publish in them.”

Commercial publishers are in business to make money, Miller pointed out. “They’re into maximizing value for shareholders. They’re not in business for altruistic, idealistic, distribution-of-knowledge kinds of motivations.” Faculty are beginning to recognize “these people don’t have our best interest at heart,” he said.


Between ULS and the Health Sciences Library System, subscriptions to Elsevier’s journals and health sciences databases cost about $2 million each year — at prices that are discounted through negotiated multiple-year “big deal” agreements with the publisher, Miller said.

Pitt has had three such five-year contracts and is beginning negotiations this week on another, he said, noting that while the deals have reduced annual increases over the past 15 years, they also limit the University’s flexibility to decrease the number of journal subscriptions.

Even with the benefit of “big deals” and discounts obtained through consortium pricing in cooperation with other research universities, keeping up with journal costs isn’t cheap.

Miller estimated it takes an increase of $500,000 each year just to maintain the status quo in journal subscriptions. “This University has been able to do that almost better than anyone else in the country until the last year or two,” when cutbacks in state support put enormous pressure on Pitt’s library budgets.

A Lot More in the Complete Article

See Also: Boston Globe Op/Ed by Gareth Cook: “Why scientists are boycotting a publisher”
Hat Tip: Richard Poynder

About Gary Price

Gary Price ( is a librarian, writer, consultant, and frequent conference speaker based in the Washington D.C. metro area. Before launching INFOdocket, Price and Shirl Kennedy were the founders and senior editors at ResourceShelf and DocuTicker for 10 years. From 2006-2009 he was Director of Online Information Services at, and is currently a contributing editor at Search Engine Land.