September 26, 2021

ARL Board Affirms Transparency as Core Operating Principle of Licensing, “Reiterating a Long-Standing Licensing Best Practice of Declining to Sign Nondisclosure Agreements (NDAs) with Publishers”

From the Association of Research Libraries:

At its summer meeting, the Association of Research Libraries (ARL) Board of Directors approved the following statement, reiterating a long-standing licensing best practice of declining to sign nondisclosure agreements (NDAs) with publishers.

Transparency Should Be a Core Operating Principle of Research Libraries

Collectively, research libraries in the US and Canada spend an annual $1.7 billion on scholarly and research content, and at least 75 percent of that total goes to securing access to licensed digital resources. Libraries are leading a large-scale transformation in the way they approach negotiations with publishers—prioritizing open access, cost reduction to redirect resources to open initiatives, equity, author rights, computational access, and more. Whether libraries break “big deals” and opt for smaller title lists or enter into more comprehensive publish-and-read agreements, the market is changing. For libraries and consortia, transparency and sharing of prices and contract terms must be a core operating principle in order to realize our objectives.

The complexity and confidentiality of contracts—obscured in nondisclosure agreements (NDAs), or asserted by publishers to be trade secrets—have dramatically favored a monopolistic publishing industry and undermined libraries’ ability to acquire digital content at fair prices and terms on behalf of their users. Now, as ARL libraries are rethinking the entire framework within which they negotiate with publishers, NDAs and a reluctance to publicly share prices and terms are hampering negotiations and decision-making, and engagement with institutional stakeholders, including faculty and administrators. Making such data openly available benefits the market. An open-data approach also has the potential to enlist the research and learning community as an active partner in shaping our digital futures and accelerating our ability to navigate transitions to open access.

While not signing nondisclosure agreements will advance transparency, we must also advance availability of the data. ARL commends global initiatives to increase transparency in the journal market, including subscription expenditures reported by the Canadian Association of Research Libraries (CARL), the Efficiency and Standards for Article Charges (ESAC) Transformative Agreement Registry, and the SPARC Big Deal Cancellation Tracking database. Individual libraries and consortia have also used their websites or institutional repositories to make their contract data publicly accessible.

ARL calls upon its members to make a renewed commitment to prioritize transparency as a core operating principle in licensing digital content. Contracts for digital content, including journals, e-books, and now textbook packages, should not be protected as publisher trade secrets, nor restricted from view by NDAs.


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.