Memorial University to cancel thousands of journal subscriptions

In the face of tight budgets and spiralling costs, Memorial University’s library will be cancelling its subscription to thousands of academic journals in January — something faculty members say could seriously damage the university’s credibility.

Professors say cuts will damage MUN's reputation, hurt student recruitment

Memorial University Libraries will cancel their subscriptions to roughly 2,500 academic journals in January, while maintaining 1,500 subscriptions. (Laura Howells/CBC)

Memorial University's library will be cancelling its subscription to thousands of academic journals in order to deal with a tight budget and increasing costs—a cut that faculty members say could seriously damage the university's credibility.

"I think it will be very, very bad for our reputation," said Scott Matthews, MUN political science professor.

"This is essentially gutting our ability to fulfill those core missions of teaching and research."

In January, the university will stop subscribing to roughly 2,500 journals across all fields of study. The cancelled journals will no longer be available on the university library's free online database.

MUN presently subscribes to approximately 80,000 journals in total.

I think it will be very, very bad for our reputation.- Scott Matthews, Political Science professor

Academic journals are the main resource for most faculty and student research. However, a weak Canadian dollar and rising subscription costs means the library can no longer stay within its $7.5-million journal budget. 

Head librarian Lorraine Busby said MUN doesn't have the money to increase the library's funding.

Head librarian Lorraine Busby said she doesn't want to cancel journal subscriptions, but MUN's libraries have few options.

"We really don't want to be doing this," said Busby.

"When there isn't the ability to add to your budget, tough choices have to be made."

Last week, the MUN library released a list of the journals it was considering cancelling and will be soliciting feedback from faculty over the next few days.

Matthews said faculty from across the university are shocked by the list and are now in "panic mode."

"It's sort of like saying, 'Well, the library needs to cut costs so let's just put the lights out,'" he said.

"It would certainly save money, but you would hardly have a library that was going to be of use to any people."

Journals 'last place' MUN should make cuts

Luke Ashworth, the head of MUN's political science department, agrees that a journal collection is the last place a university should be making cuts.

"They're crucial. In the overwhelming majority of academic subjects, journals are where the cutting edge research is," said Ashworth.

"Everyone is concerned about this and everyone is very sympathetic to all the different positions, including the very difficult position the library finds itself in."

Faculty and students rely on academic journals to do up-to-date research in all fields of study. (Laura Howells/CBC)

Meanwhile, Busby said the library is aiming to mainly discontinue journals that aren't heavily used, and have been analyzing user statistics in an attempt to minimize the impact on teaching and research.

"Senior administration is reviewing the situation to see where and how we might be able to continue the most valued journals," said Noreen Golfman, MUN provost and vice-president (academic), in a statement released on Tuesday.

However, Matthews said several of the journals up for potential cancellation are hugely important to him and his colleagues.

"These aren't obscure journals, these are the Time Magazines and Maclean's of our fields," he said.

"So having no access or substandard access to these is devastating."

Grad student recruitment may suffer

Master's student Steve Sutherland said that graduate students are also upset by the news. He believes that cutting access to so many journals will make the university less competitive in recruiting master's and PhD students.

"It's a deterrent to bringing students to the university for sure," he said.

"There's definitely a lot of worry amongst students who are in the middle of research or starting research projects because they don't know how they're going to be able to access all this up-to-date research."

It's a deterrent to bringing students to the university for sure.- Steve Sutherland, Master's student at MUN

Faculty and students will be able to access the cancelled journals through document delivery loans from other universities. However, this process often takes two to three days to complete.

Profs question consultation process

The library has done consultations on the journal cuts over the past few months, but faculty and students say the process has not been very visible. Faculty members did not know which journals would be cancelled until the list was released last week.

Political Science professor Scott Matthews says faculty at Memorial University are in "panic mode" now that the MUN Library has released the list of journals it's considering discontinuing.

"Here we are just a few weeks away from when these cuts will take effect and we're really, a lot of us, caught off guard and not really sure what's in store for our research and for our students," said Matthews.

"It's really a combination of anxiety and just disbelief that we're in this situation."


  • Based on an interview with MUN's head librarian, a previous version of this story reported MUN would be maintaining 1,500 journal subscriptions. Late Tuesday afternoon, Memorial University confirmed that it currently subscribes to 80,000 journals.
    Dec 08, 2015 4:02 PM NT


Laura Howells is a multi-platform reporter and radio producer. She has worked for CBC in Toronto, Hamilton, Whitehorse, and St. John's. Send story ideas to and follow her on Twitter @LauraHowellsNL.