An Update on Elsevier Journal Article Access

Looking back at 2021 & looking forward to 2022 

In January 2021, the University Libraries withdrew from Elsevier’s large journal bundle (the Freedom Collection) and subscribed to a selection of 222 Elsevier journals highly used by our Mason scholarly community. Mason did not act alone in this decision to withdraw from the large journal bundle; we worked with a group of Virginia research libraries (VRL) to meet our collective goals of affordability, accessibility, and equity. To read more about this initial process, please visit our Elsevier page.  

In preparing for such a substantial change to our journal collections, we assessed many options and made plans to use a variety of systems to continue providing access to Elsevier articles in journals we no longer subscribe to. We refer to those systems as Alternative Access. As the VRL group negotiates a new contract for 2022, we wanted to share with our community how our alternative access systems have been working so far and how we are continuing to provide access to necessary resources for Mason researchers. 

How does Alternative Access work? 

If we do not have subscription access to an article – from Elsevier or any other publisher – the Libraries still provides access through other channels. Some of those channels provide instant access, just like a subscription would; others involve a delay of a few hours to two business days.  

Instant access: In January 2021, we implemented a software tool called LibKey to help researchers get to open access articles in a single click. LibKey also provides one-click access to pre-2021 articles that we owned (journal backfiles), as well as our active journal subscriptions. From January to October Mason researchers accessed almost 120,000 articles via LibKey’s one-click shortcuts (this number includes all publishers). Since the implementation of LibKey, we have seen fewer Interlibrary Loan (ILL) requests for articles we already have in our collections. With this data, we believe LibKey is helping our patrons reach articles they might not have located otherwise. 

Delayed access: If instant access to an article is not available, researchers can place an interlibrary loan (ILL) request to receive a PDF of the article with a short delay. In anticipation of increased ILL requests, the Libraries joined a new ILL system with faster turnaround times on article requests. We also implemented more Purchase on Demand options, to further expedite article requests. 

Increased ILL requests and reduced ILL turnaround time 

Thanks to these new systems, even as our ILL department faced increased volume of article requests and reduced staffing levels, the turnaround time on article requests has fallen and our spending on ILL has remained low. Average turnaround time for all ILL article requests stands at 2.5 days, and for our RapidILL system 1.6 days, but we regularly hear reports of articles delivered within a few hours. We are also working on solutions to further streamline the ILL process. (Tip: include the journal’s ISSN in your ILL request using the ISBN/ISSN field and the format 1234-5678 for faster processing times).

New negotiations 

As mentioned above, we and several other research libraries are currently in negotiations for next year’s contract with Elsevier. Mason researchers can expect little change in Elsevier access this time around; however, we will update you on any changes once negotiations are complete (expected in late December or January 2022). In the meantime, look out for announcements about more improvements to our alternative access systems. 


If you have any questions or concerns, please reach out to both your subject librarian and the Head, Collections Strategy, Helen McManus ( We are always happy to work with you to address your specific research needs. 

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