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. 

New UC-Elsevier Deal for Open Access

As the Libraries continues to track news related to “big deals,” open access, and the broader scholarly communications landscape, we wanted to share some perspectives on a recent, transformative deal reached between the University of California system and the publisher Elsevier. 

As mentioned in UC’s press release, “The agreement is the largest of its kind in North America to date, bringing together UC, which generates nearly 10 percent of all U.S. research output, and Elsevier, which disseminates about 17 percent of journal articles produced by UC faculty. The deal will double the number of articles made available through UC’s transformative open access agreements.” 

The four-year deal, which goes into effect today, April 1, 2021, has been met with intense discussion and varying reactions. See, for example, the following: 

For more information about Sustainable Scholarship at the Mason Libraries, visit our Sustainable Scholarship site.

Questions or comments regarding the Libraries’ recent negotiations with Elsevier or other “big deal” subscriptions? We welcome them here

Virginia research libraries negotiate amended contract with Elsevier

Six members of the Virginia Research Libraries (VRL) group recently completed contract negotiations with Elsevier, the largest publisher of science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) scholarly journals. Through a new one-year 2021 agreement, the University of Virginia, Virginia Tech, George Mason University, Old Dominion University, William & Mary, and James Madison University libraries addressed their priorities for affordability, accessibility, and equity.

Prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, Virginia’s research libraries were moving toward a new contract with Elsevier beginning in 2022. Due to the pandemic’s negative effect on operating budgets, the group asked to renegotiate its last year of the current five-year contract. VRL appreciates Elsevier’s willingness to modify the agreement a year early in light of budget needs. The library group will be back at the negotiating table in 2021 to pen a longer-term agreement.

What does this new one-year agreement with Elsevier mean?

Cost savings

Most of the Virginia research libraries involved in the negotiation are experiencing budget shortfalls for 2021 and projecting budget shortfalls for 2022. Each institution involved reduced its overall spend for the year, balancing its COVID-distressed budget for 2021. The new agreement frees the institutions from the “Big Deal” Freedom Collection, allowing for a collection that better suits users’ needs.

This new agreement only includes subscriptions that are consistently used by our constituents. The libraries included titles in the agreement based on download data, article citations by institutional authors, open access availability of articles, articles published by institutional authors, and faculty and library liaison input. The group also analyzed the projected costs of alternative access to those titles. This is part of a longer-term effort to realign investments in favor of tools and resources that are more affordable, equitable, and sustainable. And it allows the libraries to build a more tailored collection from more diverse vendors that better service evolving needs of their universities.


Researchers will continue to have access to everything they need to do their research. Subscriptions are just one mode of access to research, and our libraries are committed to helping researchers navigate alternatives.

The Virginia research libraries are confident that they can meet demand through existing subscriptions, backfile content, open access journals and repositories, and interlibrary loan services including article purchase. Recently, the Virtual Library of Virginia (VIVA) invested in an improved interlibrary loan service for all Virginia public institutions that will decrease turnaround time and lower costs.

In addition to accessing articles, the new Elsevier agreement clarified privacy provisions and broadened the university community’s rights to allow for text and data mining of the scholarly materials.

What’s next?

The Virginia research libraries will be working with other big publishers to take similar steps toward a more sustainable scholarly communications ecosystem in the coming year. They will continue watching how resources are used, including the demand for alternative access, and use that knowledge to inform next year’s negotiations with Elsevier.

What does this mean for the Mason community?

Mason Libraries remains committed to providing our community with the published research and resources they need to pursue their scholarship and instructional activities. If an article is not immediately accessible, we will locate a copy for you via other networks. To learn more about our amended contract, visit our Elsevier overview site. To discover alternate methods for locating articles in journals we no longer subscribe to, visit our new Alternative Access site. If you have any questions or concerns, please contact your subject librarian or fill out this feedback form.

Invitation to Mason faculty to join the conversation on Sustainable Scholarship

Virginia’s seven public academic research libraries (George Mason University, along with University of Virginia, Virginia Tech, Virginia Commonwealth University, College of William and Mary, James Madison University, and Old Dominion University) will soon be at the contract negotiating table with Elsevier, the largest STEM scholarly publisher, in an effort to reduce our shared access costs to the Freedom Collection, Elsevier’s flagship academic journal bundle.

Our shared Elsevier contract represents a collective yearly expenditure of $10 million and is scheduled to expire on January 1, 2022, with five percent inflation in the final year of the contract. In light of substantial budget cuts and ongoing fiscal uncertainty – as well as the unsustainable models favored by large publishing conglomerates who control access to academic journals – Virginia universities are considering our next steps for both cost reductions and future sustainability.

In preparation for these negotiations, we are implementing UnSub, an analysis tool that will help us make sound, data- informed decisions about the value of the Elsevier Freedom Collection and our other journal packages. The data we collect, along with additional information about sustainable journal collections, will be made available to the university community on our website throughout the fall. For an example of one large university system’s effective use of UnSub, see this recent Science magazine article.

We know that any changes to the way we share and access information affects our entire academic community. Our faculty are key partners in making any necessary changes, and we welcome your input. If a successful outcome is not reached through negotiations, we – and our partner universities – will continue our common commitment to delivering the resources students and faculty need to do their research and academic work.

We invite you to attend the upcoming Sustainable Scholarship Virtual Forum on Friday, October 2 at 9:30 a.m., where VRL members will share information about the group’s collective priorities concerning equity, accessibility, and the costs of bundled scholarly journal packages.

We have collated some resources about sustainable collections and journal pricing on our Sustainable Collections site. We hope you will find this information, particularly the “Six Things Faculty Need to Know”, helpful. Please do not hesitate to contact us if you have additional questions.

VA research libraries host virtual forum in advance of Elsevier negotiations

Representatives from the University of Virginia, Virginia Tech, Virginia Commonwealth University, George Mason University, Old Dominion University, William and Mary, and James Madison University will soon be in contract negotiations with Elsevier, the largest science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) scholarly publisher. Working as a group, they will be discussing the unsustainable cost of accessing Elsevier’s academic journals and options to make their public universities’ research more accessible to the public that paid for it.

On Friday, October 2 at 9:30 a.m., the group will host a Sustainable Scholarship Virtual Forum to share information about the group’s collective priorities concerning equity, accessibility, and costs of bundled scholarly journal packages. Forum moderator Brandon Butler, the University of Virginia Library’s Director of Information Policy, will also pose questions to the panel for discussion. Registration is open to all interested faculty, staff, students, and community members. Attendees can submit questions or discussion topics surrounding negotiation priorities and sustainable scholarship in advance through the forum’s registration site.

“This is an opportunity to learn more about the upcoming negotiations, the libraries’ priorities surrounding equitable access to scholarship, the impact of changing models on access to research, and why the costs of large bundled journal packages are unsustainable. We will also discuss the possible futures of scholarly publishing,” said Butler. “As a group, we are working together to find the best solutions to continue to be responsible stewards of state funds while providing our faculty and students with the informational resources they need to research, teach, and learn.”

Mason’s Dean of Libraries and University Librarian, John Zenelis, remarks, “Unsustainable access costs affect all of us in the Mason academic community. I invite faculty, staff, and students to join the conversation by submitting questions in advance via the registration site and attending the upcoming discussion. The forum will provide an opportunity to hear more about how we, along with our partner universities in Virginia, are moving together through this process towards a more sustainable library collections and scholarly resources model.”

Panelists include:
Carrie Cooper, Dean of University Libraries, College of William and Mary
Stuart Frazer, Interim University Librarian, Old Dominion University
Teresa L. Knott, Interim Dean of Libraries and University Librarian, Virginia Commonwealth University
Bethany Nowviskie, Dean of Libraries, James Madison University
John Unsworth, Dean of Libraries and University Librarian, University of Virginia
Tyler Walters, Dean of University Libraries, Virginia Tech
John Zenelis, Dean of Libraries and University Librarian, George Mason University

All interested faculty, staff, students, and community members are invited to register and attend the forum.