by Jamie Baker
An October 2015 post on the LAW-LIB discussion list asked about West Library Maintenance Agreements (LMAs). The conversation centered around libraries that are contemplating leaving their LMAs, and issue that has been circulating among law librarians for several years now.
In 2011, following a previous LAW-LIB discussion about LMAs, John P. Joergensen wrote an informative article for Spectrum. In it, he explained:
For those who may not be familiar with LMAs, they are agreements widely offered by Westgroup to libraries. in general these agreements guarantee a limit to price increases from Westgroup in return for a guarantee from the library that it will continue ordering all the material it currently orders.
For the most part, it seems like West started offering LMAs in order to stem a tide of cancellations that were starting to threaten its sales a few years ago. It was about six years ago that the high annual increases really seemed to force a significant number of libraries to start cutting large numbers of titles as affordable. Faced with a flood of cancellations, West was willing to grant relief from its 10 percent-plus annual price increases.
John P. Joergensen, West Library Maintenance Agreements: Deal or No Deal?, AALL Spectrum (March 2011).
Joergensen solicited comments from librarians about LMAs and whether they intended to renew their LMAs. Here is what he said about their responses:
Aside from speculated savings off the “list price,” several people told me that they were attracted to the time and money saved with billing and ordering under an LMA. In a situation where there is a stable budget and information needs, this is no doubt a significant factor.
Others, however, made sure to pare down their collections before entering into an LMA to ensure that they would not become saddled with titles they may not need in the future. They were willing to forgo these titles, or to order them separately, in return for the ability to cancel them.
In the end, it is the restriction on canceling titles that is the big practical sticking point concerning LMAs.
Returning to the October 2015 LAW-LIB discussion, the thread was started to “survey” law libraries about their LMAs. The leaving-your-LMA “survey” garnered the following responses:
- Out of 17 respondents, 2 law libraries had already left their LMAs.
- Some mentioned not cancelling because of the discount off the list price that the LMA provides; others said they did not cancel because of the paperwork that would be involved in reconciling monthly statements.
Common concerns running throughout the responses included:
- The LMA is not flexible enough.
- We need to reduce as much print as possible, but if we reduce any further we will not really see the savings in our reduction because of the cost of our LMA.
- We do not know the true cost of our subscription items with the LMA.
- We do not want to pay for a print copies of materials included in our WestlawNext contract.
- The prices are still outrageous.
- The discount on volume purchased does not make sense.
The surveyor noted this:
[I]t seems to me that TR and other publishers do not seem to understand that most law libraries cannot continue to purchase both the print and online (Westlaw) versions of all titles. We are reducing more and more print and need to maintain only the bare bones print items (statutes, regulations, some court rules and a few treatises here and there).
The most recent LAW-LIB email survey is interesting because it highlights an ongoing issue in law libraries nationwide. There is an overall trend to reduce print collections in favor of electronic subscriptions, but the publishers are keeping libraries bound to print with expensive and opaque library maintenance agreements. Plus, as fewer libraries are purchasing print titles, the more expensive the print titles become for all. Although there is an intrinsic value to a print collection, it is hard for a library to justify the exorbitant cost of print, especially when the print is often duplicated with online subscriptions.
This is also a prime example of the kind of “deals” that libraries find themselves in with publishers. The type of agreement that made sense when print was king no longer makes sense today. It’s a cautionary tale as libraries enter into agreements with publishers for e-books and other electronic content, too.
Librarians must be forward thinking because we find ourselves in a time when what makes sense today may not make sense in just a few years. We don’t want to find ourselves locked into restrictive, expensive contracts that prohibit innovation and change.