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Library calls for contract transparency and now rejects nondisclosure clauses

Cornell University Library will no longer sign publisher contracts that include confidentiality agreements.

These nondisclosure agreements (NDAs) typically forbid libraries from revealing the price and terms of their purchases of such licensed resources as journal subscriptions and databases.

"Libraries should be able to talk to each other about the details of these contracts. It's as simple as that," said Anne Kenney, the Carl A. Kroch University Librarian. "When contracts are kept secret, institutions cannot negotiate effectively."

NDAs often cover more than price, governing the way content can be used and how it's accessed. Public institutions' agreements can be requested through the Freedom of Information Act.

Cornell has already put the new policy into action, deferring renewal on one contract until the NDA clause was removed and foregoing another publication because the publisher would not remove the clause.

The push to forgo NDAs has been brewing for years in the academic community, with the Association of Research Libraries issuing a statement in June 2009 advising its members to reject nondisclosure or confidentiality clauses.

Many major scholarly publishers already forgo confidentiality clauses. By insisting on transparency, the library hopes more publishers will join the ranks of those who have already waived NDAs.

"Especially in this difficult budget climate, libraries have to look incredibly closely at how they spend their money," said John M. Saylor, associate university librarian. "The library moved ahead with the decision only after the faculty library board and the provost offered their full support, because the academic community understands the importance of this kind of openness."

Gwen Glazer is a staff writer for Library Communications.

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