Overview | Selection Issues | Selection Criteria | Selection Tools | Electronic Journals and Magazines | Microforms (Microfilm & Microfiche) | Newspapers | Further Information | Self-Assessment #6
Deciding which periodical titles to include in your library’s collection was once a far more daunting task than it is today. Periodicals (also called serials) are publications that come out in parts on a continuing basis (such as magazines, journals, and newspapers) and are an important source of information for patrons in a library. While many people now get their daily news from the Internet, television and radio, print newspapers and magazines continue to be the preferred source for current information on a topic for many others. While electronic journals/e-journals or electronic magazines/e-zines, both those that are free and those that are acquired through subscriptions, are additional options for periodical literature and important sources of information they serve a somewhat different clientele and require that individuals can browse for lengthy periods on a computer. That is not always a reasonable option in the library where there are seldom enough computers available. Magazines in both print and electronic form also serve individuals of all ages as a primary source for recreational reading.
The number of periodicals whose articles now appear with their fulltext in databases to some extent simplifies the management issues associated with periodicals. Public and school libraries no longer have to be concerned both with the browsing use of periodicals and the research use of these same titles. The research use is now substantially covered by the fulltext articles in periodical databases. And, although periodical subscriptions represent an ongoing budgetary commitment, there is now a much clearer purpose for the magazine titles purchased for the library. Assuming access to general periodical databases, a small public or school library can now concentrate their periodical selections on those that individuals can enjoy for browsing and primarily recreational reading. Periodicals to be used for most research projects are now accessed online using the thorough indexing provided by periodical databases with fulltext journal articles. This section addresses the selection issues and criteria to consider when developing a print-based periodicals collection for your library and some selection tools that may be helpful in the selection process. This section also briefly discusses electronic journals and magazines, microforms, and newspapers as a special type of periodical.
With periodical subscriptions now being primarily focused on browsing and local interest titles, the criteria for selection has been narrowed. We are no longer concerned with indexing and abstracting services for each title. We are not keeping back-runs of journals for the purposes of future research. We rely upon the databases for those purposes. Thus, periodicals no longer need to take a large portion of our budget or our space. Until the mid-1990s, library practice was to keep paper periodical issues for long periods of time and once a library subscribed to a title, it was almost guaranteed that it would continue to subscribe to that title. It was not considered “best practice” to drop and add titles every year. Many libraries subscribed to substantially the same titles year after year. The world has changed! In small libraries now the primary purpose of our paper periodical collection is to supplement our book collection, especially in nonfiction areas, but we do not have to be concerned with long-term usefulness. We are free to subscribe to a wider array of titles of interest to our patrons. Furthermore, we can change our mind after a year or two if something is not used. This is a new freedom in the periodical world.
Typical methods for identifying the library’s periodical needs include compiling written or verbal requests for new subscriptions and keeping track of interlibrary loan requests for articles from specific periodical titles. One also needs to assess the usefulness of the titles the library has been getting. One way to do this is to use a variation on the dust test. To do this, note any titles in your periodical collection that are always neat and tidy—if not actually dusty. These titles are not getting much use. You may wish to stop getting them. The ultimate goal is to subscribe to a variety of periodical titles that address the general interests of the community while serving any special interests of importance. Such special interests might be a selection of Spanish-language periodicals or large-print versions of popular titles for an elderly community. Many of the unique concerns associated with printed periodicals in the past have been alleviated by the easy availability of fulltext articles and interlibrary loan borrowing. Although libraries once subscribed almost exclusively to periodicals that were indexed and abstracted, that is no longer essential. Many libraries have also ceased the labor intensive practice of checking-in each periodical issue. The exception to this trend has been daily newspapers because it is easy and cost effective to handle a missing issue immediately; one merely needs to make phone call to have a replacement delivered on the same day. If the library misses a single issue of a magazine it is no longer considered essential to try to claim a copy from the vendor or publisher or to even note the absence of the issue in the library’s records. Libraries are not keeping backruns of periodicals for research purposes so missing issues are not a long-term problem that needs to be addressed. Public and school libraries, as well as many academic libraries, are adopting an attitude towards periodicals that recognizes the very transitory nature of many paper periodicals. Libraries are minimizing their investment of time and space for them knowing that for most of those worth keeping an electronic version is likely to be available.
Indexing and Abstracting Services
In the past, an additional investment associated with periodicals was the cost, housing and maintenance of various indexing and abstracting services such as Readers’ Guide to Periodical Literature. Indexing and abstracting sources provided the only systematic way to search the contents of periodicals although was limited to author, title and subject heading searches. Periodical databases are now very sophisticated indexes allowing far more access points than print indexes were able to do. As vendors extend the historical coverage in their databases, it becomes less necessary for school and public libraries in particular to store backruns of either the old indexes or the old periodical issues.
Periodicals can be expensive but the high costs for tracking each issue individually, storing, binding and photocopying items from it are disappearing. Even though small libraries seldom bound their periodicals, many purchased microfilm or microfiche as a more convenient storage medium. While taking up small amounts of space individually, film storage cabinets, viewing and printing machinery and refilling those pesky little pieces of negative film was not without costs. Microfilm and microfiche are not user-friendly and many libraries have ceased acquiring backruns in this format if possible.
Back Issues and Claims
Acquiring back issues and claiming issues that do not arrive in the mail as expected are very time-consuming processes. While this is something that research institutions pursue, smaller libraries have no need to use valuable human resources in this manner. Larger periodical vendors offer free current issues of very popular titles to fulfill claims for missing issues but many libraries find that this is not worth the amount of effort. It is something that you can discuss with your vendor if it is a regular problem for your library.
Changes in Periodicals and Renewals
One of the biggest challenges of periodicals is how often they change! Periodicals often change titles or focus, split into parts (A, B, C), merge with another title, etc. The titles a small public or school library gets do not change as much as academic and research publications but they do change. Popular magazines disappear and new ones appear. The best advice for dealing with these changes is to keep an open mind and recognize that changes will occur. Most public libraries arrange their browsing periodicals alphabetically by title. When labeling the shelving area for periodicals remember that next year you may have a different mix of titles or titles may change their names. Be flexible. Libraries can general subscribe to paper and print versions of periodicals on either a calendar year basis or an academic year basis so that renewals and new titles take affect in either January or September. A periodicals vendor can assist the library in getting all titles to have a common renewal date, to identify which titles come in which choice of formats and for what price, and they can even help a library take advantage of multiyear pricing although that limits the library’s ability to add and drop titles with annual flexibility. Library serial vendors will also provide a single renewal list each year for the library to use to make its title decisions and a single invoice (one check!) to pay for the periodicals. Library periodical vendors take much of the hassle out of managing periodicals in the library and reduce the over-all costs by eliminating the constantly arriving renewal notices sent by publishers. Such notices often arrive on a monthly basis and can be very confusing. Once one is using a serial vendor there is no need to even open those mailings.
Periodicals should be selected to meet the reading interests and information needs of your user community and should also complement the other library collections. Knowing the interests of your community is essential in selecting appropriate periodicals. Determining whether the periodical under consideration is suitable for your library is easier if you use a systematic evaluation checklist. Some of the questions you might wish to consider are:
- Purpose, Scope and Audience. What is the purpose of the periodical, what does the periodical actually include, and who is the intended audience? This can be determined by examining the table of contents, the range of writers, authors, and editors, and the vocabulary and reading level used in the articles.
- Accuracy. How accurate is the material in the periodical? It should be factually correct and relatively objective. This can be determined by evaluating the writers, the publisher, and the subject matter.
- Local Interest. Does the title have some interest to the local community?
- Format Issues. What is the quality of the printing and the paper? Are illustrations of good quality? Do there seem to be more ads than text? Is the layout user-friendly and inviting? Consider today’s webpage design elements; users expect bulleted lists, illustrations, text boxes with interesting points or examples.
- Cost. How much does the subscription cost?
- Demand. Will the title likely be used enough to justify subscription?
- Availability. Is the title already available and indexed in a database to which your users have access? Do you want a paper subscription anyway? Does the demand for browsing this title justify the expense? How long will you keep paper issues? Is the title readily available through interlibrary loan if you decide not to buy it and it is not in the periodical database used at your library?
Selecting periodicals sight unseen can be difficult. If you are unsure of a periodical, check the Internet for a website for the publication. You will likely find a great deal about the content, layout, editorial focus and more very quickly. You may also ask for a sample issue from the publisher or a periodical vendor although with the web availability that is seldom necessary now. A visit to a large chain bookstore can provide an opportunity for hands-on evaluation of a very extensive collection of periodicals. In this way you can examine some of the most popular titles in the marketplace at any given time. There are also a few other selection aids that you should know even if you are not likely to use most of them in a small library.
Selective Guides to Periodicals
For information to help you make selection decisions for periodicals, there are some library magazines and journals that provide reviews of a few new periodical titles (for example, Library Journal and School Library Journal. But if you are interested in adding an established magazine (rather than a new magazine) to your collection, Magazines for Libraries selectively lists and annotates approximately 7,000 “best” magazines for libraries and can be used to build your periodicals subscriptions in a particular subject area. This large reference book is organized by broad subject areas (i.e., horses, golf, quilting, poetry, mysteries, scuba diving, dogs, cats, gaming, etc.) and each subject is written by a librarian or other subject specialist who examines periodicals in their area of interest and writes a review and summary of the best titles along with publication and pricing information for each title recommended. Magazines for Libraries is published every few years (most recent edition is the 15th, December 2006) by R. R. Bowker and so is not useful for new periodicals or for everyday collection development. The cost of this reference book ($275) makes it too expensive for smaller libraries but one can use it at a larger library or borrow it on interlibrary loan from one’s state library. Additionally, Bowker has launched a quarterly email update service for new titles.
Directories of Periodicals and Newspapers
For finding subscription information and sometimes brief descriptions of periodicals and newspapers, there are several standard reference sources. These sources aim at being comprehensive rather than selective and are published on an annual basis but now have a variety of electronic iterations as well. They tend to be much too expensive for smaller libraries. Ulrich’s International Periodicals Directory (R.R. Bowker) at $875 is the premier service of this type and is available in an electronic format as well as paper. EBSCO Information Services, one of the largest international serial and electronic content vendors, provides free catalogs of serials targeted for specific types of libraries. These catalogs are very useful in identifying possibly appropriate titles. They may be requested from the EBSCO. The International Directory of Little Magazines and Small Presses (Dustbooks) is useful for finding subscription information for periodicals with smaller circulations but the primary audience is writers. While its cost is not prohibitive ($38.00 in paperback) it is not very useful for smaller libraries trying to select magazines. The Gale Directory of Publications and Broadcast Media (Gale Research) identifies newsletters and newspapers (as well as other types of publications) by geographic region but the annual price is also prohibitive at $1,000 in 2007. Newspaper information can usually be obtained by doing a Google search.
You can find more current purchasing information for periodical titles by contacting the periodical publishers and/or vendors (EBSCO and WT Cox for example) and by reviewing their Internet or print catalogs. To identify more periodical subscription services see the site of the Association of Subscription Agents and Intermediaries.
Electronic Journals and Magazines
Periodicals are increasingly being published electronically over the Internet; these are called electronic journals/e-journals or electronic magazines/e-zines. A range of electronic periodicals are available over the Internet, including newspapers (for example, the New York Times), magazines (for example, Business Week), a very large number of scholarly journals, and journal and magazines that only exist in electronic form and have no print counterpart (for example, D-Lib Magazine) which is still free (as of February 2007) after ten years of publication on the Web. You can find an extensive compilation of information related to electronic journals at Serials in Cyberspace: Collections, Resources, and Services. With some brief training individuals in small libraries can learn to put appropriate bibliographic records for periodicals in their catalogs and then link from such a record to an online version of the title if it is free or available by subscription for the library’s clients.
Microforms (Microfiche, Microfilm)
Microforms are not well liked by people since they are perceived to be difficult to use. They do, however, save storage space and are a good format for low-use materials, back issues of newspapers and magazines, and some types of research collections especially out-of-print and archival items. As such collections are digitized and the contents available in electronic formats, microforms in most public libraries are likely to disappear as a form of convenient storage. While microforms can improve a library’s storage problems, they can get easily lost or misfiled—never to be seen again! You also need special equipment for viewing and photocopying microforms. The future of microforms is questionable, as digitization is fast becoming the preferred storage medium. Until your local and state historic newspapers are available in an electronic format, you may wish to continue to use those microfilm items as well as the microfilm for U.S. Census data.
While newspapers are periodicals they present some special challenges. One challenge is simply how many do we need to get? This is particularly important now that most newspapers can be accessed free online. For a small public library any and all local newspapers should be purchased for the library. This means real newspapers, not “shoppers” or real estate sale publications. There may be a daily paper in the town or city where the library is located and a weekly county newspaper. There may be no local daily newspaper so that the library must decide which of many dailies to get. One option is to subscribe to the paper from the state capitol. Another is to get the daily newspaper that is published closest to the library or comes from the metropolitan area with which the community identifies. This is often the same city from which the television cable channels are broadcast. It is not necessary to get the newspaper from every major city in the state. Use your good judgment, talk to those who read the newspaper in the library for their opinions, and then try to make a reasonable choice.
The three national newspapers most often purchased in public libraries are The Wall Street Journal, USA Today, and The New York Times. USA Today is a “popular” newspaper with many graphics, national and international news and many special features. The New York Times is the primary newspaper for New York City and much of the paper is devoted to information of local importance in additional to its broad national and international coverage. It provides extensive coverage of national literary and artist environments. The Wall Street Journal, of course, is focused on the business world and the news that has a bearing upon both national and international monetary issues. Often public libraries will subscribe to The New York Times Book Review section from the Sunday edition. That can be purchased separately from the newspaper.
Consortia purchases at the system or state level might also include newspaper databases and some major newspapers are included in other periodical databases. The terms of the inclusions change so you must educate yourself regarding what is currently available in the databases to which your clients have access. The inclusion in databases is very useful for research but does not usually lend itself to browsing an issue. For those purposes, one must access the newspaper’s website. Newspaper publishers have a wide range of policies regarding what one can access via the web. Check to be sure you understand what is available for newspapers of interest in your community. For example, are the want ads online? If your community is a “bedroom community” for a big city, many of your residents may work or wish to work in the city and need access to those job ads. There are no clear cut answers regarding which newspapers to access online and which to purchase in paper. See what gets used in your library. Subscribe to local papers (and probably any within the state) from the newspaper itself. You will get better service and it is good business.
Once you have decided what newspaper you will get, there are three other questions to be answered about each newspaper:
- How will we display the current issues?
- How long will we keep back issues?
- Where will back issues be stored and how will people access them?
Below is a brief discussion of these three issues.
Libraries have been using “sticks” to hang newspapers for at least one hundred years. These typically have a handle at one end and a type of splintered stick about 30 inches long that serves to keep all the parts of newspaper together. Once the newspaper is inserted on the rod sections, rubber bands are used to hold the sections together and theoretically prevent users from stealing the newspaper. These rods then hang from special racks in the library. If you have ever tried to read a newspaper while it is on a stick, you will know that this is one of the most uncomfortable and least user-friendly things ever invented for libraries—and there have been many such!. Putting the newspapers on the sticks is also a very inefficient use of staff time. If at all possible stop using newspaper sticks and merely arrange the newspapers on shelves in a manner similar to other periodicals. Deal with security issues about newspapers in some other manner.
The length of time that the library keeps its newspapers is also open to much debate. A local newspaper should be kept indefinitely or until it is possible to purchase backfiles on microfilm or digitized versions are available. Back issues of metropolitan and national newspapers are often available on the website of the individual newspapers and in databases. “Current seven days” or “current 30 days” are standard holding periods for these newspapers. When phrased in this manner, the library’s holdings do not vary in size. When each new issue is added to the back file, the oldest issue in the stack is discarded. This makes management of the back files much easier. Since the local newspaper is one that the library may wish to keep indefinitely, these backfiles may need to be stored in a more secure area than those of other newspapers. For all but the most unique local newspaper, patrons should be able to help themselves to the back files as needed. Most states now have a newspaper preservation project of some type and information about your state’s project can be obtained from your state library’s website. In Arizona the Arizona Newspaper Project was designed with a number of individual initiatives to guarantee continued access to the historic newspapers of the state. Visit the projects website to learn more about this project and how you and your local citizens can benefit from this project of Arizona State Library, Archives and Public Records.
Evans, G. E., & Saponaro, M. Z. (2005). “Serials – print and electronic” in Developing library and information center collections (5th ed.). Englewood, CO: Libraries Unlimited.
Serials in Cyberspace: Collections, Resources, and Services. [Maintained by a librarian at the University of Vermont.]