This essay will examine the question of whether or not subscriptions to print/paper scholarly journals have a place in academic library collections. First a brief history of scholarly journals shall be given. The major part of the essay will focus on print journals compared to electronic journals1 (the only real alternative to print). Benefits and downsides of both formats will be examined and discussed. A brief an analysis of the point of academic libraries follows, before the final discussion and conclusion.
The conclusion is that generally electronic journals serve the major purpose of academic libraries better than printed journals. However, in some cases it maybe impractical to unsubscribe from a print journal, and there maybe other reasons for academic libraries to subscribe to print journals. Therefore, print journals still do have a place, albeit minor, in academic libraries.
All scholarly journals were originally published on paper. The first peer reviewed journals were first published in 1665 (Keefer, 2001; Alison Wells, 1999). Since its invention in the first half of the twentieth century until the 1980s, microfilm was widely discussed as a format (Miller, 2000; Richards, 1993). With the rise of easy access to computers, indexes and abstracts, articles (including preprints), and whole journals were published on CD-ROMs and wide spread computer networks (including the Internet). In the 1980s CDs offered a lot of potential (Richards, 1993), but by the late 1990s they had been almost entirely been supplanted (Miller, 2000). In the area of network distribution, initially various systems, including email, FTP (file transfer protocol), UseNet (NewsNet) and propitiatory systems (including Gopher) were used, but with the rise of the World Wide Web (WWW), it became the dominant distribution method (Keefer, 2001). And by the mid-1990s, commercial publishers were distributing electronic journals via the WWW on a large scale (Keefer, 2001; Alison Wells, 1999). However, there are also a large number of “open access” journals that are freely available to readers without cost.
Print and electronic are quite different formats, and each format has advantages and disadvantages for journals. However, electronic journals tend to provide more advantages to both end users and to institutions. The benefits and downsides of both formats relate to both users and institutions.
The benefits of print journals, compared to electronic journals, include:
Being usable despite lack of network access or electricity.
Easier to read.
Includes adverts, editorials, letters, and similar, which maybe missing from electronic journals (Rusch-Feja & Siebeky, 1999).
The major downsides of printed journals relate to the costs involved for institutions. Generally electronic journals are cheaper, for a variety of reasons (see below). Other problems with print journals are inherent in the physical nature of the item. They can be lost, stolen or otherwise misplaced, or damaged or destroyed. They can also not be searched as easily as electronic journals.
Electronic journals tend to have all the advantages of electronic formats generally2. Advantages to electronic journals include:
Access by multiple people, in multiple locations, at one time, and 24 hours a day; users do not need to visit the library (Koehn & Hawamdeh, 2010; Ray & Day, 1998; Rusch-Feja & Siebeky, 1999).
They are easier to search (including within individual issues and articles, and across multiple titles and issues), save, and get exact quotes from (Koehn & Hawamdeh, 2010; Liu, 2006; Varian, 1997).
Access to a wider variety of journals (Hitchcock, Carr, & Hall, 1997; Nabe, 2001).
Access to back issues that may otherwise not be available (though this may also lead to a dependence on publishers for back issues) (Montgomery & King, 2002).
A reduction in the need for inter-library loans (Robertson, 2003).
Features inherent in the format, such as the ability to have hyperlinks to other journal articles or resources, and embedded multimedia.
Cheaper (Hunter, 2007), especially when subscribed to as part of a consortium, or as a bundle (here and there).
Storage costs are less, moreover binding and other maintenance costs are removed (Genoni, 2007; Connaway & Lawrence, 2003; Robertson, 2003; Varian, 1997).
Despite having none of the major disadvantages that print journals do, electronic journals have their own problems. The most obvious (perhaps) disadvantages relate to losing attributes (benefits) that paper journals have; both those discussed above, and others, such as "serendipitous discovery" (Sathe, Grady, & Giuse, 2002; Rusch-Feja & Siebeky, 1999; Hollerman, 2000).
Other potential problems mainly resolve around licensing issues. These include:
Problems with archiving and preservation (Koehn & Hawamdeh, 2010; Oakley & Vaughan, 2007).
Problems related to long-term access (which is also related to archiving), particularly after a subscription is cancelled (Koehn & Hawamdeh, 2010; Oakley & Vaughan, 2007; Ware, 2005).
Other licensing and copyright concerns (Buckley, Burright, Prendergast, Sapon-White, & Taylor, 1999; Koehn & Hawamdeh, 2010).
However, these problems are quickly becoming less relevant. The widespread availability of databases with features such as 'related articles' and 'cited by' enable one to find related information quickly, without starting a new search. This can replace serendipitous discovery.
While long-term cost and other licensing issues are genuine concerns, institutions are becoming more savvy. The use of subscription agents and consortium purchasing also reduces these problems (Nabe, 2001; Ashcroft & Langdon, 1999). As well, open access journals have none of the problems related to pay-for journals (Suber, 2003). Institutions are also demanding that electronic journals contain the same information (including book reviews, editorials and letters) that paper journals have (Zambare et al., 2009).
However, it is certainly true that licensing is a major potential problem for institutions. Zambare et al. (2009) recount how a publisher provided back issues, after a contract had expired, in a form that was unusable to the institution (but still within the bounds of the contract). The fact is that in some cases, the electronic journal subscription maybe more hassle than it is worth for the institution.
A number of studies have shown that most users prefer electronic journals compared to print. For example: Koehn & Hawamdeh, 2010; Morse & Clintworth, 2000; Rusch-Feja & Siebeky, 1999; Sathe et al., 2002; and Montgomery & King, 2002. Mischo, Norman, Shelburne, & Schlembach, 2007 list a number of other relevant studies.
Academic libraries exist to “support the learning, teaching and (where applicable) research of their parent institutions”3 (Oakley & Vaughan, 2007). They do this by providing resources and support to students and staff. Academic libraries may or may not also cater to members of the general public, students who are not studying at the institutions (including primary and high school students), and alumni.
A small survey of Australian academic library websites, collection policies and mission statements suggests that they mainly see their primary users as students and staff. Sometimes this is sometimes presented as supporting the mission of the university.
For example, the University of South Australia Library says that the primary user groups are “Staff and students of the University” (Parnell, n.d.). The University of New South Wales's Library's mission is to: “Support the teaching, learning, creative and research functions of the University ” (Andrew Wells, 2010). The University of Tasmania Library aims to, “acquire, preserve and provide access to diverse collections of scholarly information, available where they are needed by students, researchers and academics ” as well as “support ... the academic directions of University of Tasmania” (UTAS Library, 2010). The libraries of Charles Darwin University, Bond University and Charles Sturt University have similar statements (Quinn, 2010; Bond University Library, 2011; Division of Library Services, 2011).
The University of Queensland Library is exceptional, it does not specifically mention students or staff, rather the mission is simply to “enrich world-class scholarship” (Lyons, 2011).
Based on the purpose of academic libraries (to support staff and students), and the fact that electronic journals provide more benefits, for both the library and the principle users, than print journals (and are preferred by users), it is difficult to argue that print journals still have a general place in academic libraries.
Even if academic libraries cater to the general public, as well as students and staff, print journals are not essential. Walk in access, for the general public, allows access to journals from computers in the library without needing a user-name or password. Though this may complicate matters in regard to licensing for the libraries.
Yet, it would be a sad day when academic libraries no longer subscribe to any print journals. Therefore, if only for reasons of sentimentality and tradition, academic libraries should continue to subscribe to, at least some, print journals. The particular titles will depend on focus of each library, but the important titles in the field or fields that library is focused on should continue to be subscribed to in printed form (as well as electronic form; so that users also get the benefits of the electronic form).
Moreover, regardless of how much academic libraries may wish to subscribe to electronic journals only, some journals may continue to exist only in print form, or from publishers that particular institutions cannot meet agreement with over licensing. In these cases, if the institutions wish to continue to subscribe to these journals, it will have to be in the print format.
Regardless of the conclusion of this essay, academic libraries are already giving preference to electronic forms of material. Here are quotes from the collection management documents of three Australian university libraries:
University of South Australia Library (Parnell, n.d.): “Online versions of information resources are acquired in preference to those in print or analogue form.”
University of New South Wales Library (Andrew Wells, 2010): “UNSW Library will purchase electronic versions of material in preference to print/hardcopy. ”
University of Tasmania Library (UTAS Library, 2010): “... as much as possible is provided in electronic format ...” and “Where a journal is available electronically, this is the preferred ‘format’ and print subscriptions will not be placed or continued other than in special circumstances. Where it is possible existing print journals will be replaced by an electronic format subject to quality electronic access.”
Ashcroft, L., & Langdon, C. (1999). Electronic journals and university library collections. Collection Building, 18(3), 105-114. doi:10.1108/01604959910281122
Bond University Library. (2011). Library | About | Bond University | Gold Coast, Australia. Library | About | Bond University | Gold Coast, Australia. Retrieved September 25, 2011, from http://www.bond.edu.au/library-and-online-resources/about/library/index.htm
Buckley, C., Burright, M., Prendergast, A., Sapon-White, R., & Taylor, A. (1999). Electronic Publishing of Scholarly Journals: A Bibliographic Essay of Current Issues. Issues in Science and Technology Librarianship. Retrieved from http://www.library.ucsb.edu/istl/99-spring/article4.html#8
Connaway, L. S., & Lawrence, S. R. (2003). Comparing Library Resource Allocations for the Paper and the Digital Library. D-Lib Magazine, 9(12). doi:10.1045/december2003-connaway
Division of Library Services, C. (2011). Vision, Mission & Values. Vision, Mission & Values - Division of Library Services - Charles Sturt University. Retrieved September 25, 2011, from http://www.csu.edu.au/division/library/about/planning/mission
Genoni, P. (2007). Current issues in library collection. In S. Ferguson (Ed.), Libraries in the twenty-first century (pp. 123-143). Wagga Wagga, Australia: Centre for Information Studies.
Harter, S., & Kim, H. J. (1996). Electronic journals and scholarly communication: a citation and reference study. Information Research, 2(1). Retrieved from http://informationr.net/ir/2-1/paper9a.html#meyer
Hollerman, C. (2000). Electronic resources: Are basic criteria for the selection of materials changing? Library Trends, 48(4), 694-710.
Hunter, K. (2007). The End of Print Journals -- (In)Frequently Asked Questions. Journal of Library Administration, 46(2), 119.
Koehn, S. L., & Hawamdeh, S. (2010). The Acquisition and Management of Electronic Resources: Can Use Justify Cost? The Library Quarterly, 80(2), 161-174. doi:10.1086/651006
Liu, Z. (2006). Print vs. electronic resources: A study of user perceptions, preferences, and use. Information Processing & Management, 42(2), 583-592. doi:10.1016/j.ipm.2004.12.002
Miller, R. H. (2000). Electronic resources and academic libraries, 1980-2000: A historical perspective. Library Trends, 48(4).
Mischo, W. H., Norman, M. A., Shelburne, W. A., & Schlembach, M. C. (2007). The Growth of Electronic Journals in Libraries -- Access and Management Issues and Solutions. Science & Technology Libraries, 26(3), 29.
Montgomery, C. H., & King, D. W. (2002). Comparing Library and User Related Costs of Print and Electronic Journal Collections: A First Step Towards a Comprehensive Analysis. D-Lib Magazine, 8(10). doi:10.1045/october2002-montgomery
Morse, D. H., & Clintworth, W. A. (2000). Comparing Patterns of Print and Electronic Journal Use in an Academic Health Science Library. Issues in Science and Technology Librarianship. Retrieved from http://istl.org/00-fall/refereed.html
Nabe, J. (2001). E-Journal Bundling and Its Impact on Academic Libraries: Some Early Results. Issues in Science and Technology Librarianship. Retrieved from http://www.library.ucsb.edu/istl/01-spring/article3.html
Oakley, S., & Vaughan, J. (2007). Higher education libraries. In S. Ferguson (Ed.), Libraries in the twenty-first century (pp. 43-57). Wagga Wagga, Australia: Centre for Information Studies.
Parnell, S. (Ed.). (n.d.). Collection Development and Information Access Policy. University of South Australia. Retrieved from http://www.library.unisa.edu.au/about/policies/collection_development_policy.pdf
Richards. (1993). Of CD-ROMs and History. Electronic Library, 7(2), 74-75. doi:10.1108/eb044867
Robertson, V. (2003). The impact of electronic journals on academic libraries: the changing relationship between journals, acquisitions and inter-library loans department roles and functions. Interlending & Document Supply, 31(3), 174-179. doi:10.1108/02641610310488619
Rusch-Feja, D., & Siebeky, U. (1999). Evaluation of Usage and Acceptance of Electronic Journals: Results of an Electronic Survey of Max Planck Society Researchers including Usage Statistics from Elsevier, Springer and Academic Press. D-Lib Magazine, 5(10). Retrieved from http://dlib.org/dlib/october99/rusch-feja/10rusch-feja-full-report.html
Sathe, N. A., Grady, J. L., & Giuse, N. B. (2002). Print versus electronic journals: a preliminary investigation into the effect of journal format on research processes. Journal of the Medical Library Association, 90(2), 235-243.
Suber, P. (2003, January 21). Removing the Barriers to Research:An Introduction to Open Access for Librarians. Retrieved September 28, 2011, from http://eprints.rclis.org/bitstream/10760/4616/1/acrl.htm
UTAS Library. (2010, August). Library - Collection development policy. University of Tasmania. Retrieved from http://www.library.utas.edu.au/__data/assets/pdf_file/0017/56204/UTAS-Collection-Development-Policy-V6.1.pdf
Varian, H. R. (1997). The Future of Electronic Journals. Presented at the Conference on Scholarly Communication and Technology, Atlanta, GA: Association of Research Libraries. Retrieved from http://eric.ed.gov/ERICWebPortal/contentdelivery/servlet/ERICServlet?accno=ED414923
Ware, M. (2005). E-only journals: is it time to drop print? Learned Publishing, 18(3), 193-199. doi:10.1087/0953151054636192
Wells, Andrew (Ed.). (2010, August 10). Collection Development Policy. University of New South Wales Library. Retrieved from http://www.library.unsw.edu.au/images/pdf/Collection%20Development%20Policy%2020100810.pdf
Zambare, A., Casey, A. M., Fierst, J., Ginsburg, D., O’Dell, J., & Peters, T. (2009). Assuring Access: One Library’s Journey from Print to Electronic Only Subscriptions. Serials Review, 35(2), 70-74. doi:10.1016/j.serrev.2009.03.002
1In this essay, except in the history section, “electronic journal” is meant to be taken as those journals that are published and/or available via the World Wide Web, as compared to electronic journals distributed on CD-ROM or other methods on the Internet (such as FTP (file transfer protocol), or by email). It is accepted that this maybe potentially confusing, and it is no doubt technically incorrect. It is, however, the usage that is used most often in the literature (a problem also noted by (Harter & Kim, 1996)).
2Articles that are simply scanned images from print journals (normally embedded in a PDF (portable document format) file) may not have all the specific advantages.
3The authors use the term “higher education libraries”, rather than “academic libraries”, but the point is the same.
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