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Managing Journals by Committee

by | Nov 8, 2013 | 0 comments


Sharon Purlee and Edith Starbuck

Sharon Purlee (L) and Edith Starbuck (R), University of Cincinnati Health Sciences Library

Collection development for serials used to be a simple addition and cutting process. Now it is complex, involving ILL restrictions, discovery layers, formats, etc.  In 2010, the serials librarian retired, and her position was completely eliminated from the budget, leaving nobody with sole responsibility for serials.  Since none of those remaining had enough time to work on serials, the director formed a committee.

The committee first had to decide how to work as a group.  The collection had been shrinking, but the title mix had not changed.  The university had a new dean and new provost.  There was a new curriculum at the medical school, and a new service population was added to the library because of an agreement between the medical school and the academic health center.  The committee asked faculty and students what journals they would like the library to buy.  98 titles were recommended for addition (they already had 24 of them, and the library was able to use this as a teaching opportunity).

Then they began thinking what print journals to cancel and looked to see if print + online bundles could be unbundled, if titles could be shared with other libraries, and if titles were available online.  They also looked at ILL requests.  As a result, they cancelled 227 print titles, then looked at what to select.  Was it available online? What was the cost?  Is a package a better deal than individual subscriptions?  They spent $70,000 on new titles.

Pluses for the 1st year:

Year 1 Pluses

Lessons learned included starting earlier, meeting more frequently, communicating decisions clearly, and allowing more time to do the cancellations.

In year 2 (for 2013 subscriptions), a full time person who had skills in data and spreadsheet manipulation was added.  Process (photo).  The budget was flat, so they looked at online journal subscriptions and databases and obtained data on usage and cost per use for online titles.  They were unable to limit cancellations to print titlesl because cost savings would not cover the cost of needed additions.  In addition, the university is a member of a state consortium, which subscribed to journal packages, and there was no opportunity to cancel those.  The Health Sciences Library contributes 15% towards cost of all journals, many irrelevant to their subject area.

Cancellations in year 2 included more print titles and some high-priced online titles.  Some new funding from academic health center became available, so new titles could be purchased.  Faculty and students were pleased to provide recommendations, and understood and accepted decisions. 

Lessons year 2:  Decisions were more challenging and more of a balancing act between clinical and research journals.

In Year 3, previous mistakes were rectified and 2 previously cancelled titles were reinstated.  The faculty and especially the ILL department were delighted.  They were also able to add a half time person to the operation.  The greatest challenge is, of course, money!  Users have discovered e-books which are paid for from the monograph budget, so there is not much funding left for journals.

Changes:  They are now looking at impact factors and Scopus evaluation scores for each journal title.  Everything not directly supporting the curriculum was removed.  Purchasing articles when requested instead of subscribing to the journal (“by the drink access”) was also considered.  Selections for additions and deletions were based on impact factor and number of ILL requests.  Lessons learned:  There is not always a match between ILL article requests and journal requests.  Metrics help difficult decisions and make process more transparent.

After 3 cycles of managing by committee, lessons learned included: Faculty and students like to be asked for their input, but many of them still don’t know how to find what journals the library subscribes to. And they continue to request titles outside the scope of the collection.

Final lessons:  The ground is constantly shifting, journal management is ever more complex and involved, and open access won’t make it any easier.

They would not go back to the old way of managing their journal collections.  Managing them by committee has been very successful because the group brings strengths to the process and provides the benefits of multiple opinions.





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