TO BIND or NOT TO BIND: Pros & Cons of Maintaining Paper Periodicals in the Library's Collection

By Anderson, Iris W. | Information Outlook, November 1999 | Go to article overview

TO BIND or NOT TO BIND: Pros & Cons of Maintaining Paper Periodicals in the Library's Collection


Anderson, Iris W., Information Outlook


The Electronic Tidal Wave

In the current tidal wave carrying publishers into digital formats for their journals publishing, a basic question is looming in the minds of many librarians: What is the future of paper periodicals in libraries? This question leads inevitably to other questions without easy answers, such as: Are there any important reasons for keeping paper collections as electronic versions of the same materials become widely available? Should paper journals continue to be bound for preservation or long-term retention and should older bound volumes be maintained in-house or stored off-site and at what cost? Furthermore, who should bear the responsibility of archiving journals for the future, especially those titles which are never digitized? And what about archiving digital journals? The questions become complex and deserve great debate and contemplation. Most librarians who work with serials, whether they make selections, do the procurement, cataloging, or day-to-day management of their collections, are having to seriously consider these issues. If and when the number of electronic journal titles reaches a critical mass of the world's publishing output - how should libraries continue to manage their paper periodicals collections or should they perhaps consider no longer maintaining them at all?

Definitions of Electronic Journals

What is actually meant by the term electronic journal? At the present time, there are many definitions, some quite confusing - for example, an electronic journal is a digital version of its paper counterpart. Not necessarily. A few electronic journals do not get published in paper at all - these are the truly electronic journals; other electronic journals are just online versions, often incomplete, of the paper journal already in existence; others are comprehensive equivalents (as in full-image) of the paper journal; many other titles appear as "full-text" in different aggregator databases; and some go beyond their paper counterparts by providing contact names or even links to editors, authors or other sources. Just trying to locate a single journal title in its various electronic formats is a challenge. Never mind trying to decide which version is the "best buy" for the library or how to negotiate a good license agreement. Questions about online journal availability and cost are important ones facing all special and academic libraries today as well as tomorrow.

Users of Electronic Journals

Who are the current and future users of online journals in libraries? Deciding what to collect for the library in electronic formats can be an emotional issue, especially for librarians who came of age as baby boomers or earlier. These generations were educated in a paper environment and learned to use computers largely on-the-job. They do not particularly relish reading articles on computer screens or spending their limited work time downloading journal articles to their local printers, especially lengthy, scholarly articles. Isn't that what they go to the library for - to get someone else to locate the best literature for them and present it in a friendly fashion? The same might be said of the expectations of managers and researchers in your company who have come to rely on their special librarians for this type of service. However, for the younger generations growing up today, working with computers and perhaps even doing the majority of their school work and research on a computer screen without ever visiting a physical library will not be unusual. Perhaps in the near future or perhaps even now, people will be sighing "Oh, how I miss leafing through my old paper journals" or "If only I could get my office library to provide me with some good printed articles for my research project, instead of expecting me to do it all from my own computer."

Starting the Discussion

This paper does not attempt to answer all of the questions that it poses. …

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TO BIND or NOT TO BIND: Pros & Cons of Maintaining Paper Periodicals in the Library's Collection
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