Serials Evaluation: An Innovation Approach
Berger, Marilyn, Devine, Jane, Special Libraries
* A method of analyzing serials collections examines the characteristics and subject content of serials by providing a comprehensive descriptive review of current serials with particular reference to planning publications. The innovative approach used combines evaluative criteria traditionally used by librarians to analyze serials with database management technology.
The objective of this paper is to present a new method of analyzing serials collections, a method which was developed by Informes Associates, a Montreal-based information consulting firm. The methodology used examines the characteristics and subject content of serials by providing a comprehensive descriptive review of current serials with particular reference to planning publications. The innovative approach used combines evaluative criteria traditionally used by librarians to analyze serials with database management technology.
In February 1986, Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation commissioned Informes Associates to conduct a study of current serials on housing and related fields relevant to the Canadian housing research community. The information presented in the study was intended to assist the corporation investigate the potential for a new serial emphasizing housing research issues. Research required to complete this study was conducted by the company's principals and a team of researchers and subject specialists over a six-month period. The original study included an evaluation of over 300 titles using 38 criteria to provide full, descriptive information for each serial. Selection of appropriate computer software as a tool for information management was essential to the analytical process. It allowed for systematic, organized control of data with the creation of a permanent database. The methodology used for the study has considerable potential for use by information professionals, regardless of the type of serials collection managed.
The titles examined for the review were all current serials; those which had ceased publication were omitted from this evaluation process, although for other studies it might be desirable to include ceased titles. The majority were either English-language, French-language, or bilingual publications, since these are Canada's official languages. Some foreign-language serials were included if deemed relevant to Canadian housing research when the titles to be examined were selected. Subject areas encompassed by the serials were: architecture, banking and finance, building and construction, business, economic situation and conditions, energy, environmental studies, geography, dwellings for the aged, housing, interior design and decoration, public administration, political science, real estate business, social services and welfare, statistics, and urban planning.
In order to set the parameters for selection of titles to be evaluated, the first step in the analysis was to define the scope of the term "periodical." According to the American Library Association, the accepted definition is:
"A periodical is a serial appearing or intended to appear more frequently than annually, each issue of which is numbered or dated consecutively and normally contains separate articles, stories or other writings. Newspapers disseminating general news, and the proceedings, papers, or other publications of corporate bodies primarily related to their meetings, are not included in this term."
Thus newspapers, proceedings, and in-house organs were excluded from the final choice of titles as a general policy. Similar studies could of course involve different parameters setting other boundaries at the outset.
Choice of Titles
Starting with this definition, several steps were followed to compile a comprehensive list of periodicals. Various sources were consulted for serial titles. These included directories, subject bibliographies, union lists of serials, and online databases. A library's own holdings could form the list of titles to be analyzed. This particular study called for analyzing housing serials as a group, therefore a broader range of sources was required.
In addition to the librarians directing the study, a team of subject specialists gave their knowledge and advice to the project. Consultants associated with this project were chosen because of their academic and professional achievements in specialized fields related to housing research. Their backgrounds presented a good cross section of expertise required for in-depth study. A preliminary list of titles was submitted to the appropriate consultants, who were asked to identify those titles which were, in their opinion, most suitable for evaluation. Using consultants for a preliminary "screening" process helped establish a final list which was balanced between academic, professional, and popular periodicals within each subject area.
Other selection criteria were, as stated above, the language of publication and starting date of the serial. Serials less than two years old were excluded from the study because too few issues would be available for a valid analysis of subject coverage.
To get an idea of the contents and to be able to physically examine the serials, locations had to be found using union lists. It was considered necessary to examine each title from its inception, and secondary sources were never used in lieu of the serial itself. Once locations had been determined, the list of serials was divided and distributed among researchers chosen for their subject backgrounds: librarians, urban planners, and architects.
A thesaurus of terms was constructed within each of the 17 identified subject areas in the housing field. These subject areas were assigned a unique letter code, for instance, A = Architecture. The consultants were asked to list all relevant terms in their subject areas. These suggested terms were added to a similar list compiled from specialized housing thesauri; thus the original 17 subject categories were expanded to 132 terms which then became the framework for subject analysis. Each term was assigned an alpha-numeric code incorporating the general letter code of the broader subject to which it belonged. Coding fostered uniformity among the researchers when defining subject areas covered by the serials examined.
A criteria form was then designed to collate all the information necessary for the preparation of the title essay describing each serial. A pre-test was done on six titles and the form revised accordingly. At this point, the systems analyst suggested modifications, and revisions were again made to meet coding requirements for data input. Once the form was finished, it provided a tool for data collection which allowed for all the analytical criteria and encouraged uniformity of results.
Eight research assistants were hired to collect the data necessary for each title essay: two urban planners, one architect, and five librarians. Orientation concerning the scope and purpose of the project was provided and training was carried out according to a procedures manual drawn up for this purpose. Researchers were instructed to look at the first issues and a representative number of subsequent issues in order to understand the full scope and purpose of the journal from its inception. A photocopy of each serial's latest available contents page was taken in order to compile a "current contents" volume for a current awareness service. This type of information is easy to prepare and can be circulated regularly to clients or library users. In fact, many special libraries already provide such current awareness services. The latest 12 issues of each periodical available were examined to assess the coverage of housing and related topics.
Choice of Computer Software
In consultation with the systems analyst, the "Oracle" software package was chosen as the most suitable relational database management system for this project. Available in mainframe, mini, and microcomputer versions, the package is compatible with several types of hardware, including IBM, DEC, and TI (Texas Instruments). It has a powerful and flexible database creation capability, which allowed the generation of specially designed evaluative reports from collected data. All of the tables presented in this article were produced using this package. Since Oracle can run on various systems, the data was transferred to magnetic tapes from the mainframe facilities at Reseau Computertime, the utility where the findings were processed for future use on other systems. The potential for information sharing among related collections through this types of procedure is attractive to organizations involved in cooperative projects.
Information gathered for the title essays encompassed three types of data: descriptive, quantitative, and qualitative. Some of the criteria used fell into more than one category and could be analyzed in more than one way.
The main descriptive data for each serial were: title, previous title(s) (if any), type of publication, physical description, publisher and country of publication, starting date, ISSN, storage media available, affiliation with specific organizations, language, geographic and period coverage, and illustrations (if any). This information provided the "where, when, and what" of each serial needed to judge which publications fulfilled certain requirements. For instance, since the particular interest was in Canadian housing, the country of publication and geographic coverage criteria helped gauge whether a serial was likely to be relevant to Canadian housing research.
The quantitative criteria used for each title essay were important for descriptive purposes, but were particularly useful when comparing serials and looking for overall patterns or characteristics. These were: size (including the average number of pages in a current issue), circulation, frequency, subscription cost, footnote count, age of the serial, number of places where indexed, number of housing articles, and advertising content. To determine the footnote count and advertising analysis, a recent representative issue was used; to measure the extent of subject coverage, the number of housing articles was assessed over 12 consecutive recent issues. The range of information to be derived from this data was broad. For instance, using data on subscription cost related to the type of publication, a table was produced (Table 1) displaying mean, maximum, minimum, and range in cost by type of periodical. [Table 1 Omitted] The above analysis provides valuable statistics which can be used for budgeting and planning purposes, such as projecting expenditures by the type of publication. It was discovered, for instance, that the average cost of a housing bulletin subscription was nearly triple that of the other types of serials.
Analysis of Subject Coverage
Using the thesaurus of housing and housing-related terms, an analysis of subject content of relevant titles was conducted. In this way low coverage of certain areas in relation to the coverage of other topics was identified over a 12-month period. A count of the number of titles dealing with each subject was generated by the computer to facilitate this analysis. For example, looking at Table 2 and using the main heading "Housing," 45 titles cover the subtopic "Public Housing." Fifteen journals covered all "Housing" subjects. A report could be generated on the journal titles dealing with the above examples. Slum clearance was the least covered subject area in the "Urban Planning Section" of the thesaurus (Table 3).
Gaps and concentrations in subject coverage become evident on the basis of the journals examined. This information is useful for a variety of purposes. Librarians might find it helpful for collection development, current awareness, or budget considerations, while publishers and research institutions could use this data in planning new areas of investigation or new publications. Professionals in this field could determine whether these topics require further research.
Description No. of Titles Public Housing 45 Apartments 38 Laws and Legislation 38 Condominiums 37 Housing Policies 36 Low-income Housing 32 Co-operative Housing 29 Multi-family Housing 29 Prefabricated Houses 29 Minimum-cost Housing 27 Rural Housing 21 Cluster Housing 19 Courtyard Housing 19 Discrimination 19 Industrial Housing 19 Housing for the Physically Handicapped 17 Mobile Homes 16 Native Housing 15 Single-parent Housing 15 Student Housing 15 All Housing Subjects 15 Description No. of Titles City Planning 46 Urban Policy 40 Urban Renewal 37 Neighborhood Development 36 Zoning 30 Municipalities 28 Recreation 24 Garden Cities 22 Play Areas 22 Slum Clearance 20 All Urban Planning Subjects 13
The qualitative criteria used in the study were: audience (professional, academic, general), level of rigor (professional, academic, practical), whether referred, leading contributors, quality of illustrations and photographs, aids to users (indexes, etc.), regular features, and degree of relevance to the housing field. The character of a serial depends to a large extent on its intended audience. Although the serials were not related according to these criteria, the potential exists to rank them by any or all of the above measures.
Table 4 illustrates one application of qualitative criteria in determining the scholarly characteristics of the serials. It demonstrates how many of the serials fell into each category and what percentage of the total each category comprised. It could help librarians achieve a balance between academic, professional, and practical or popular titles for a collection.
A report was generated selecting all titles that included book reviews as a regular feature; 122 records were selected.
Level of Rigor Category No. of Titles % Academic 69 26 Professional 130 48 Practical 60 22 Other 10 4 (Combination of above) Leading Contributors Category No. of Titles % Academic 53 20 Editorial Board 107 40 Professional 61 23 Unsolicited Contributor 18 7 Other 30 11 (Combination of above)
The methodology described allows the librarian as an information specialist to have firm control of a serials collection, from the administrative and intellectual standpoints. Qualitative information from each record may be used to evaluate subject coverage and selected characteristics for individual titles and groups of serials on a continuing basis. Quantitative and descriptive data, on the other hand, provide useful tools for collection management, including budgeting. Statistics on size and frequency could even be used in space planning by classifying the number of serials acquired annually according to size.
Computerized information management permits sophisticated, otherwise impossible, collection control and development. Some of the ways in which data on serials can be compiled and used has been outlined. Although this depth of analysis may not be suitable for all collections, it has considerable potential for special libraries and for information professionals conducting similar research. Publishers could examine existing literature using the framework described as a compliment to market surveys before launching new publications. The method of serial analysis described here couples evaluative criteria traditionally used by librarians with database management technology.
(1)A title essay included the physical description pertaining to the serial, subject categories assigned to the title, and an abstract on the relevance to Canadian housing research. (2)Twelve issues provide an adequate measurement of subject scope and represented the periodicals' current characteristics.
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Marilyn Berger, a principal Officer of Informes Associates, Montreal, was the principal investigator for the Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation serials review. She is presently Reference Librarian at Blackader-Lauterman Library of Architecture and Art, McGill University, Montreal, Quebec. This article has been revised from a paper presented by Berger at the annual conference of the Council of Planning Librarians, April 1987. Jane Devine, co-author of this article, was a research associate for the serials review. She is presently an audiovisual librarian at the National Film Board of Canada, Montreal, Quebec.…
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Publication information: Article title: Serials Evaluation: An Innovation Approach. Contributors: Berger, Marilyn - Author, Devine, Jane - Author. Magazine title: Special Libraries. Volume: 81. Issue: 3 Publication date: Summer 1990. Page number: 183+. © 1989 Special Libraries Association. COPYRIGHT 1990 Gale Group.
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