Monday, June 06, 2011

Managing Periodicals

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When I started my current job, I was assigned a collection to manage: serials.  Honestly, I was less than excited about that.  I was responsible for serials in my old job too, and was hoping to get away from it!  I have a lot of admiration for librarians and library staff who work with serials because they can be...difficult.  Our annual renewal list from our magazine jobber (EBSCO) came in this week, so I've been thinking and working with them constantly ever since.

First of all, I like to think of them as periodicals rather than serials.  Technically, a serial is something published in a series.  In our library, we separate what we call "continuations" from periodicals, so I am not responsible for annual editions of books like exam preparation, travel guides, or price guides to antiques/collectibles.  I am, however, responsible for business reference items like insurance rating books and stock price guides like Value Line.  So, it's mostly magazines and a few other volumes published more than once per year.

The good thing about this collection is that it is not at all stagnant.  I have to keep up with title changes, changes in publication frequency (from weekly to monthly, for example), and recently the regular dropping-off of magazines that are just plain ceasing publication.

The bad thing about this collection is that it is not at all stagnant.  What you know to be true today may or may not be true tomorrow.  You have to roll with the changes, expect them, and make frequent decisions.

I mentioned above that we purchase the majority of our periodicals through EBSCO.  We have some direct orders when it is significantly cheaper or when a title is not available through EBSCO, but those get tricky to manage, so we like the added services of a vendor.  They warn us about a lot of those changes, and it's nice to have the bulk of our subscriptions on one annual renewal list.  Direct orders tend to expire all over the calendar, so we have to keep up with them on our own.  There are lots of magazine vendors out there, but my library has been pretty happy with EBSCO for years before I ever came on board.

Yet, I am really surprised at the difference in price sometimes between the publisher's direct subscription price and EBSCO's.  For example, Billboard magazine is about half the price directly, a savings of nearly $150.  The New England Journal of Medicine is less than half of EBSCO's cost when subscribed directly.

So, this week I have been going through the renewal list with a fine-toothed comb.  I am looking at circulation figures (which can be misleading in such a browsable collection, since many titles are used in-house but never checked out).  I am also looking at annual price against frequency (four issues per year at $100 per year is $25 per title, quite exorbitant!).  I'm asking my co-workers if certain titles enhance their other collections in some way, or if they might use them as part of their selection process.  I'm also balancing religious and political magazines so that our collection is not one-sided in any way.

The result?  So far, I have whittled the total renewal cost for 2011 down by almost $6,000.  That is money that is needed in other places, like eBooks, where demand significantly outweighs the current budget allocation.  I did not go into this project with any particular dollar amount in mind.  Luckily, the money is available.  It is important to me that our collections reflect our mission and our community, and that the tax dollars we collect are spent in the most efficient and widely-used way.

I think of this as my annual weeding of the magazine collection.  I've weeded subscriptions that are no longer pulling their weight.  Titles like the New England Journal of Medicine, Billboard, and North Korean Review do not belong in my library, so they have been removed.  I will also look at "best of" lists for new magazines and consider adding some new titles (most definitely not ~$6,000 worth, but maybe a few!).

Serials (periodicals) are not an easy collection, but can be challenging.  I only take this focused a look at the whole collection once a year when the big renewal list comes around.  The rest of the year it is managing donations, adopted titles, and all those changes that crop up.  Luckily for me, my library has assigned a circulation clerk to this collection who handles all of the ordering, cancelling, and the technical services end of things (processing, cataloging, checking in issues, etc.)  She is wonderful, and I think we make a good team on this tricky collection!

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