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Journal Collection Review
by Reba Leiding
Collection Development Librarian

(Editor's note: the lists of new journals and cancellations are available as links at the end of this article)

When the JMU Libraries began its journal review project last fall, nearly a decade had passed since the last overall evaluation of the journal collection. During those ten years, new programs had been added, the emphasis of some programs had been modified, and technology was changing.  Also during that time, the library's budget had remained essentially steady-state, while the average annual inflation rate for academic journals hovered around ten percent, well above the inflation rate for other goods.  Library expenditures for journals and other serials were rapidly approaching 70 percent of the materials budget per year, a proportion that had become typical for most research libraries.  Because of tight budgets, only incremental changes were made to the journal collection, with a new title added only if one of similar cost were cancelled.

Faculty and students were letting the library know that the journal collections were of crucial importance to their academic work.  The library's own self-study and academic program review, conducted in 1998 noted problems with the journal collection and the external review committee even recommended a 25% increase in the journal budget. 

Hopeful that a budget increase would allow us to address the needs of new programs, the JMU Libraries' Collection Development Committee planned an online faculty survey to collect recommendations for new titles.  But as a budget increase didn't appear to be a sure thing, the Committee also asked library liaisons to meet with their departments and evaluate the journals associated with their curriculums.  It became clear that this dialog between library liaison and department was going to be a major component in the review.  It served to educate about the current state of scholarly publishing, the crisis over journal inflation and highlight the changing needs of departmental programs, as well as, faculty and student research.  Liaisons also asked faculty for their attitudes about using online journals and document delivery. 

Journal use was an important factor in evaluating the current collection, along with such factors as inclusion in scholarly databases and indexes, and whether titles were "core" journals in their field.  JMU Libraries has conducted a periodical use study for over two years, tracking check-outs of new issues, bound journals, and microform.  Journal use data were distributed to liaisons and teaching faculty to help them make decisions about the current journal collection.  In many cases, low-use titles were targeted for cancellation, and high-cost/low use titles were especially vulnerable.

The online faculty survey went live in March, 2000 as a Featured Connection on the library's web page.  Over 100 faculty logged into the survey and made title recommendations.  Meanwhile, liaisons met with their departments, and developed lists of recommended new titles and recommendations for cancellation.

When liaison reports and lists were compiled, a total of 109 titles had been recommended for cancellation totaling approximately $140,000 in subscription costs.  The sciences had participated heavily in the project:  Biology recommended the cancellation of 19 titles; Chemistry, 4; Geology, 9, and Physics, 19, for a total of 51 titles.  These science departments accounted for nearly half of all titles cancelled, but about 80% of the dollar value of the cancelled subscriptions.   Cancellations will take effect in January, 2001.  Meanwhile, a list of selected new journal titles is being developed that will address new or underserved programs. 

Savings from the cancellation portion of the journal review would be enough to stave off inflation, fund some selected new subscriptions, initiate a subscription to ISI's Web of Science beginning in Fall Semester, and support document delivery. Document delivery providers supply libraries with copies of specific articles upon demand.   Many faculty in the science departments told their liaisons that they were supportive of document delivery as an alternative means of obtaining journal articles, especially if a 24-to-48 hour turnaround could be guaranteed. 

Since the sciences had provided the bulk of support for the cancellations, the library began exploring CISTI (the Canadian Institute for Scientific and Technical Information) as a document delivery supplier.  CISTI has a specialized collection of over 14,000 journals and conference proceedings in the scientific, technical, and medical areas, and guarantees delivery of 90 percent of its journal requests within 48 hours.

The library will initiate a trial project with CISTI beginning in the Fall Semester for faculty in the five departments of the College of Science and Math (Biology, Chemistry, Geology, Math, and Physics) utilizing the CISTI Source, an extensive journal Table of Contents database.  CISTI Source will have information on JMU's journal holdings, so users can determine if the library owns a particular journal and, if not, users can order the article directly from CISTI.  For the rest of the JMU Community, CISTI's database will contain a direct link to the Library's Interlibrary Loan office. 

The journal review brings new flexibility to the library's journal collections.  It has helped us reduce the impact of journal inflation, cancel many low-use titles and add some new ones that address the changes in JMU programs, respond to faculty and student research demands with the Web of Science database, and brought access to many more scientific journals through document delivery.

New Journals Added

New Online Subscriptions Added Through VIVA (2000)

Journals Cancelled 

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