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Issues in Science and Technology Librarianship
Summer 2001

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[Board accepted]

Glory Days: Managing Scientific Journals in a Liberal Arts College

Julie Miran
Science Librarian
Haverford College

Norm Medeiros
Coordinator for Bibliographic and Digital Services
Haverford College


Proliferation of online access to primary literature has provided great opportunities for science libraries. Merging these resources with previously held formats, and negotiating with vendors for this access, remains a challenge at many institutions, regardless of size. This article highlights Haverford College's attempts to integrate these resources in an effort to enhance accessibility and to reduce costs inherent in this duplication of formats. Areas addressed include material formats, faculty and department cultures, consortial arrangements, users' habits, implications for the online catalog, financial imperatives and communication patterns between our main and branch libraries. Initiatives currently underway are highlighted, as well as indications of how they will shape our future behaviors.


"A recent trend is observed in technical libraries, where bound volumes of journals are being replaced, in order to conserve space, with 16 mm. film in cartridges for use in motor-driven reader-printers. Users find the ease of loading cartridges, the speed of searching the film, and the convenience of getting an immediate, take-home copy of any desired page preferable to using the original bound journal." (Stevens 1971)
Building an undergraduate scientific journal collection is an arduous job. Faculty expectations and fiscal realities often clash, while associated technological changes and contractual restrictions seem forever beyond librarians' control. Ignoring these issues is a safe, albeit passive reaction. A proactive approach to serials management, however, can yield an expansive collection, improved faculty-librarian relations, increased online journal access, and monetary savings. Returns such as these require a labor-intensive triage of collaboration, risk, and common sense.

In January 2001, the Haverford College Libraries began an extensive review of its journal subscriptions. A periodical use study was undertaken, as were initiatives examining serials pricing structures and material formats. Considerable attention was given to the science collection since new library personnel and dramatic changes in scholarly publishing offered a rare opportunity to rethink past decisions. Haverford is not alone in its contemplations. The literature is stocked with recent works which survey the state of the scientific journal industry at the turn of the millennium (Goodman 2000; Hurd 2000; Montgomery 2000; Searing and Estabrook 2000; Sprague and Chambers 2000; Tenopir and King 2000; Wood and Walther 2000). Clearly, every library faces unique challenges.


Haverford College is a co-educational, liberal arts institution located ten miles west of Philadelphia. It has an enrollment of 1,100 students, with a very strong, research-oriented science faculty consisting of 35 tenure-track professors in astronomy, biology, chemistry, computer science, mathematics, and physics. The science libraries are housed in three buildings. Haverford has strong sibling ties with Bryn Mawr and Swarthmore colleges. The "Tri-Colleges" (Tri-Co) allow liberal use of each other's services, supporting cross-matriculation and housing in some instances. A bus regularly ferries students among the three campuses, providing them with access to university-level services in small college settings.

The libraries, more than any other area, have taken advantage of this close relationship. A shared integrated library system was brought online in 1991. More recently, collaborative purchasing of databases and electronic journal collections has yielded broader access to information at reduced costs for the consortium. Three professional staff members work expressly for the Tri-Co, with responsibilities in automation coordination, research, and development.

Scientific Journal Publishing

"The traditional scholarly journal as we know it is undergoing a metamorphosis, prompted not only by technological opportunities, but also by a series of environmental factors that will shape the future structure and functionality of publications and communication." (Lougee 2000)

It's impossible to comment about the state of scholarly scientific journals without considering the tremendous impact electronic journals have made in this field. Although the onslaught of e-journals has occurred within the last five years, the concept was born much earlier. As far back as 1987, fledgling e-journals such as Syracuse University's New Horizons in Adult Education were distributed via BITNET e-mail. The following shows some of these early e-journals and their non-profit producers:

1987 - New horizons in adult education, Syracuse University
1989 - Newsletter on serials pricing issues, American Library Association
1990 - Postmodern culture, Johns Hopkins University
1990 - Psycoloquy, American Psychological Association
1990 - Public-Access Computer Systems Review (PACS Review), University of Houston

In response to these publishing experiments, Ann Okerson wrote a commentary detailing possible directions electronic journals could take (Okerson 1991). With remarkable accuracy, she outlined two opposing scenarios, both of which exist today.

The electronic journal parallels its print counterpart
Typically this is the route commercial publishers have taken with their electronic journals. For instance, Reed Elsevier and Academic Press offer PDF-based reproductions of their print journals. In the majority of such cases, the refereed content found in the print journal is replicated in the online site. Other than search capabilities, the print journal and electronic journal are essentially the same.

Articles would be disseminated as soon as written, would be reviewed by scholars via the Internet, then placed online for worldwide consumption
This scenario should be recognizable as a preprint service. The Los Alamos National Laboratory's physics archive and NetPrints' clinical medicine and health research site are just two examples of full-text repositories, run by not-for-profit entities, that are similar, if not identical, to Okerson's vision.

We raise Okerson's article because it highlights the tensions that still exist today between the profit-making aspect of scientific publishing and the immediate, altruistic information needs of the academic scientific community. More often than not, libraries are caught in the middle of this strenuous tug of war.

Identifying the Problems

"[Libraries are] the element in our society which maintains the essential continuity between the ages and the requisite cross-references between all forms of information." - Jeffrey Scherer, library architect, quoted in (Bazillion 2001)

By the mid 1980s the science libraries at Haverford faced a serious shortage of shelf space. A decision was made to replace binding of some 200 journals with microfilm, the only viable storage option other than print available at the time. When the authors first met in Fall 2000 to discuss this issue, solutions seemed quite simple. Clearly, the proliferation of online journals would make it possible to shift many subscriptions from microfilm to online. In reality, this seemingly straightforward project quickly developed into a much greater undertaking, with implications as far reaching as electronic archives, users' habits, cataloging procedures, faculty and department cultures, and our relationship with our Tri-College colleagues. As Anne Christie and Laurel Kristick of Oregon State University note, "Development of an electronic journal collection is expensive both in terms of the dollar cost of subscriptions and in the use of staff resources to negotiate licenses, verify URLs and provide access via cataloging and web page links" (Christie and Kristick 2001).

Electronic archives, vendors, and consortial pricing
As we began the task of identifying journal titles no longer needed in microfilm due to online availability, we soon realized the troublesome issues involved. For example, what constitutes an online archive? Even though microfilm is clunky and awkward to use, it is an exact replication of a journal's print version. Mailing lists abound with librarians who have identified, late in the game, that their online copies differ from their print. Recently, a thread has appeared on discussion groups about book reviews missing from the online version of Angewandte Chemie, a highly prized feature of this journal. Similarly, many respondents intimated their confusion and frustration with publishers' unwillingness to divulge the differences that exist between formats. Our experience reveals that practices differ among publishers, and, at times, even among individual titles packaged by the same publisher. When considering the replacement of a print or microfilm subscription with online, one must ask: Am I comparing apples to apples?

Archiving can be an even murkier issue when one considers the difference between purchasing an individual title from a publisher and buying a large aggregated package like Academic's IDEAL service. A single e-journal purchased directly from a publisher may not provide access to any content if the library cancels its subscription. Moreover, some publishers charge substantially higher subscription costs if individual e-journals, rather than complete collections, are purchased (Frazer 2001). Thus, libraries are penalized for being selective consumers. Even non-profit publishers, like the American Chemical Society (ACS), have recently instituted more restrictive purchasing models. Prior to this year, ACS provided online access to any institution in a consortium as long as one member subscribed to the journal in question. Now, however, ACS requires four subscribers in order for all consortium members to earn access rights. Changes, such as these, have a severe impact on libraries, and, as a result, have significantly affected the approach Haverford has taken.

Users' habits
As clunky and unpopular as microfilm can be, patrons use it. In fact, they often use it even when a copy of their needed article exists online. This suggests, among other possibilities, that some faculty and students have developed experiential approaches to information retrieval. In direct opposition to this group are users who have adapted to electronic journals, and prefer online versions to print or microfilm.

Haverford's web-based subject pages have been created by librarians for each of the six science departments. Included in these pages are labor-intensive lists of e-journals. Although these lists are constantly out of date, many faculty bookmark the pages, thinking they represent the Library's full electronic journal holdings. Presumably, the online catalog, TRIPOD, is rarely consulted. Migrating from microfilm to online subscriptions, especially large e-journal collections, will make maintenance of these lists impossible. Even if a selective approach is taken to maintenance of the lists, it will be difficult to identify titles that should be represented while disregarding ones perceived to be of less relevance.

Adapting to the catalog
Patrons' use of these materials also led us to wonder how shifting from microfilm to electronic subscriptions would affect cataloging procedures and online catalog displays. Can we make it easier for our users to determine the format that will satisfy their information needs? The same intellectual property represented in various media often clutters our catalog. Records for print and microfilm holdings are now joined with electronic journal records. Most problematic are occasions where numerous e-journal vendors offer the same content, since each of these manifestations requires its own separate bibliographic record with little to distinguish among them.

Tri-College commitments
Another major factor in our decision-making process is the Tri-College Consortium. At times, this relationship is a great strength; at other times, an immense challenge. In instances where we are the unique holders of a particular journal, it is not wise for us to cancel our print or microfilm subscription in favor of online access when no assurance of archival content exists. Major decisions like this require consultation with our Tri-College colleagues in order to achieve mutually beneficial results.

Department cultures
Department cultures are institution-specific. While Haverford's biologists, chemists, and physicists are progressive in use of technology, at another institution the astronomers and mathematicians may be savvier. Discovering these trends is not an easy task. Satisfying whole departments, as well as the individual faculty members who comprise them, can take extraordinary effort.


Journal use study
Obtaining circulation and in-house use statistics for the journal collection provides insight into its value. To this end, a journal use study was implemented in January 2001. Although the study will not yield significant findings for a couple of years, it is nonetheless considered an important element of our serials management responsibilities. These statistics, when combined with microfilm and online use statistics also being monitored, will reveal trends indicative, we believe, of a migration towards e-journal use when print, microform, and online are all available for the same title. If this theory holds, the documentation may support migration of print and microform subscriptions to electronic-only. In addition, journal use studies, either underway or in the works at Swarthmore and Bryn Mawr, will allow the Tri-College libraries to perform evidence-based cooperative collection development for our journals - an initiative presently being performed only to a small degree.

E-Journal availability
Many scientists at Haverford covet remote access to the journals in their fields yet it is impossible to deliver all titles electronically due to budgetary constraints. In some cases, maintaining a print subscription while paying additional for online access is too great a financial burden. There are times when the department is willing to exchange a print subscription for an electronic one. Determining availability of e-only subscriptions has been difficult. Mailing lists and professional peers can be a source of valuable information. Some serial vendors offer reports that contain useful data. There is no comprehensive, one-stop shop that provides all the facts needed. Unless one is purchasing a large collection of e-journals where the publisher has established the same restrictions throughout, learning the specifics of individual e-journals is time-consuming work. Haverford uses a combination of tools, and relies on a Tri-Co task force charged with addressing this issue. The group consists of the serials specialists at each library, along with their associates. These persons actively seek information regarding electronic journal availability, and share their findings with each other. Their efforts ensure that each of our libraries is providing to its clientele all e-journals to which they are entitled. The work of the task force allows acquisitions and collection development librarians to make decisions based on accurate information available at the time of need.

Collaborative collection purchasing
While implicit collection development practices exist on all three campuses within our consortium, a more specific policy reflecting the needs of the science libraries within the organization is also needed. Coupled with the science-specific policy would be a structure enabling effective communication about collection issues while also supporting more expansive collections at each library. A working committee was created that consisted of the Tri-Co science librarians as well as the heads of collection development at the main libraries. To date, this group has explored important issues surrounding the existence of microfilm on the campuses. Haverford has been able to relinquish some of its microfilm runs due to print holdings that remain at the other campuses. The committee has suggested that these subscriptions be marked as "archival" with the understanding that they could be moved to any of the three campuses if such a need arose.

The Libraries have been able to utilize this same model in negotiating with vendors for online journal subscriptions. Whenever possible, the Tri-Co libraries purchase e-journal collections, such as Elsevier's ScienceDirect, as a consortium. We carefully read the contracts and take a more proactive approach to license negotiations. Such purchasing often results in better pricing, not to mention enhanced title access. Cataloging is simplified, as is the information-gathering process, since the contract states the journals involved and the restrictions on their use. Such purchases may offer content guarantees that can make cancellation of print or microform subscriptions an attractive alternative. This model has also served an educational role we had not predicted at the time of its inception. The collection development librarians at the main libraries now have a much deeper understanding regarding issues surrounding scientific publishing practices and the vital role that access to this primary literature fills.

As this project has developed, faculty members have been consulted frequently in order for us to achieve a firmer understanding of their research practices. In addition, implementation of the journal use study has helped identify inefficient use of materials. For instance, it was disheartening to see the frequent use of Science microfilm, since the journal is available electronically both through JSTOR and the publisher's web site. Consequently, when performing instructional units for faculty classes, Science was used when reviewing the journal search feature of the library catalog. Conversations in these classes reveal how cataloging choices, multiple formats, and online subscriptions have made it very difficult for even sophisticated students to parse our myriad holdings.

When asking for input, especially from faculty, one must be willing to listen with an open mind. For the past two years, the Library has been anxious to cancel Mathematical Reviews since we provide access to MathSciNet, its online equivalent. Communication with the mathematics faculty revealed they were ambivalent about canceling the print copy. In response, the Library has been educating faculty who don't use MathSciNet through classroom instruction or by working with their thesis candidates. While we are committed to canceling the print subscription next year, the interim will be used to help the math faculty buy into the Library's decision.

Organizational Communication
Not an initiative at the outset, but certainly a by-product of this project, has been an increase in communication between the science library and many other constituencies. Staying on top of issues like vendor policies and consortial pricing has required frequent communication between the Science Librarian and members of the Bibliographic and Digital Services staff in the main library. Conversations about users' habits and online catalog issues have also resulted in similar dialogues. Expanded Tri-College conversations have resulted in increased outreach between science librarians and their technical services colleagues on all three campuses. By working in tandem, branch and main libraries best serve the needs of their students and faculty.


Despite our efforts to provide access to an expansive scientific journal collection, issues beyond our control persist. The state of scientific publishing, particularly journal publishing, is turbulent. Large publishing houses are absorbing smaller ones, creating less competition and inflated subscription costs. Furthermore, commercial publishers are beginning to market directly to end-users, since the online environment encourages circumvention of the library. Initiatives such as CrossRef make it easier for users to serendipitously access electronic resources, while concealing the important selection and financial contributions of the Library.

We have found that premeditated change is empowering. By taking a more proactive approach to managing scientific journals in all formats, academic libraries can prevail in these challenging times. Our future success will be based not only on decisions we make as a private institution or as part of a regional consortium, but as a member of a larger, and more powerful virtual community, institutions sharing similar problems and seeking common solutions. The very tool that has precipitated these changes in scientific communication -- the web -- will, in the end, prove to be our greatest resource.


Bazillion, R. 2001. Academic libraries in the digital revolution. Educause Quarterly 24(1):51-55.

Christie, A. and Kristick, L. 2001. Developing an online science journal collection: a quick tool for assigning priorities. Issues in Science and Technology Librarianship 30 [Online]. Available: [August 13, 2001].

Frazier, K. 2001. The librarians' dilemma: contemplating the "big deal." D-Lib Magazine 7(3) [Online]. Available: [August 13, 2001].

Goodman, D. 2000. Should scientific journals be printed? A personal view. Online Information Review 24(5):357-363.

Hurd, J.M. 2000. Serials management: adrift in a sea of change? Journal of Library Administration 28(2):77-89.

Lougee, W.P. 2000. Scholarly journals in the late 20th century. Library Collections, Acquisitions, & Technical Services. 24:239-250.

Montgomery, C.H. 2000. Measuring the impact of an electronic journal collection on library costs: a framework and preliminary observations. D-Lib Magazine. 6(10) [Online]. Available: [May 7, 2001].

Okerson, A. 1991. The electronic journal: what, whence, and when? Public-Access Computer Systems Review. 2(1) [Online] Available: {} [May 15, 2001].

Searing, S.E. and Estabrook, L.S. 2000. The future of scientific publishing on the web: insights from focus groups of chemists. Portal: Libraries and the Academy. 1(1):77-96.

Sprague, N. and Chambers, M.B. 2000. Full-text databases and the journal cancellation process: a case study. Serials Review. 26(3):19-31.

Stevens, R.E. 1971. The microform revolution. Library Resources & Technical Services. 19(3):379-395.

Tenopir, C. and King, D.W. 2000. Towards electronic journals: realities for scientists, librarians, and publishers. Washington, DC: Special Libraries Association.

Wood, P.A. and Walther, J.H. 2000. The future of academic libraries: changing formats and changing delivery. The bottom line: managing library finances. 13(4):173-181.

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