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Issues in Science and Technology Librarianship
Summer 2004

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[Refereed article]

Access to International Plant Sciences Journals - An Endangered Species?

Kathy Fescemyer
Life Sciences Librarian
The Pennsylvania State University
408 Paterno Library
University Park, PA 16802-1811


Access to international resources is always challenging. This project measures the availability of international journals in the plant sciences in libraries in the United States. The availability of 189 journals was evaluated by searching WorldCat. The analysis showed that 55% of the titles were held in 20 or fewer libraries throughout the United States. A subset of 16 titles searched in 30 libraries showed that only 57% of the libraries maintained current subscriptions to the journals. Implications to the lack of accessibility to these materials by North American researchers are discussed with suggestions of how availability might be improved.


As a new life sciences librarian at Penn State, I was pleased to join the faculty of one of the major university libraries in the United States. The Life Sciences Library at Penn State holds an excellent collection of journals in the life sciences. However, within the year the time arrived for the serials review and the creation of the cancellation list. While analyzing the plant sciences titles on the current subscription list, I realized that my natural inclination was to target the international journals for cancellation. Then I started asking some hard questions regarding the state of international titles in the plant sciences. If a large institution such as Penn State could not maintain international subscriptions, then where are the libraries that are continuing subscriptions to these titles? If major universities cancel these subscriptions then what is accessibility to the information held in these journals? How would researchers in the United States obtain the information from these journals?

For purposes of this paper, international titles are defined as refereed journals published by universities, museums and professional organizations outside the United States and Canada. Commercial publisher's titles are not included because many libraries still maintain active subscriptions. Smaller professional journals are increasingly difficult to obtain and are the focus of this study.

International titles are easy to recommend for cancellation. Local library users rarely need information from them. Articles may be written in foreign languages that few American researchers understand. Journals published by American professional societies are consulted by researchers more frequently, have a higher prestige factor and, thus, have a higher priority for subscription. The annual subscription cost may not be high for small international journals, but staff time and expensive space in library stacks add to the expense of subscribing. For many libraries, the local decision is to end the subscription to infrequently used international journals. Stankus (1996) provided a broad discussion of the reasons that libraries in the United States do not have large numbers of international journals.

At a higher level, are librarians considering the larger picture, including the national collection of international journals as well as access on a local level? Are these international journals valuable to collections and are they important to United States researchers?

The literature of the plant sciences provides unique and valuable knowledge. Plant biodiversity is vast and new discoveries are made daily throughout the world. Undiscovered plants may provide the raw materials for important new discoveries in agriculture and pharmacology. Plants are geographically specific, but not necessarily by political boundaries. The literature of the plant sciences reflects this vastness and lack of respect of boundaries. Researchers from a specific geographic region have better access, understanding and expertise on plants in their geographic area. Because international plant sciences journals provide information on plants outside the North American region, these journals provide unique and specialized knowledge available only from these sources.

This research was designed to measure the accessibility of international journals in the plant sciences in libraries in the United States. What is the availability of international plant sciences journals? In addition, have the serials cancellations projects of the 1980s and 1990s affected the availability of current issues of the international plant sciences journals?

Literature Review

The importance of international resources for researchers in the United States, concern about the accessibility of international resources in libraries and the effects of serials cancellation throughout the United States and the world is expressed in the literature. Osif (2001) discussed the importance of international resources and the need for rapid access to "valuable information -- from all corners of the world." She described the National Agricultural Libraries international exchange program and the National Transportation Libraries efforts at maintaining a virtual library of transportation resources with little funding or staff. Somme (2001) presented information on Nordic national entomological journals as an important contribution to the scientific literature concluded that there is a demand for journals that publish faunistic data of local or national interest and that these journals are an important part of activities of professional societies. Wilson and Brooks (1998) presented information on how universities are emphasizing the global perspective in undergraduate and graduate studies and stressed the importance of the availability of adequate resources. From a survey returned by 267 schools that offer accounting degrees, they created a list of 43 international journals and found that accredited schools subscribed to more international titles than unaccredited schools, but "the average library at an accredited school subscribed to less than 15 of the international journals."

Concern for the potential effects of decreased budgets and serials cancellations on international resources has discussed in the literature. Reed-Scott (1996) reported on extensive decline in acquisitions by United States and Canadian libraries of books and serials published internationally and the concerns for the homogeneity of United States library collections. Blake (1986) conducted a survey of university librarians in the United Kingdom and found that the characteristics of cancelled journals that were important were high price, large price increase and foreign language. Chrzastowski and Schmidt (1993) analyzed cancellation lists at five midwestern ARL university libraries and found that 26% of the cancellations were non-English titles. Kirkpatrick and Preece (1996) analyzed the 1990 serials cancellation project at Southern Illinois University and found that 69% of titles cancelled were of foreign origin. Perrault (1994; 1995) in studies conducted on the monographic holdings of 72 ARL libraries showed a decline in foreign language acquisitions, a decrease in percentage of unique titles in many subject areas, and an increased concentration on core materials. She found that foreign language imprints showed a decline of 43.3% from 1985 to 1989. She also said, "research on the percentage of serial collections by subject and language has also been neglected." Noga (1998) analyzed international serials in the geosciences and found that many factors are contributing to the reduced accessibility of these journals. Some of these factors include lack of serial funds, reduction in exchange programs and changes in how the journals are published.

Several organizations are working to increase the access to international journals by developing collections for document delivery and digitization. Center for Research Libraries(CRL) has been a leader and Simpson (1998) described its mission in collecting international research resources and presented CRL's efforts in collecting Asian and Eastern European Science and Technology titles. Wolf (2000) described a working group that examined CRL's present STM (science, technical, medical) holdings to promote a cooperative collection of these materials at the national and international level and to establish a list of STM titles recommended for immediate preservation. African Journals Online managed by INASP (International Network for the Availability of Scientific Publications) was begun in 1998 and provides tables of contents with document delivery service for a wide subject area of African journals (Pakenham-Walsh 2000; INASP n.d.). TEEAL is marketing a CD-ROM library of over 140 agricultural journals to researchers in developing countries (Ochs 1999; TEEAL n.d.). AGORA was created by FAO and provides researchers in developing countries access to many journals in the life sciences (FAO 2003).

Materials and Methods

International plant science journals were selected from the refereed section of Ulrich's International Periodicals Directory, 38th edition, 2000. The titles were chosen from three sections, Agriculture - Crop Production and Soil, Biology - Botany, and Gardening and Horticulture. Titles published by professional societies, universities, or museums were included in the sample. Titles from all geographic areas were included except the United States and Canada. The Ulrich's list provided an unbiased representative sample of refereed international plant sciences publications, but was not a comprehensive list. Annual reports and reports from experiment stations were excluded.

The sample consisted of a set of 189 international plant science titles overall. Biology - Botany contained a set of 132 titles. Agriculture - Crop Production and Soil contained a set of 39 titles. Gardening and Horticulture contained a set of 28 titles. Several titles were included in more than one section.

To determine journal availability in the United States, ISSNs and titles were searched on WorldCat. If the record was found by ISSN, then the number of libraries containing holdings of the journal was recorded. If no record was located by searching the ISSN, then the title of the journal was searched, and the number of libraries with holdings was recorded.

To determine current subscription levels, a subset of the journals with holdings in 5 to 7 libraries was analyzed to establish how many libraries had current subscriptions to the titles. Sixteen titles were analyzed using the WorldCat record. All libraries from the United States and commercial? document delivery services were searched for current issues. If a library's catalog did not provide holdings, then that library was excluded from the results. Current holding information from 83 catalog records at 30 libraries was analyzed to determine if libraries are maintaining active subscriptions.


The 189 titles searched in WorldCat showed a wide diversity of plant sciences journals from all regions of the world. Plant sciences journals are published on all continents with the majority being published in Europe (Table 1). The geographic distribution is that 48% of the journals are published in Europe representing 21 countries, Asia had 28% representing 21 countries, and South America had 9% from 6 countries. Africa, Australia, and North America excluding the United States and Canada each had 5% of the titles.

Measuring availability on WorldCat revealed important results. More than half of the Gardening and Horticulture journals (Graph 1) are held in 10 or fewer libraries. Less than 20% were held in more than 30 libraries. Half of the Agriculture -- Crop Production and Soil journals (Graph 2) are held in 10 or fewer libraries, International Botany journals have a further reach; with about one third of the titles available in over 40 libraries (Graph 3). Just under half of the titles are held in 20 or fewer libraries. Over half of the international plant science journals (Graph 4) are held in less than 20 libraries, One quarter of them are held in over 40 libraries.

[Libraries holding international gardening and horticulture journals]

[Libraries holding international crop production & soil journals]

[Libraries holding international botany journals]

[Libraries holding international plant sciences journals]

Library catalogs were examined to determine which libraries were maintaining active subscriptions to the journals. Titles were located at 30 libraries of 4 different types, land-grant university libraries(12), other university libraries(7), document delivery services and national libraries(6), and botanical gardens, museum and other libraries (5) (Table 2). Holdings information was analyzed from 83 records. Of the 83 records, 47 had current issues indicating that the library was still subscribing to the journal. In 36 records, no recent issues were found which indicated that the library no longer maintained a subscription. This data shows that 43% of the holdings in WorldCat are for terminated subscriptions. Only 57% of the WorldCat holdings are currently active subscriptions. Extrapolating, this suggests that when WorldCat shows that 10 libraries have holdings, perhaps only five or six of those libraries may be currently subscribing to the title. In addition, when library type was analyzed, the distribution of the current subscriptions suggests many active subscriptions are held by document delivery services and at national libraries. National libraries or document delivery services held 43% land-grant university libraries held 30%, 15% at other universities, and 11% at botanical gardens and museums.


Based on these findings, small international journals are an endangered species in United States libraries. Never very prevalent, the analysis of WorldCat holdings showed that 55% of the international plant sciences journals were held in 20 or fewer libraries. Extrapolating using the data from the subset of journals, then the estimate of the libraries holding a current subscription may be 10 or less libraries for this 55%. International horticulture and crop and soil science journals showed even fewer holdings libraries.

What does this mean for accessibility to American researchers? How will access to these unique resources be provided to researchers at colleges, universities, botanical gardens, museums and private industry? What group will assume responsibility for maintaining active subscriptions to international journals and provide access at reasonable costs to researchers?

Currently there are few organized efforts for collecting international journals. Fedunok (1997) presents an overview of the efforts of the Center for Research Libraries and the Association of Research Libraries. Several groups such as TEEAL and INASP are offering titles electronically to researchers in developing countries, but funding concerns for maintaining these systems are all too real. The USDA's National Agricultural Library is a logical choice for subscribing to the Horticultural and Crop and Soil Science titles, but budget problems does not allow it to maintain active subscriptions to all international resources. Document delivery services may provide access to some titles but also have their challenges. The UnCover-Ingenta merger on May 21, 2002 resulted in this system being unavailable until at least June 2002, and document delivery was unavailable until much later. The current efforts for preserving and accessing these journals are significant accomplishments and are to be commended but are there other options to increase the accessibility and preservation of these unique resource?

Subject specialists must take an active role in insuring that international plant sciences resources are available to researchers throughout the United States. Even with insufficient budgets, these relatively inexpensive journals need to be maintained at several libraries throughout the United States. An organized effort from professional societies such as United States Agricultural Information Network (USAIN), Council of Botanical and Horticultural Libraries (CBHL), The Science and Technology Section of ACRL, and any other interested libraries or groups could initiate a cooperative project to maintain subscriptions throughout the United States.

The title of the project could be The International Plant Sciences Journals Project. Its purpose would be to maintain access and to preserve smaller international plant sciences journals. To begin this project, the United Nations list of 191 members would be distributed to a group of committed subject specialists in the plant sciences. Specialists would choose several countries and be responsible for researching the plant sciences publications from that country using resources such as Ulrich's and WorldCat. Then libraries could commit to subscribing to the plant sciences journals for a particular country. Land grant universities especially need to make a commitment to maintaining some of these subscriptions. Even with the declining budgets, libraries need to find a way to keep these types of resources accessible and if more libraries take a share of the burden, it would be possible to maintain current subscriptions. No library can afford to subscribe to many international plant science journals, but with a little organization cooperating libraries could work to insure that these titles are available in the United States.

As our society becomes closer and the world seems like a smaller place, these journals have a unique place in library collections and special consideration to remain accessible to United States researchers. Is it too late to keep resources like the international plant sciences journals accessible to researchers or are there ways to increase cooperation and accessibility?


Blake, M. 1986. Journal cancellations in university libraries. Serials Librarian 10(4):73-80.

Chrzastowski, T.E. & K.A. Schmidt. 1993. Surveying the damage: academic library serial cancellations 1987-88 through 1989-90. College and Research Libraries 54(2): 93-102.

FAO. 2003. Online scientific information on food and agriculture for poorest countries. [Online]. Available: [January 25, 2004].

Fedunok, S. 1997. A perspective on U.S. cooperative collection development. INSPEL 31(2):47-53.

INASP. N.D. What is African Journals OnLine? [Online]. {} [January 25, 2004].

Kirkpatrick, T.L. & B.G. Preece. 1996. Serial cuts and interlibrary loan: filling the gaps. Interlending & Document Supply 24(1):12-20.

Noga, M.M. 1998. Non-North American geoscience literature in North American geoscience libraries: Have we said goodbye to the Yorkshire Geological Society? Proceedings of the Geoscience Information Society 29:23-40.

Ochs, M.A. 1999. TEEAL: The Essential Electronic Agricultural Library - Getting the Literature of Agriculture to the Developing Countries. [Online]. Available: {} [January 25, 2004].

Osif, B.A. 2001. International resources in science and technology: A review with two case studies. Science & Technology Libraries 19(3/4):75-86.

Pakenham-Walsh, N. 2000. The International Network for the Availability of Scientific Publications (INASP), African scientific journals and online access. [Online]. {} [January 25, 2004].

Perrault, A.H. 1995. The changing print resource base of academic libraries in the United States. Journal of Education for Library and Information Science 36(4):1-16.

________. 1994. The shrinking national collection: A study of the effects of the diversion of funds from monographs to serials on the monograph collections of research libraries. Library Acquisitions: Practice and Theory 18(1):3-22.

Reed-Scott, J. 1996. Scholarship, Research Libraries, and Global Publishing. Washington, DC: Association of Research Libraries.

Simpson, D.B. 1998. Economics of cooperative collection development and management: The United States' experience with rarely held research materials. IFLA Journal 24(3):161-165.

Somme, L. 2001. Do we need Nordic national entomological journals? Norwegian Journal of Entomology 48:35-39.

Stankus, T. 1996. Avoiding a rush to a verdict of guilty: The treatment of third world science by first world publishers and libraries. RQ 35(4):467-475.

TEEAL. N.D. TEEAL The Essential Agricultural Library [Online]. Available: [January 25, 2004].

Wilson, T.E. and R.C. Brooks. 1998. An examination of university library collections of international accounting and finance periodicals. Journal of Education for Business 73(3): 163-167.

Wolf, Milton T. 2000. Collecting science materials from developing regions: universal dilemma, collaborative solutions. IFLA Journal 26(2):103-106.

Table 1. Distribution of International Plant Sciences Journals by Continent
  Number of Titles Number of Countries
Africa 9 4
Asia 53 12
Australia 9 4
Europe 91 21
North America (excluding US and Canada) 10 3
South America 17 6
Total 189 50

Table 2. List of libraries found holding a current subscription to one of the 16 journals

Land Grant University Libraries
Cornell University
Iowa State University
Louisiana State University
Michigan State University
Oregon State University
University of Hawaii
University of Florida
University of Idaho
University of Illinois
University of Minnesota
University of Wisconsin
Washington State University
Other Universities
Harvard University
University of California - Berkeley
University of California - Davis
University of Cincinnati
University of Iowa
University of Texas
University of Virginia
Document Delivery and National Libraries
Chemical Abstracts
Center for Research Libraries
Library of Congress
Linda Hall Library
National Agricultural Library
Other Libraries, Botanical Gardens and Museums
Academy of Natural Science
California Academy of Science
Missouri Botanical Garden
New York Botanical Garden
New York Public Library

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