Periodical use survey

Submitted by Bill Warren


For reasons that are surely obvious to everyone, we have had to cut the current year’s library acquisitions budget by 5.5%.  It is entirely possible the budget will have to be reduced even further next year.  Consequently, we are looking for ways to save money as we never have before.  A still-substantial portion of our budget is devoted to print journals, so one possibility might be to cancel our subscriptions to some titles.  Obviously, if we have to resort to this, we would like to cancel titles that are relatively expensive, and get little or no use.


We have quickly mounted a use survey of most of our currently-received periodicals—current issues, bound volumes, and microform.  Some popular titles, like Time and Newsweek, are exempted, since we know they are very heavily used.  Since virtually all our subscriptions are non-cancelable once the year has started, the soonest we could make any cancellations is for the 2010 subscription year.  Unfortunately, we will not have enough time to do as complete a study as we would like.  Ideally, a study should cover at least one complete academic cycle:  fall and spring semesters, winter term, and summer school, in order to encompass all the courses given during the year.  To be really useful, a survey should extend for more than one year, since many courses are not offered every year.  Since we have to make our subscription commitments for 2010 in September 2009, we obviously would not be able to include even one fall semester in a survey intended to identify titles for cancellation for 2010.  In fact, we might not be able to adequately cover summer school, since we would need time to compile and digest results, consult, and reach decisions.


Notwithstanding this time drawback, it still seems worth doing.  If we found we had to make cancellations for 2010, we would have at least some use information, which would surely be helpful in making decisions.  And we could certainly keep surveying and accumulating information for the future.  If, as seems likely, hard times are with us for a while, we may well have to make cancellations in subsequent years, and as much use information as we can gather would definitely be beneficial.


So, for the foreseeable future, we are asking users not to return journal issues, bound volumes and microforms to their homes, but rather to leave them on strategically-placed carts or designated shelves, where they will be tallied by staff members before being re-shelved.  While this will render less-than-perfect information, to the extent we can induce users not to conscientiously re-shelve journals (arranging them in chronological order and assiduously replacing the layer of dust on the top issue in the pile, as some folks have been known to do), it will provide some illumination.

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