Ins and Outs of Journal Collection Development: e-Forum Summary

An ALCTS e-Forum on the “Ins and Outs of Journal Collection Development” was held October 25–26, 2017. Marija Markovic (Independent Consultant) and Steve Oberg (Wheaton College) served as facilitators.

Word cloud of journal collection development e-Forum text

Markovic began the first day by warmly welcoming e-Forum participants and asking them to introduce themselves. Responses showed that participants came from a variety of backgrounds, although primarily from academic libraries.

The first question was about how other libraries engage faculty in renewal decisions and assessing collections. Respondents noted that they actively solicit input from faculty via surveys, e-mail, and requests for data on curricula and students. Contact with department heads was seen as particularly important. Faculty are encouraged to recommend new resources, including journals, for subscription by the library. As is the case for most of us, budget constraints need to be taken into account such that some requests or recommendations cannot be pursued. At times, a journal title gets cancelled due to budget constraints or low usage or both, and a cancellation may lead to negative feedback from faculty. Some participants noted that the variable of online versus print format is quite important when considering faculty feedback. Another important variable is subscribing via journal subscription bundles (often called “Big Deals”) versus direct subscriptions. Then, too, tension exists when faculty insist the library must subscribe to particular journals, even data shows little use of those titles.

A related topic that came up in response to this question is how best to encourage faculty to effectively make use of or incorporate journal literature in their courses. This is a persistent problem but one that we need to pay attention to if we are to ensure good use of our journal collections.

Markovic asked participants to share the criteria they use when evaluating their journal collections, and how libraries rank their criteria. For example, are usage statistics paramount? This was an interesting topic for many participants looking for guidance on best practices. Responses varied. Usage statistics are quite important according to most participants, but other useful criteria include relevance to curriculum (for example, one person cited the importance of library instruction stats), impact factor, online versus print, cost per use, and more. One participants ranks titles as (1) keep at all costs, (2) on the fence, or (3) throw it out first. A participant from Mexico noted the challenge of international institutional rankings that still focus on number of physical items as opposed to those available online.

What tools do libraries use to solicit feedback from their users? Responses included: interviews with key stakeholders, surveys, focus groups, user suggestions, and—of course—indirect feedback in the form of usage statistics. Participants also discussed frequency of obtaining feedback. For example, one library formally evaluates its journal collection twice a year, while others do so less frequently.

Markovic posed additional questions, including:

  • What type of usage statistics do you use for evaluating journal collections (COUNTER, pay-per-view, document delivery or interlibrary loan, internal statistics)?
  • Do you take into account non-metrical data in order to evaluate journal collections? How relevant is this type of data? Can it (ever) be more relevant than usage statistics?
  • What best practices can you share on successful data analysis of your journal collections?

Due to glitches in the software used to host ALA’s electronic mailing lists, not all of the responses were distributed to e-Forum participants.

Oberg began the second day of the discussion by asking participants what challenges they face in data analysis of their journal collections. Many participants responded that not all vendors offer COUNTER-compliant statistics, while some of those who say they are compliant, in fact, are not. Vendor turnaway data is also problematic since a user might have access to the same content from multiple sources. For example, a user might get turned away at the publisher site but still be able to get to it via an aggregator database. Finding time to do in-depth analysis of usage statistics is also challenging. For some, print journals are still a significant part of their journal collections, and obtaining good usage data for print journals remains a significant challenge. One takeaway that emerged from discussion is that the kinds of usage data we gather may not provide enough detail for us to know what users are actually doing with the articles. In other words, we can count number of successful full text downloads, but that metric does not provide insight into how or whether articles are actually used.

Another question that arose was how institutional publishing trends play into the selection of journals within our collections. Although some respondents pay attention to journals in which their faculty publish, others did not see faculty publishing patterns as a significant factor.

Oberg then turned to the role of open access (OA) in journal collection development. Most participants believe OA is important, but OA has not yet played a significant part in their decision-making other than ensuring that work is done to make them accessible, for example in a discovery layer. Part of the intent behind this question was to understand whether anyone in the e-Forum had experience in cancelling subscriptions due to availability of OA content, among other things. No participants had taken this approach as of yet. One respondent from Kuwait noted widespread and lingering distrust in OA on the part of faculty, as somehow of less quality. This was due, at least in part, to predatory OA journal publishers. Interestingly, 1science, a commercial product that facilitates access to OA journals was mentioned.

The last question was directed to commercial publishers and vendors to elicit their input into the discussion. Markovic and Oberg hoped to hear their perspectives on trends, challenges, and best practices for journal collection development, but unfortunately there were no further responses.

Overall, the e-Forum succeeded, with several active participants. Despite difficulties in distributing messages, many good questions were raised and helpful perspectives were shared on the important topic of journal collection development.

Submitted by Marija Markovic and Steve Oberg (@TechSvcsLib)