November 28, 2008

Electronic vs Print?

It's a question that probably won't go away for awhile, especially for books. However, for journals I had thought perhaps that question had been answered. At least it seemed so at my previous job. There we had a collection development policy that clearly stated that for journals the preferred format was electronic. While it was the preferred format, it was also acknowledged that electronic isn't necessarily the best format. In many disciplines, Art comes to mind, electronic isn't always the best format and in some cases isn't an option.

So, I start the new job. Budget is looking static for the coming year (something I'm used to) and one of the ideas to reduce spending is to drop the print journals. It seems that for most titles we had electronic and print subscriptions and in some cases (as in newspapers) also receive the microfilm. Up to three formats for some titles and two for most. By going electronic only (mircofilm was addressed separately), the savings weren't as great as I'd hoped, but they were fairly substantial. My big surprise, though, was the response of the reference librarians. The term cancellation was bandied about as if they were losing content rather than a format, which is how they viewed it. Several pointed out that they showed the journal in instruction sessions. The actual journal. While I applaud this, the question I wanted to ask was if they also showed them the online version. We're not open 24/7 and I think it's just as important for the student to know how to access the online version as it is to see the print version.

For me it was a no brainer, if you subscribe electronically drop the print. I'd just gone through this exercise before leaving my old job (converting many print subscriptions to online and a few that were print+online to online only). There was concern for how the faculty would take it. So, it was decided that we would send a letter to faculty advising them of what were doing because we couldn't "cancel" subscriptions (read: formats) without telling them. I gently reminded them that we weren't going to be losing any content. In the end one faculty member requested that one title be retained in print. The majority didn't even respond to the letter. I'm betting a good number of them didn't even know we were still getting some of those titles in print.

We only cancelled titles that we have electronic subscriptions to or that we could subscribe to electronically. I've always thought that one should think twice before cancelling a title held in an aggregator's database and it's because of a lesson learned the hard way. However, as it appears the budget will be tight this year, I'm beginning to wonder if maybe there aren't some titles held in an aggregators database that could be cancelled. There's always the risk the aggregator will drop the title (as happened with lesson learned the hard way) yet many aggregators are fairly stable with their content and some titles, while nice to have, are not core to our programs. Other titles in the same aggregators database or another database could probably fill the need if the title in question was dropped. It's something I'm still mulling over, but I wonder if that would be a better solution that not purchasing books, which I know some libraries have been forced to do due to budgets.