Saturday, April 30, 2005

On withdrawing the print if it is available electronically

I recently read about this topic in article from Collection Building, volume 24, issue#2 (2005). It caught my eye because at the moment we are facing a space crisis (or concern, I suppose it depends on who you ask). At any rate, we reached the decision in our library to remove from the stacks any back issues of periodicals for which there is an issue in an online reliable source, like J-Stor. At the moment, we are moving the back issues to a small storage space in the floor above the library that the administration saw fit to give us when some other department moved to the new building. The space is basically a few hundred square feet or so, enough for three offices and the storage space in question. Since the space is small, it has been determined, or at least that is my understanding, that after a reasonable amount of time the journals in the storage area will be discarded if they are not requested. We are planning on implementing a paging system to handle any requests for the stored items. It is just a reflection of the fact that space is at a premium.

So, the article caught my eye because I wanted to see what criteria the authors proposed for this process, and maybe to see how close we were to such proposals in our thinking. So far, it looks like they are following a rational similar to ours. Space is at a premium, and there is the factor of cost. We are also moving to cancel print versions and keeping only electronic subscriptions, unless the price diferential is minimal. Again, another reality of shrinking funding. In our case also, having more online journals means better support for the distance education program as well. The authors of the article explore the question of whether or not both formats, print and electronic, should be kept if the online version is stable and reliable and as good as the print. The authors then provide a good summary of considerations in order to implement the withdrawal. They present a three tier system to assist libraries in the process which helps to determine which journals can be removed right away and which ones have to be delayed, say if they have specific problems like a large number of issues missing online. The authors mention also that faculty in their campus did not show much concern over the removal, but they note that their library has done previous removals of print journals, in that case, because they had the titles in J-Stor, so the faculty was likely used to the idea, or at least more accepting of it. In our campus, the director sent out a letter to the faculty explaining our situation, but as far as I know, we have not had any faculty express substantial concerns. At least none the director has brought to our attention at the librarians' meetings. The authors of the article write additionally that
"We realize that by withdrawing our print copies we are in effect shifting the burden of long-term preservation on others in the Library community. We are also putting our trust in the publisher's willingness and ability to create and maintain a stable digital archive that is duplicated in more than one location."

This does concern me, the notion that we have to depend on the good faith of a commercial interest to preserve collections. Maybe it is the cynic in me that wonders how willing would they be to do that preservation. Until it stops being economically feasable? There are clauses in contracts for perpetual access to what has been paid for in the event of a cancellation, but the authors acknowledge it is not something they necesarily want to test. In spite of that concern, the article conclude that shifting the collection towards more electronic resources better servest the needs of patrons and makes more efficient use of resources. That is what we are hoping as well, to make better use of our limited resources while we meet the needs and expectations of our community. We'll see how it goes.

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