You Do Read Some Of Those Journals

Thanks to everyone who took 2 minutes or so to complete the completely unscientific survey instrument I created to capture some information about your reading habits when it comes to scholarly journals targeted to academic librarians. I learned that some of you do read these journals. Given the number of ACRLog’s overall readers the number of responses seem on the paltry side (about 250), but let me share what the readers had to say.

One thing I can gather is that the majority of the respondents are ACRL members. College & Research Libraries is the most read of the three scholarly journals that focus on academic librarianship with 215 responses, and I suspect most of those folks get the issues with their membership. Journal of Academic Librarianship clocked in with 114 readers and portal came last with 89 readers. Twenty-six brave souls admitted they hadn’t read any of the three in six months or more. Respondents added a list of 25 or so other journals they read.

Paper is still pretty popular as the medium for reading the journals. Just over 200 respondents indicated they either get a personal copy (again I imagine many of these are ACRL members who get the C&RL issues) or read a library copy. But a good number use electronic methods as well because 94 indicated they use TOC alerts to be notified when new issues are available. Another 26 depend on their colleagues to alert them to worthy articles, but that’s far fewer than the 41 who depend on bloggers to let them know of articles worth reading. More than a few folks indicated that they use their own library’s e-journal collection to tap into the journals, but there are still a few traditionalists who reported browsing the periodicals stacks as their approach to reading the journals.

Most of you, if the respondents are a representative group, read your issues within the first month you receive it: 24% read it within one week of receipt and 37% read it within one month. Another 21% manage to get to it within 6 months, but 6% admitted they still have 2006 issues sitting in their inbox. The rest of the batch seemed to pick up the journal when they got it, but just to scan the contents. Then they might read an article or just toss it aside if there was nothing of interest. I know what they mean.

So what do academic librarians actually do with these journals when they get them? Well the vast majority (133) say they just read the full text of one or two articles. That seems reasonable. No one reads every article in these journals cover-to-cover. Many (81) do print out or copy articles to read them later on, but nearly as many (75) indicate they just scan and rarely read any of the articles. Many fewer (36) report reading the complete text of more than two articles, and yet others (23) scan a few of the articles they copy or print and then file them away neatly just in case they should be needed in the future.

No survey would be complete without that final open ended question. The responses seemed to fall into these general categories:

* the articles in these journals provide strong evidence that tenure for librarians leads to a glut of unnecessary or pointless scholarly articles (our discipline isn’t the only one)
* the respondents depend on their rss feeds and blogs for news and readable content – not these journals
* librarians open the journals quickly to see who published and to look at job ads – and it’s downhill after that
* despite all of the above it’s still important to read these journals

While I don’t think this survey is going to garner as much attention as a survey about blogging librarians and the blogs they read and blog about, I found this an informative exercise. I’m glad I took the time to put this together, and I really appreciate the time you took to respond. It’s good to see that academic librarians are reading the scholarly journals after all – or at least scanning the contents. Hey, one person even admitted to reading the book reviews. Now I’m satisfied.

18 thoughts on “You Do Read Some Of Those Journals”

  1. Related, if only somewhat loosely, to the first category of responses to the final open-ended question in your survey, is a recent article by the executive editor for the humanities at Harvard UP in which he makes a spirited call for the essay to replace the book as the standard of achievement in the humanities:

  2. No problem, Steven. I enjoyed taking the survey and learning about the results. Thanks for the update! I may be a die hard blogger/rss fan but I still read my print copies of my favorite journals (especially since some are not available online for free!). And yes, I do read some of the book reviews if they pertain to my subject liaison area. 😉

  3. Interesting. Chimes with what I write about our ‘dreary literature’ at

    There I suggest that “The literature is a citation farm for those involved in formal research activity, and in the US, a necessary career convenience for those librarians who work within the tenure system.”

    I think that the absence of a vital literature is big issue. I say:

    “Now something like College & Research Libraries does land on a lot of desks; it would be nice if I could pass around URLs for articles published there. It seems to me that I see more references to Educause publications or to First Monday than I do to C&RL? How often do you see mentions of LRTS articles in discussions of metadata or knowledge organization outside the library community? ”

    I go on to suggest that there is a growing gap between the positions that the library profession takes with respect to the literature more generally and the state of its own literature.

  4. What’s stopping you from passing on the URLs? The current issues of C&RL are all open access; ditto RUSQ. Then again, I don’t get an e-mail telling me about new articles, as I do for First Monday, so I tend to have to go look up the links if I want to pass them on. Personally, I’d forgo print in exchange for a handy-dandy e-mail. It would save postage and some paper.

    I’m not sure about LRTS – most of the links on the ALA page are dead, and what I finally found seems out of date. (I do wish a search on ALA’s own site would not end up with so many dead ends! but that’s a rant for another day.)

    Everything I’ve published was because I had an itch I needed to scratch, not because I needed publications on my CV. If a librarian in the university system can’t think of any interesting questions to pursue in some depth, they must be rather bored. I blog, too, but the longer-form and more formal style of a peer-reviewed article can be fine for unpacking a complex idea.

    You don’t have to read it :o) – but I find a lot of published research worthwhile and not just dreck produced for tenure.

  5. @Barbara

    I am not sure what was available when I first wrote the note (probably not sensible practice to partly reproduce in a comment a note written elsewhere ;-), but if I look at the C&RL site now I see that articles are available to you if you are an ACRL member and if you know your password.

    So, passing around a URL will work if the recipient is an ACRL member who knows their password (or who is motivated to go off and find it).

  6. What is the story with C&RL? The May 2007 issue is available to non-members, while the July is not. Is that a ten-month embargo or something? The preprints page is b0rked with “Article title goes here” placeholders and an “About C&RL” link that is currently serving a Word doc entitled “STARTING A LIBRARY SUPPORT STAFF ORGANIZATION”

    Anyway. it’s nice to be able to get some back issues, but I wouldn’t call it “open access” without some qualifiers.

  7. My mistake! I must have picked on older articles in the past. For an organization that urges other societies to embrace open access, this is a little embarrassing. Couldn’t we take the money saved on printing and mailing it and make it open access for all? I don’t join ACRL for the publications. And they’ll have much less impact in print or for members only.

    Some of the books published by ACRL are being made open access, which I love. Unfortunately, while trying to verify this, it’s taking every screen refresh 15 minutes to load, and I just can’t be bothered….

    Oh wait, it finally loaded. Looks as if there are only four titles that are full text for free, one being that interesting ethnographic study. But this does not an open access movement make.

    Sorry, I will go stand in the corner now…

  8. Steve, thanks for your comment which alerted us to the problems you point out. We will be putting up pre-prints of accepted C&RL articles where authors grant permission to do so. This will start in the very near future – within the week. We apologize for the current blank page. The July 2007 issue is up. And, yes, there is a 6 month embargo prior to putting these up for the general public. I hope this helps answer some of the questions you have. Thanks for the feedback which is allowing us to correct errors that we missed!

  9. Barbara wrote, “Couldn’t we take the money saved on printing and mailing it and make it open access for all? I don’t join ACRL for the publications.” Me either, but I vaguely recall a survey of ACRL members that showed definitively that C&RL and C&RL News are the most valued benefits of membership — especially for the many members who will never attend a conference or join a committee. Does anyone know how old that survey is? Do you think it’s still true?

  10. Sue – the ACRL Member Survey to which you refer is only about 24 months old, I believe, and you’re right that the journals were among the most valued perceived benefits of membership (although not as valued as the professional development opportunities). ACRLog provided survey summaries in 2006, e.g.:

    Lorcan’s point about EDUCAUSE is an important one, not only because it touches that oft-discussed question of the need for ALA/ACRL publications to pursue the open access alternatives that we promote among campus faculty for use by their scholarly societies, but also because of the question of focus. EDUCAUSE has done a fantastic job creating a publication that is aimed as much at academic administrators (and others on campus with an interest in technology), as it is among IT/Library professionals. Look at the title: EDUCAUSE Review: Why IT Matters in Higher Education. Not, “scholarly inquiry into information technology,” but “why IT matters in higher education.” I’ve said this before, but, “dreary” though our literature may be (as well as fragmented), I think there is a niche waiting to be filled for a more broadly focused publication (preferably, as Lorcan notes, open access and non-member-based) on “why libraries matter in higher education.”

  11. Hey, if we did what Scott suggests, maybe I would join ACRL for the publications! I love this idea. We’re all about serving our communities, and then the only people we talk to is each other.

  12. Barbara, the four open access titles you found are our first foray into working in that modality. We have only been doing this for about 8 months. We really are seeking new models – both open access and revenue producing – for publishing and I would welcome all new ideas for remixing and changing the publication formats/process as well as ideas about content! And, of course, we are always looking for excellent authors and editors! 😉
    One of our hybrid experiments is our Library 2.0 in Academic Libraries book/wiki. This casebook contains 12 casestudies that will be kept updated on the wiki as things change in those actual cases. We hope attempts such as that one are interesting and useful to ACRL members and beyond.
    If you have other ideas for other types of hybrid publications I’d love to hear them.
    Thanks for the feedback! (and please don’t go sit in a corner – we value your opinions!)

  13. Thanks, Barbara! This is actually an idea recycled from my run at the ACRL Presidency last year, and based on a discussion I had during the campaign with Brian Hawkins, then at EDUCAUSE. He impressed me greatly, as he has many others, with his clear thinking about how to get an IT/Library agenda of issues before the broader academic community. In a nutshell: it is not through traditional, scholarly journals filled with articles by librarians and/or LIS educators 🙂

    This would be more than a “new model” for something that has been part of the traditional focus for ACRL publishing – if I read Kathryn’s post correctly – but a new venture aimed at finding the sweet spot where academic libraries and broader issues in higher education meet, and mapping that landscape in ways that are compelling to classroom faculty, IT professionals, campus administrators, and, potentially, legislators, donors, and members of our local communities (and doing it with articles and essays that come from those non-librarian constituents of the academic library).

    And, the print version (if there is one) has to be snazzy enough and compact enough to fit in a President’s briefcase as he or she walks out the door to catch a plane, and the content has to be available freely to encourage sharing among people who do not routinely visit the library literature (and may not have access to member or institutionally-licensed resources).

  14. Oh, wow. Good stuff here.

    You know what would be nice? To get an e-mail with a TOC and links. Something to whip up in your spare time, Kathryn :o)

  15. Well Barbara, as my grandmother used to say “always wish out loud you never know who may be overhearing!” We will take your suggestion about TOC and emails and see what we can do with it! Thanks!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.