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Serials and Collections

This year ULC adopted a set of principles for managing serial cancellations in a time of severe budgetary constraint. While a major research library cannot set cancellation policies solely on the cost of serials, cost should be one of the factors taken into account. The collection staff was encouraged to monitor the use of all serials that exhibit one or more of the following characteristics: 1) an annual cost in excess of $2,000; 2) an annual cost per use in excess of $40 or 1-2 percent of annual subscription costs; or 3) annual cost increases in excess of 10 percent. When one or more of these criteria are present, ULC recommended that the items be flagged for consideration for possible cancellation, subject, of course, to feedback from the user community. ULC also recommended that information on the cost of subscription and cost-per-use for individual serials be added to the list of proposed cancellations posted on the Electronic Library web page, so that this information is known to users.
ULC devoted attention to the relative balance in collection policy between serials and monographs--a balance that, it recognizes, will of necessity vary from one campus library to another, given the differences among the disciplines. A study of relative expenditures since 1990 on monographs and serials in 18 CIC and UW peer group libraries indicates that the average proportion of budgets spent on monographs has dropped vis-a-vis serials. This is true of Madison libraries as well: in 1995/96 campus libraries purchased 58,000 monographs--down 14 percent from 1994/95 and 21 percent from 1990/91. By contrast, the number of serial subscriptions declined by only 2 percent from 1994/95 and 10 percent from 1990/91. Still, significant serial cancellations have been a fact of life for many years now. Over the past decade, a total of 6,250 journals have been canceled from our libraries, with 709 titles canceled in the current year alone (We currently subscribe to about 44,000 serial titles). In the past, 66 percent of the serials canceled were duplicate subscriptions; last year that figure dropped to 44 percent and this year to 17 percent, reflecting the fact that serial cancellations are now digging much more deeply into the quality of our core collections (as they are expected to do even more in the next biennium).
Further investigation indicated that the shift in collection emphasis from monographs to serials has so far been a phenomenon confined largely to the natural sciences, and that the proportion of expenditures devoted to monographs in social science, humanities, and area studies has remained constant over the last six years. This pattern largely reflects changes in publication and consumption patterns within the natural sciences toward serial and electronic form. The degree to which parallel changes have been occurring within the social sciences and humanities is the subject of an ongoing Wisconsin-Purdue research project. ULC called on library selection staff to continue to work with faculty to ensure that imbalance between serials and monographs does not become a problem. To monitor library policy on the issue, ULC has requested that the library administration provide ULC with a report on purchases, cancellations, and expenditures for serials and monographs by discipline on an annual basis.
It should be noted that campus libraries have aggressively pursued other ways to manage our erosion of buying power than canceling the purchase of material. Through efforts at negotiated savings with publishers and cost avoidance, our libraries last year saved $565,000--funds which were used toward further purchase of materials. Examples of such savings include a policy change requiring the purchase of paperbacks as opposed to hard cover monographs (saving $40,000 annually), commercial document delivery in place of low-use, high-cost journals (saving $220,000 annually), and CIC and other consortial licensing and purchase agreements (saving $150,000 annually).
As ULC has noted in the past, today's budgetary, collecting, and publishing environments have imposed significant changes on what it means to build and maintain research-level collections. While faculty rank completeness of collections as their top priority with regard to libraries, no longer are we financially capable of viewing completeness of collections as an end in itself. Rather, effective management of library collections at a time of budgetary constraint must seek to orient collecting to serve the needs of specific groups of current and future users. To accomplish this, improved communication between users and selectors is a high priority. To help facilitate user access to information about the library, and particularly about proposed serials cancellations, ULC recommended changes to the library's electronic web page, allowing more direct access by users to ULC reports and to information on the status of serials. ULC also recommended that the library provide a link to the appropriate librarian's name on the serial cancellations web page so that users may respond directly to selectors about proposed cancellations via E-mail.
To improve the focus of collection, greater attention needs to be paid toward integrating library collection activity with the future development of academic programs at the university. Libraries need to be informed about changes in programs or staffing that will affect library acquisitions. ULC continues to explore concrete proposals for how this should best be accomplished.

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Last modified July 7, 1998

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