Have just been to a meeting about the OU Library‘s services.  One provocative suggestion we discussed was whether we should drop print copies of journals entirely where electronic versions are available.

After an initial boggle, I came down firmly on the ‘yes’ side.  I can’t remember the last time I looked at a print copy of a journal myself.  All the stuff I want access to is online anyway – in my area, if it’s not online, it may as well not exist.  I’ll print stuff off if I want to read it properly (terribly wasteful, of course) – but most stuff I only want to skim anyway.

There are good reasons to be careful, though, which came up in the discussion.  The impact is profoundly different in different disciplines (of course).  In my area, science, and technology, there’s probably less of an issue.  But, for instance, in Art History, the quality of the reproduction in electronic journals is rubbish, and you really need the print copy.  There are some journals where electronic copies lag print by a year or more (mad but true).  There’s the (perceived?) risk of being held hostage over ongoing service fees when you shift from a product to a service model.  There’s the loss of the facility for serendipitous physical browsing (which is different – and arguably more effective and efficient – than electronic).  There’s the loss of access to journals for physical visitors who aren’t members of the university.

And there is the aesthetic aspect that made me pause at first.  There is something secure, comforting and inspiring about printed media, and particularly large collections of it.  But that may be becoming a luxury we can’t afford any more.

On the other hand, our students and ALs simply can’t access the physical stuff.  At least, not most of them.  Resource diverted from electronic access to physical copies is effectively taking resource away from serving them.

(The Library also have some nice stuff going on with journal searching, and they were also talking about setting up a ‘service quality’ version of Tony Hirst‘s OU Library Traveller … but perhaps a post for later.)


Author: dougclow

Academic in the Institute of Educational Technology, the Open University, UK. Interested in technology-enhanced learning and learning analytics.