Managing Periodicals

magazinesWhen I started my current job, I was assigned a collection to manage: periodicals.  Honestly, I was less than excited about that.  I was responsible for periodicals in my old job too, and was hoping to get away from it!  I have a lot of admiration for librarians and library staff who work with periodicals because they can be…difficult.

The good thing about this collection is that it is not at all stagnant.  I have to keep up with title changes, changes in publication frequency (from weekly to monthly, for example), and recently the regular dropping-off of magazines that are just plain ceasing publication.

The bad thing about this collection is that it is not at all stagnant.  What you know to be true today may or may not be true tomorrow.  You have to roll with the changes, expect them, and make frequent decisions.

We purchase the majority of our periodicals through EBSCO.  We have some direct orders when it is significantly cheaper or when a title is not available through EBSCO, but those get tricky to manage, so we like the added services of a vendor.  They warn us about a lot of the title and frequency changes I mentioned above, and it’s nice to have the bulk of our subscriptions on one annual renewal list.  Direct orders tend to expire all over the calendar, so we have to keep up with them on our own.  There are lots of magazine vendors out there, but my library has been pretty happy with EBSCO for years before I ever came on board. (This is not an ad or endorsement of any particular vendor. I’m simply stating my experience, which is with EBSCO.)

Yet, I am really surprised at the difference in price sometimes between the publisher’s direct subscription price and EBSCO’s.  For example, Billboard magazine is about half the price directly, a savings of nearly $150.  The New England Journal of Medicine is less than half of EBSCO’s cost when subscribed directly.

So, I go through our annual renewal list with a fine-toothed comb.  I look at circulation figures (which can be misleading in such a browsable collection, since many titles are used in-house but never checked out).  I also look at annual price against frequency (four issues per year at $100 per year is $25 per title, quite exorbitant!).  I ask my co-workers if certain titles enhance their other collections in some way, or if they might use them as part of their selection process.  I also balance religious and political magazines so that our collection is not one-sided in any way.

I think of this as my annual weeding of the magazine collection.  I’ve weeded subscriptions that are no longer pulling their weight.  Titles like the New England Journal of Medicine, Billboard, and North Korean Review are not well-used in my library, so they have been removed.  I also look at “best of” lists for new magazines and consider adding some new titles. Every year since 2009, which is when I started working here, I have cancelled more titles annually than I have added. That wasn’t necessarily my goal, but is indicative of the culture of this collection.  The saved money has been mostly re-allocated to Flipster, our e-magazine collection (another EBSCO product). We duplicate some titles between print and electronic, and others we have chosen to move exclusively to electronic format.

Periodicals is not an easy collection, but is challenging.  I only take this focused of a look at the magazine collection once a year when the big renewal list comes around.  The rest of the year is spent managing donations, adopted titles, and all those changes that crop up.  Luckily for me, my library has assigned a circulation clerk to this collection who handles all of the ordering, cancelling, and the technical services end of things (processing, cataloging, checking in issues, etc.)  She is wonderful, and I think we make a good team on this tricky collection!



Modified from original post, which was published at on 6/6/2011

Image creative commons courtesy of


  1. Serials Librarian Here!
    Another torture is binding. I have had titles that have a full year bound. Think Jan-Dec. Then halfway though the year, they change from monthly to seasons. Jan-Winter. WTH!

    My all time worst offender was a title we dropped due to crazy publication pattern. Inland Architect went on a wild streak right before it ceased. One year, They only produced 3 issues. Jan/ Feb, Mar/Apr, then May- Rest of year. Yes, that exactly what they said. “Rest of year.” The following year, they gave up and started to give the wrong volume number out. It went from something like v. 34 to v.115.

    We have been finding a new trend lately. Publishers are no longer holding back issues to replace the issues you claimed missing from the mail. Instead, they just up your subscription by one issue. Very annoying.


  2. I just took over magazines at my first professional job ever. Thank you so much for posting this, it was helpful!

  3. I’ve worked in public libraries with very deep periodical collections (Harper’s back to the 1850’s, Scientific American back to the 1890’s). I remember picking up a 20-year backfile of National Geographic on a very, very rainy day (and very much enjoying morning coffee with the donor). The last two libraries I administered were newer (founded in 1952 and 1937) and suburban, and by that time it was the era of online periodicals archives, so the periodicals collections were just 2-5 years. I miss the serendipity of browsing the old bound volumes, but that’s not how either of these libraries is used.

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