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Director's Column

PLSJC Director Alan Hall writes a weekly column discussing library and community news, history, and other interesting subjects.

Magazines in the Library

By Alan Hall, Director, PLSJ
Publish Date - Sunday, January 29, 2012

Browse through the racks of a place selling magazines, and you never know that about 300 magazines annually are going out of business in the U.S.


It is estimated that one-fourth of the magazines published a decade ago, are gone today.


The news magazine, “U.S. News and World Report” closed publication in 2010, and “Newsweek” was sold and publishes a “small” magazine today.


At the same time, other magazines are experiencing growth in advertising and publication numbers, including “Better Homes and Gardens, Ladies Home Journal, Soap Opera Digest, and Family Circle” to name only a few.


For the library system, the changes in the magazine publishing industry have made it difficult to subscribe to periodicals, and know how to handle them in the library collection.


Beginning in 1901, the H.W. Wilson Co. began publication of a reference series of books called, “The Reader’s Guide to Periodical Literature.”


For generations, any student given a tour of a school library was marched to an index table which contained a row of thick green books, usually showing signs of wear, which served as an index to magazine articles.


If you dissect the title of these reference books, the Reader’s Guide was an index to magazines.


Somewhere in the library, back files of magazines were perched in files, and kept in chronological order for the user to find the magazines and the indexed articles.


About 1990, the handwriting appeared in the wall that changes were coming, as these indexes began to convert to computerized files.


Slowly, magazines began to offer their actual publication on disc, then online.


Eventually, most magazines provided full-text publications online, as well as online search tools that are more sophisticated that those poor green books on the index table.


In 2007, our library system quit purchasing the Reader’s Guide to switched completely to using the online tools and full-text access to magazines and periodicals.


We still subscribe to a smaller number of paper editions which can now circulate for home usage.


It is interesting to note that the venerable H.W. Wilson Co. has closed its offices in the Bronx and merged with EBSCO, Inc., a company that for years served as a clearinghouse for purchasing magazines for libraries.


The new company provides the statewide database for Ohio libraries to provide access to articles in periodicals.


The online database provides access to thousands of periodicals, instead of the 300 or so titles that we subscribed to “in the old days.”


You can access them through the library web page, by logging on with your library card.


Once you locate the specific magazine, or article within the magazine, you can print the article, or e-mail it to yourself, or transfer it to some computer.


Some publications have restrictions, such as the current issue not being accessible so as not to impact “street sales” of the magazine.


With all of these changes to the magazine publishing industry, the library has saved no money as the databases are more expensive than those shelves of magazine back files.


I was upstairs on the balcony of the library looking at our impressive set of Reader’s Guides, from 2007 backwards to 1901.  We even own Pool’s Index to Periodicals that goes back to 1890.


Perhaps it is time to recycle these obsolete volumes, since H.W. Wilson’s last act was to convert all of the index volumes to online availability.


Recently, a large public library posted a notice online offering their Reader’s Guide to any library willing to take them.  Silence followed the posting.


Maybe just a little longer for the old Reader’s Guides.