Staging My Own Intervention

by Katie Archambault on January 20, 2014

I have a problem. It’s a beautiful, glossy, scholarly, high fashion, pop culture, wall of a problem. I’ll just say it. It’s my magazine collection. I’m calling for my own intervention. I hope that you’ll agree to help.

I joined the school in August and thus inherited this “wall of knowledge” as a colleague lovingly referred to it in a recent email exchange.  We subscribe to approximately 70  different periodicals, mostly through Ebsco.


Dare I show you the dreaded “Periodical Room” in the bowels of the basement? It’s two rooms deep people. Two.rooms.deep.

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It’s like a time capsule down there. Here are the microfiche readers. If you ask nicely, I’ll show you the ancient computer that takes up an entire room.

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What does one do with volumes of the CQ Weekly  from 1975 on?

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I’m spending a considerable amount on this really great collection…that seemingly only a few people are using.

I started watching in August, giving everyone time to settle into a school routine,  to see what moved. Dare to guess? The Economist? History Today? No, actually it was Seventeen and People. Let’s be honest. Our typical upper school kids just don’t browse educational magazines much these days. They want entertainment when they put down those school materials. They don’t have (or make) time to read them unless required to by a teacher. The students I have queried prefer to read things online and are as likely to follow a blog or interesting Twitter feed as they are to read a magazine.

Some of the faculty are using it after-hours, mostly for their own pleasure reading. Art teachers looking at the gorgeous ceramics and art magazines, National Geographic, the piano teacher reading International Piano, that sort of thing. Those individuals aren’t necessarily incorporating the print into their classroom, they just enjoy reading their favorite magazines each month. There are approximately 5 individuals who have identified themselves as using the magazine collection (out of 100 or so faculty/staff).

In casual conversations with colleagues, I have found that they are, in fact, incorporating relevant articles into their classroom, only they are all online. They post a great article from The Atlantic on Schoology, everyone reads the article simultaneously without coming to the library and scanning or photocopying our one copy. Many have their own print subscriptions to their favorites and therefore never use the library’s copy. Our collection is, quite frankly, a very expensive, rarely used, scholarly wall decoration. We have fabulous databases with deep periodical archives to tap into for research.

So, my wise interventionists, I pose the following questions that I hope you can help me with:

Should a 21st century library continue to house a browsing print journal collection “just in case” a student or faculty member walks by and is inspired to read?

If budget and space is a concern, is it our responsibility as librarians to provide faculty with their favorite reads, regardless of student interest? I do buy fiction that I know will only interest adults. Should periodicals fall under the same umbrella?

Should departments fund their own subscriptions? If so, should they house them or should we house everything? Perhaps they would use the print version more if they paid for them?

Do we do away with the scholarly and just provide magazines for entertainment?

Maybe it’s just a promotion issue? Do we attempt to scan other disciplines’ magazines (when flying solo and working hard to find time to read our own professional library publications) to look for articles that tie into curriculum, which we then send to teachers and hope that they utilize in class?

Do we give our faculty the old “use ‘em or lose ‘em” spiel and hope that gets their attention?

Do we investigate digital magazine shelf apps that our students/faculty can download onto their own devices? Are there any that you know of that have publishing rights to a great variety of quality publications? (note: students interviewed say “yes, let’s do this” and “cool”. Adults are wary of ‘out of sight, out of mind’ and the missing tactile experience in a digital environment).

What, I ask you, do we do? This is my not-so-subtle cry for help. Thanks in advance for any you can offer.



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