Staging My Own Intervention

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.

photo 1

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.

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


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.


21 thoughts on “Staging My Own Intervention

  1. Dear Katie,

    I have the same issue (to a much smaller degree). Mine has to do with almost 100 years of National Geographics. They are minimally indexed, but not very useful to search. I have been trying to find a comprehensive digital archive which will capture the same life as the photographs in the print version and have not yet been successful. I would love to hear how other librarians handle this situation.


  2. I have been slowly winnowing the number of periodicals I purchase. Fortunately, there are some teachers who still want and use the print periodicals, although not necessarily on a monthly basis. Mostly, these are Fine Arts, English, Math, Science and World Languages – often only one teacher per department (except Fine Arts) and only a few use them with students. I have considered suggesting departments purchase their own copies if they aren’t using them with students, but as you say, I buy fiction that only adults are interested in, so why not periodicals? For now, I’m happy to encourage use of the library by providing all the services I can afford that fit our mission.

    Occasionally, I’ll discontinue a periodical to see if there is any comment; if not, I’ve saved a little money; if so, I’ll resubscribe. We do have one or two students every year that regularly read business or news magazines, so as long as my budget extends that far, I will continue to get them also. Additionally, we are a day/boarding school, so I don’t really know which periodicals, if any, are used at night (dorm duty faculty staff the library at night). Another excuse I use with myself to keep getting print periodicals.

    I am about to get rid of our basement room full of old periodicals. We’ve weeded out some of these over the years, but kept a lot (some are fun for us old timers like Life, The Saturday Evening Post etc.) although I don’t believe I’ve had a request for even an old National Geographic in three years. A lot of this material is online, and even more of it is just forgotten. The school wants the space for our robotics program, so I have to get rid of all of it or find another storage place – it’s going. I have no room. I am going to open up the room first for faculty, and perhaps for the students, and I know some of the collections will go to new homes (just hope they don’t show up on my doorstep again when the faculty retire). It will be hard to let go, but I’m standing firm on this.

    So far I only buy a digital subscription if specifically asked to do so by a faculty member. I’m still fussing with which ebook subscriber to go with (Axis 360, Overdrive etc. – thought I had it nailed down, but my boss, the Chief Technology Officer had lots of questions, some of which will never be answered satisfactorily, but that’s another issue) so am not going to get into the whole digital versus print periodical mess yet.

    Good luck to you.

  3. Emailed from Joan Tweedie ( ), sharing with her permission:
    Thankfully I don’t have a two-room tomb as you have. However, My problem though smaller takes up the same amount of problem solving time as to ” What to do!!!” I have two walls of back issue journals and two walls of current journals on display in a beautiful library that is only 6 years old. Popular mags, sports, Macleans and Economist etc do circulate but that is because I have assignments which incorporate some print journals and also offer a delivery to box for staff who sign up for this at the beginning of the year. Have them for 2 weeks and then pass on. I am also faced with the problem of what to do with the old collections. For the past 10 years, I have only kept 5 years worth and that has helped and has been liberating. But even 5 years is a lot these days and I am going to cut down to 3 years and reducing shelving to one wall instead of two. (about 8ft x ft) each shelf. I am not quite ready to dispense of print since our library is the main area where students congregate in the school and the magazines are fingered. I incorporate online databases in all my integrated teaching with classes and expose the students to both. Of course online is used 90% of the time.
    I think if I were you I would reduce the collection to just a few year’s back issues and come up with an alternative use for those two rooms. People just would not miss them and it is only you who would worry about the decision!! I got rid of all our videos last year – it was hard but I was strict with myself. Do you know that no one noticed? Another liberating moment!!

  4. Emailed from Tricia Dewinter (, posting with her permission:

    I have the same concerns! Our Social Studies department chair asked me to order Foreign Policy, which I did, but also The Economist, which I did not because no one else ever reads it so I felt that he could order his own!
    I try to order magazines for the students in mind, but they don’t read much besides, as you said, Seventeen and Sports Illustrated. But I keep them for the few students, and teachers, who do enjoy them. I just started a subscription to Wired and that has been positively received.
    I guess I can give you an answer to one of your questions based on my experience – honor teacher requests for magazines but ONLY IF other students and teachers will read be interested as well.

  5. Thank you for this humorous exploration of a challenging & frustrating issue, Katie! I’m fortunate that the previous librarian did the bulk of weeding of our bound periodicals, however, I share much of your perspective on our print subscriptions. We have approx 30, review regularly, and have been slowly letting some more scholarly titles go, replaced by current news/issues, sports, fashion. I see us continuing to move in this direction, so that print is largely for recreational reading. Although I’m always surprised by a small group of students who appreciate The Economist (and, ‘forget’ to return it to the shelf on occasion).

  6. Thanks for the article! Our archives room was made into offices several years ago, and then we also said good bye to our microfiche. We have a wall of current magazines – we keep only about a year of each one. Some get read, some don’t. They are on special magazine displays, so unless we remodel the room a bit, I think I will keep having some magazines. I might experiment with some new titles next year – more for fun, less academic. Nobody has complained about the dwindling archives, however. So I say, Purge Purge Purge and make room for something more exciting to your community!

  7. Ha! Magazines. At my school, we’ve stopped keeping back issues. Once a new issue of some journal or magazine comes out, the old issue is sent to various places. Rolling Stone and Downbeat go to the music department. Old issues of People and Seventeen go to the nurses office. Ceramics and Art News go to the art department. The Food Network magazine is shared among the librarians. 🙂

    The majority of our more academic journals are indexed in our databases. Full-text and all. It felt good to let go of the magazine/journal collection. Maintaining the collection was time wasted since it was used so infrequently.

  8. Dear Katie,

    About three years ago we had to cut the size of our library in half. We lost the lower level which has now become the middle school library. In the process we got rid of all the old microfiche & microfiche readers and printers, laser discs (remember those?) and of course, we had no room for old periodicals. I have a small committee and we revise our list of periodicals each year. Since we are trying to have more scholarly materials to build on our research, we eliminated some of the sports magazines (that were not being read), and added other interesting titles. We only keep the most recent issues and I pass on the art ones to the various art teachers, spanish issues to various spanish teachers, french to french teacher, etc. Two or three times a year I put the rest of the issues on a cart to give away to students and teachers that want them. This has been working well and saves us precious space. And yes, most of the research is done using our online databases. This has certainly been a time of great change in libraries. Keeps things interesting!

    University Liggett Schools

  9. Thank you all for these great suggestions! I believe that I’m going to downsize and transition into a news/recreation collection and let departments determine whether or not to continue on with the more scholarly journals on their own. I’ll invite departments to come in at the end of the year and claim anything they are interested in.
    I have big plans for the existing periodical wall that you saw. I’ll share the after pix once the project is complete in a future blog post.
    Re: scholarly journals being housed in databases, am I the only one who finds it cumbersome to go through each database and search for particular journal titles when seeking a specific article? Anyone want to join forces and create a database of periodicals, indicating which databases contain them, years covered, etc.? I’m half way serious. Could be a really great tool for libraries of all sizes??

  10. Katie — you’ve tapped into a challenging issue. I asked myself the same question 5 years ago when I arrived at this school that had a large glossy wall and 5 years worth of back issues for each title. After observing usage for one year, I halved the number of print subscriptions, relying on JSTOR for back issues of journals. Our glossy wall is mostly recreational reading now, we keep back issues for one year only and distribute weeded copies to the Art department, physio lab, etc. We have begun an online subscription through Zinio to popular magazines used in curriculum (i.e. National Geographic) and this combination currently meets the needs of students and teachers alike. We do an annual survey of library services which includes periodicals and there has been no hue and cry. The space previously used to store back issues has been repurposed effectively. Interestingly, departments here used to manage their own subscriptions, but it was felt there was a lot of waste and assets paid for by the school were buried in departmental offices and not widely shared. So now the subscriptions are centralized in the library which allows for economies of scale and we do our best to promote the full range of resources we offer. Revisiting this collection each year to assess it’s continued relevance is part of our annual inventory process, and I can’t predict what it will look like a couple of years from now!

    • Thanks for your thoughtful reply, Sandy! I’ll check out Zinio today. I clearly need to streamline my routing process as well. I would love to see a copy of your annual survey of library services. I have so many areas that need to be addressed, it will take some time to craft the best questions that tackle each issue directly without the survey becoming cumbersome and taking too much of respondents’ time.

  11. I think there is still a place for current magazines, including People, Seventeen, and Hockey News, but also educational ones for teachers to browse. Have a couple of armchairs nearby with a side table.

    There is no need to keep old issues past a year or so as long as you have your key periodicals covered in your databases. Take a deep breath, and heave-ho the bound periodicals. In my experience, you can’t even give them away. Not to mention microform!

    The entire National Geographic is available on DVD-Rom. You can keep it on reserve for in-library use.


  12. We only keep our magazines for one school year, then in June they are distributed to anyone who wants them. We have some nice shelves that allow for the display of the current issue, then storage underneath (a bit like this:, which keeps everything in one place.

    I have a list similar to the one you mention starting, listing which database covers which journal. It also covers the online resources at the Toronto Public Library; most of our students and staff are members.

  13. We have the same experience as many, have cut our numbers of print subscriptions by perhaps 30% in recent years, and reduced the number of back issues we retain. We still keep subscriptions to the Los Angeles Times, The New York Times and The Wall Street Journal in print as well. It’s so gratifying to see that students really are reading Popular Mechanics, The Economist, The Atlantic Monthly, and The Wall Street Journal, along with Car and Driver and Vogue (we know because they’re leaving them around).

    Here’s A question for everyone: Try to get a recent article from Time Magazine; You’ll want to be sure to keep your print issues for 3 months as it’s appearance in ProQuest is delayed by 3 months. An article from a year ago? ProQuest’s arrangement with Time is to provide a link to the full text article at the Time Magazine site. It’s supposed to work fine but while I was able to get the full text of one article in the the January 28, 2013 issue, when I tried another article I was asked to subscribe to get full text. ProQuest says this is a problem they’re aware of and working on, but it begs the question: while we are relying on databases to provide content, will they come through when needed?

  14. I feel like I am repeating what the general crowd is saying: We keep a year of the popular magazines. Every year we reevaluate the magazine collection and may change one or two titles like hockey or gamer or something like that. It is a smaller collection, about 45 magazines. We just recently decided to get rid our print National Geographic collection because no one was using it. But no one is using the online National Geographic either. So, do we keep the database just because? It has great info. It is online. We could promote it more.

    How much promotion can you do? When do you give up? I don’t know. But yours is a good question. Keep the magazines current, relevant and useful. Make them something for both students, visitors, parents and faculty. It will be a win, win, win.

  15. This is such a thought-provoking and relevant issue. I’m completely revamping what I’m posting tomorrow because of it; you’ve hit a chord with many of us clearly.

    In reviewing the comments, we actually have a pretty broad definition of “popular” for teenagers. Seventeen, The Week, and The Economist are my top three. We are only allowed to get People En Espanol, and that’s fourth for me—if we got People, I have no doubt it would be first. Either way, students are browsing a bit beyond the fluff.

    Thanks for the photos. My library is going to celebrate its 10th birthday this year, and the school is only 40 years old. So I’ve never seen archives quite like this at the high school level before. When I arrived at the school 7 years ago, there was one rogue Laserdisc, Fantasia 2000, and that has since been purged.

    Let us know what you decide to do with your collection.

  16. We got rid of our back issue collection over 10 years ago. We had faint resistance from a couple of faculty, but when we pointed out that the majority of the archived material was woefully out of date, they agreed we were doing the right thing. Think of it this way: databases archive far more information, make it searchable by keyword, and allow simultaneous access. Why would anyone keep hardbound periodicals unless they’re in a research archive or can’t afford database coverage? (Frankly, if you can afford to bind and store periodicals, you can afford database access.)

    While it doesn’t take long to learn where the most used periodicals can be found in which databases, it is difficult to remember less often requested titles, so we subscribe to Ebsco’s A to Z service, which is a searchable index of what each database vendor covers.

    OK, I’m gullible. Do you really have a room-sized computer down there? If so, I want to know all about it.

  17. What a great topic! I, too have winnowed our collection of periodicals by about 45%. I did have a few “clukcers” about the process, but when I pointed out to them that they NEVER used the periodicals in question, they backed down.

    I have beefed up the recreational reads, and added titles like “Mental Floss” and others for fun. I let the departments pick up their own subscriptions if they want them for their offices, and take back issues of the fun stuff to the Nurse’s Office and to the fitness center. Works well.

    What a great resource this blog is!
    Elizabeth Nelson
    St. Luke’s School
    New Canaan, CT

  18. Hi Katie,
    We can relate, but with a nice spin. We have 50+ magazine susbscription through Ebsco. We had a room, downstairs like yours, where all this was stored in shelves (not archival boxes). This room used to be the librarian office but has been reallocated for other departments, so over the last few years, we cut the storage space IN HALF for those magazines. Each magazine now has a shelf space that each title can be stacked for about three inches upward, but that is it. For some titles, like Strings, or American Theater, or Dance, I like to find department teachers who appreciate receiveing the older copy when I put out the new one. That takes care of several titles but certainly not all 50+.
    Our school has a microfiche machine that was in our library taking up valuable student seating space upon my hire 6 years ago. I worked for years to get it out of the library, first scooting it behind the library desk to give the students more space; eventually I moved it outside under an overhang. I compiled a document after consulting three companies that digitize microfiche and gained cost estimates for that process based on the extent of the school’s holdings on fiche (got that by counting the boxes our registrar had, and by asking the health office how many sheets they had) and also provided cost estimates for smaller machines that could read the fiche (our student records are on many of these fiche for at least a decade). It eventually was moved to another room on campus because THE LIBRARY no longer has a need for it – the registrar is who needs it.
    As for the magazines – we just don’t hold onto the old copies, or as many, for nearly as long. Consult your art department, and your health departments – they may use them for photos or drug awareness advertisments. A student also used to take stacks of our old magazines and donate them to the VA hospital who appreciated getting them – even older issues (a student’s community service project).
    Matthew Wittmer
    Head Librarian
    The Buckley School
    Sherman Oaks, CA

  19. Hi Katie,
    I think we met at AASL. Anyway, I’ve been slowly reducing the number of print “popular” magazines to those that I see the students reading or that end up in the wrong place (so I know someone has picked them up!). I have kept a couple like Time and National Geographic that I’m not sure any Middle School student reads, but you never know. On the other hand, I have increased subscriptions to professional journals, but I’ve moved their location to our faculty workroom. I bought a nice wall-mounted rack, and we just put the new issues there as they come in. When the rack gets too full, I bring the issues back to the library and keep them for a year. The popular magazines are put in the “cut up” pile or given to a particular department at the end of the school year. For research, the students only want to use online databases for magazine articles, so there’s no point in keeping back issues unless you have something not available in one of your databases, and you know you’re going to need it later on.
    As for digital services, Zinio has a ton of magazine titles available. Public libraries in our area offer it to patrons, and I’ve been meaning to look into it to see if there’s school pricing.

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