LRTS v 42, no. 3, July 1998

Scientific and Technical Serials Holdings Optimization in an Inefficient Market: A LSU Serials Redesign Project Exercise

Stephen J. Bensman and Stanley J. Wilder

In this paper we analyze the structure of the library market for scientific and technical (ST) serials. The analysis takes the form of an exercise aimed at a theoretical reconstruction of the ST serials holdings of LSU Libraries after almost a decade of massive cancellations and a policy of adding no new subscriptions. This exercise was done in conjunction with the Louisiana State University (LSU) Serials Redesign Project (SRP), and it utilized an experimental computer program called the Serials Evaluator. Much of the paper is devoted to a dismission of the set definitions, measures, and algorithms necessary in the design (of a computer program to appraise ST serials.
LSU faculty ratings were utilized as the main measure of ST value, and we investigated the nature as well as the strengths and weaknesses of faculty ratings. Chemistry played the role of the test discipline, and other ST fields were investigated to determine whether the processes affecting chemistry are also active in them. We develop the hypothesis that human knowledge functions on the same probability structure as biological nature and society. We show that this probability structure results in the highly skewed, stable distributions that characterize the social stratification system of science and technology as well as of the serials system based upon it.
Science and technology are seen in this paper as dominated by stable elites, who tend to center around traditionally prestigious institutions and publish their work in U.S. association journals. Consequently, U.S. association serials have higher ST value, and they play a dominant role not only in internal library use but also in interlibrary loan. Due to their higher ST value, U.S. association journals can be sold to libraries in greater numbers at cheaper prices than the journals of commercial publishers, and this causes the ST serials market to bifurcate, with ST value tending to concentrate on the U. S. association serials and costs on the commercial ones.
As a result of the highly skewed, stable nature of the ST serials system, the ST serials holdings of LSU Libraries were found to have suffered little damage, despite almost a decade of massive cancellations and no new subscriptions in the face of an exponentially growing serials population. To bring the serials holdings at LSU Libraries up to optimal level in 33 ST disciciplines, it was estimated that only 118 new subscriptions costing $$1,852 were needed, and of these much of the perceived value derived from 53 titles that cost $39,948. Moreover, it was still possible to cancel subscriptions to another 342 titles that cost $222,409 without materially affecting the perceived value of LSU Libraries' serials holdings in the 33 disciplines. We see no solution to the present crisis of the ST serials system in its present form, through technology, cooperative collection development, or consortia, and we state that librarians will have to change the nature of this system by utilizing the new technology's capability of delivering information rapidly to move from subscriptions to a free market in ST information through document delivery.


Stanley J. Wilder