Monday, June 24, 2013

What is a Journal?

William Badke is a rock star librarian in Christian librarian circles. He teaches research skills at the Associated Canadian Theological Schools and has written the Research Strategies textbook among other things. In his keynote address at the Association of Christian Librarians Conference, June 11, 2013, he made an amazing claim.

Journal of Mammalogy
He says that if we were to ask students, "'What's the difference between a journal and an article? About 10% of first and second year undergraduates will know, maybe 25% of senior undergraduates and 40-50% of graduate students." Appalling! His word was, Amazing. But he went on to argue that this should not surprise us. After all, he asks, “How often do students today actually see a physical journal?” Good point. Students find articles through databases as individual files, not as part of a packaged journal.

Should we care?

How important is it to know the structure of a periodical or any source material? Should journals continue in the same format as they have forever? Does it matter? One of the first things we teach students is to distinguish between a scholarly journal and a popular magazine. Students are told to use peer-reviewed or scholarly articles. We expect that those are found in academic journals. Surely an article can be peer reviewed outside of a journal structure. Journals are often the publishing arm of professional associations -- the academy that determines and defines reliable information in their fields of study. What would we do without them?

Weeding underway
Summer is the time when the Darling Library goes through our print periodicals (a.k.a. serials, journals) and discard old issues. We have a retention policy which guides our decisions. It is generally based on frequency, subject matter, and significance. And there are exceptions to every rule. But it is a practical policy based on a variety of reasons including space constraints. We don't have a lot of room to expand our back issues shelving.

As our serials assistant has been making his way through the shelves title by title taking out older issues according to our policy, he sets the soon-to be discarded issues aside. We have had two professors who teach in different subject areas come in and express concern over what may seem like an unthinkable act for a library to do. Are we really discarding these periodicals? There are some journals, they say, that we should just have. No matter what. No matter if we have access to them in digital format or not. No matter if they are 20, 50 or 100 years old.

Harvard Theological Review
They are right, of course.

But what about the practical side of the issue? What if students (or faculty) never use them? Should we still make space for them? What if they are available electronically? Should we pay for a print edition anyway? Sometimes the right answer is not the practical one.

Back to the question, What is a journal? If you ask an accountant, their answer would be very different from a librarian's. Many people would think of a book with blank pages used for any number of personal purposes.

To add to the confusion we have the Wall Street Journal which is a newspaper and Ladies Home Journal is a magazine.

To be clear, articles are found in journals... or databases.

If you want to find out if the Darling Library holds a certain journal title, go to the library's home page, click on "Find Items" tab then the link to "Browse Journal Titles." You can search for words in a journal title or look up the ISSN (International Standard Serial Number). Here you will find out if we have that journal and where to find it online and/or in print in the Darling Library. Our retention policy for each print journal is found in the NOTES field of the catalog record.

*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~ Robin Hartman is Director of Library Services at Hope International University. She is curious about how the organization and communication of information shapes society and is committed to equipping students to impact the world for Christ.

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