HCL Eliminates Paper Edition of Chronicle of Higher Education

Chronicle of Higher Education

A screenshot from the Chronicle of Higher Education Web site. Harvard College Library recently decided to stop receiving the Chronicle's paper edition, and will instead rely on the elecronic
edition to provide library users and staff access to the Chronicle.

February 20, 2009 - Beginning this month, Harvard College Library will no longer receive printed editions of the Chronicle of Higher Education, and will instead rely on electronic subscriptions to provide the weekly newspaper to library patrons and staff.

The decision to cancel the subscriptions comes as part of an effort by the college library to reduce unnecessary duplication of resources in light of the University financial crisis, said Alison Scott, the Charles Warren Bibliographer for American History and Senior Collection Development Librarian. Scott ordered the cancellation after discovering that the Harvard libraries had nearly two dozen subscriptions to the Chronicle in various forms, including 17 to the print edition.

"I always knew Widener had multiple subscriptions to the Chronicle, because the library has a copy that's for public use, and there's a copy that circulates for staff. Most Harvard libraries have done something similar, historically," Scott said. "But this was a major duplication of effort, and when you look at the invisible costs associated with each of those paper subscriptions - they all have to be received, they all have to be checked in, they all have to be stored, and checked against the microfilm, and after a time they're all thrown out - cutting down on duplication can offer a fairly substantial reduction in storage costs, not to mention simply paying for it and getting it here."

"The amount of duplication Alison found is only slightly exaggerated from what was considered justifiable duplication in the very recent past," said Dan Hazen, Associate Librarian of Harvard College for Collection Development. "However, the combination of an available electronic resource, Alison's demonstration of the extent of the duplication and the economic situation - they all came together in a virtuous perfect storm."

The elimination of the paper editions, however, does not mean library patrons and staff will lose access to the Chronicle entirely. Those who read the newspaper regularly will now have it delivered directly to their desks - in electronic form. Instructions on how to access the Chronicle online are available on this site.

Two microfilm archives, which stretch to 1966, will also remain available. One is located in Widener Library, Scott said, but will no longer be updated to include the most current issues of the Chronicle. The second, which will be updated regularly, is located in Gutman Library.

"The electronic format is more searchable, it's more readily accessible, it's basically more efficient," Scott said. "In light of the digital revolution, libraries collectively are rethinking their commitment to collect the paper editions of certain resources, not simply as a question of cost, but because electronic access in many significant ways is an enhancement to what we can get with paper."

For library patrons, the electronic format offers advantages over paper, like keyword searching, and the ability to search the Chronicle's archive, Scott said. The electronic edition can also be delivered directly to staff via email, eliminating the need to circulate a paper copy of the newspaper.

"In light of the other issues that are swirling around, like the budget challenges for next year, this seemed like a useful point to start seriously addressing the larger questions of why we are collecting certain items in this way, particularly considering the new possibilities offered by technology," Scott said. "At one time, there were very good reasons for having these multiple subscriptions, but times have significantly changed. At this point, when we're looking at having to cut unique copies of things because we may not be able to afford them, receiving multiple copies of the Chronicle doesn't make much sense."

The decision to eliminate paper copies of the Chronicle in favor of electronic subscriptions could be the first of many as the library searches for areas to realize budget savings, Scott said. As other journals and periodicals become available online, the question of whether to maintain paper copies becomes a very real one.

"We're moving from a decentralized system, where everybody has to have their own material otherwise it's inconvenient or impossible to get to it, to what I think of as a distributive system, where, in many instances, we can acquire a single copy and distribute it electronically or through document delivery to our decentralized audience," she said. "Under that system, we don't have to make sure there's a copy of everything everywhere."

Going forward, Hazen said, the college library hopes to demonstrate that libraries can rely on electronic copies of some material. One key, however, will be ensuring staff can easily access the material.

"We know of any number of journals that are available electronically, but not everyone is able to take good advantage of them, because it can be a challenge to track the individual titles you're interested in," he said. "Technology will enable us to collect journals like the Chronicle of Higher Education in different formats, leaving us free to expand toward primary sources, and the kinds of materials that will really make a unique contribution toward scholarship."