RESHAPING ARL STATISTICS
The ARL Statistics 2005–06 describe a familiar picture for research libraries in North America.
The rising cost of serials is outpacing general inflation, the cost of monographs is hovering close to
inflation, and salaries are increasing moderately more quickly than inflation. As seen in Table 1 and
Graph 1, the numbers of reference and circulation transactions have fallen from their levels of 10 years
ago, but more users participated in instructional services offered by the library. Librarians are becoming
more involved in the instructional process and are increasingly an integral part of the teaching and
learning infrastructure at their institutions.
Historically, the perceived strength of a research library has been manifested in the size of its
research collection—number of volumes held, volumes added, and serial subscriptions have been key
indicators of quality as well as quantity in the eyes of some stakeholders. In a world where the basic unit
of research information was the printed word, it was a plausible notion that the more you have of these
things, the better equipped you may be in supporting high‐quality research. One could argue that this is
still the case. However, with the introduction of digital information and the dramatic changes in the
nature of content, measuring the size of library collections cannot be what it used to be.
For example, in 2005–06 ARL libraries spent 43% of their materials budget on electronic
resources—a total of $431 million out of $1.1 billion. This measure indicates the quantity and
complexity that libraries are dealing with, but ultimately these figures cannot offer much when it comes
to describing the quality of research, teaching, and learning at an institution. We need new measures to
do this. ARL is beginning to address this need with important changes and additions to the ARL
FROM SERIAL SUBSCRIPTIONS TO SERIAL TITLES
The unit cost of a serial subscription that ARL has tracked becomes relatively uninformative in a
world where research libraries are increasingly offering access to the same serial title via multiple
subscriptions and interfaces. The impact of electronic publishing on research library investment in
serials was one of the forces behind a recommendation to move away from tracking serial subscriptions
and towards tracking serial titles.5 The ARL Statistics 2005–06 is the last time ARL will publish a unit cost
for serial subscriptions (see Table 2).
The ARL Statistics and Assessment Committee determined that a new way of counting serials
based on titles rather than subscriptions would better reflect the true scope of the serial content provided
by research libraries and recommended that ARL transform the serial counts from subscriptions into
titles. With the revised definitions for survey year 2006–07, ARL libraries are now asked to report
This article first appeared in ARL: A Bimonthly Report on Research Library Issues and Actions from ARL, CNI, and SPARC 256
(February 2008): 9-11.
Martha Kyrillidou, “The Impact of Electronic Publishing in Tracking Research Library Investments in Serials,” ARL: A
Bimonthly Report, no. 249 (December 2006): 6–7, http://www.arl.org/bm~doc/arlbr249serials.pdf.