6 · ARL Statistics 2008–2009
Counting Serials
For the third year in a row libraries have been instructed to count and report serial titles in the ARL Statistics, rather than
subscriptions. As a result, the trend line of publishing serial cost per subscription has been discontinued, and eventually
a trend line reflecting the new approach to counting serials will emerge as we aggregate annual data on serial titles. This
simple shift is very important as it makes the concept of serials more meaningful in the electronic environment.
In the electronic environment, once a library owns or leases a title, the title is often accessible by all users. Therefore,
unique titles, rather than subscriptions, is a more authentic descriptive statistic for the scope and content of library
collections. A unique title count favors broader coverage. Any duplication of those titles through packages, aggregations,
bundles, etc., becomes more a management issue. The new definition asks that serial titles be reported as electronic
if available both in print and electronic formats and that they be reported as purchased if available both through
purchased and non-purchased arrangements. So, if a serial title appears in both print and electronic form and a library
has acquired it through several different providers, it would be counted as one serial title. Training materials have been
posted on the ARL website to ensure that there is a well-grounded, shared understanding of the new definitions and
counting methodology.
What prompted this change? In earlier years libraries were instructed to report the “total number of subscriptions,
not titles, but electronic serials acquired as part of an aggregated package (such as MUSE or Academic’s IDEAL) were
to be counted by title”. Directors and other staff expressed concern that the serials count was problematic because
many libraries engage in multiple consortia arrangements. Counting serials purchased through a bevy of consortial
agreements could lead to inflated figures because duplicate titles could be held in multiple packages. The Statistics
and Assessment Committee determined that a new way of counting serials that focuses on titles would provide better
descriptive data reflecting the true scope of the content provided by research libraries. A pilot at various ARL libraries
demonstrated the feasibility of the new method.
The shift from counting subscriptions to counting titles further supports ARL’s goal of reporting collectable, useful data
in the ARL Statistics. Libraries are reporting more serials titles than they ever managed to report by simply counting
serial subscriptions. Although the aforementioned positive outcome demonstrates the success of this semantic and
methodological shift, all earlier trend lines that were based on serial subscriptions had to be deleted from the publication
in order to bring the graphs in line with the new definition and counting methodology. A variety of resources have been
developed for libraries to consult as they implement this change, and they are available on the ARL Website at
In 2007–2008, we changed the categories of serials reported under “serials titles currently received but not purchased.”
The subcategories are now: (a) consortial, (b) freely accessible, (c) print (and other formats) - exchanges, gifts, etc., and
(d) government documents. These categories are more meaningful in the context of “serials titles received,” as they
emphasize major components of that concept.
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