66th IFLA Council and General
Jerusalem, Israel, 13-18 August
Code Number: 017-125-E
Division Number: VII
Professional Group: Library and Information Science Journals
Joint Meeting with: -
Meeting Number: 125
Simultaneous Interpretation: No
Journals and their audiences: who are their audiences?
Maria Luísa Cabral
In the Portuguese scene there are two journals devoted to archives, library, and information science: one is about 40 years old, published by the Portuguese Library Association but, for whatever reason, not being published since 1996; the other journal is PÁGINAS a&b which was first published in 1997. There are also one or two newsletters published by groups of public libraries. PÁGINAS a&b has managed to publish four issues so far being the fifth under its way, and it has succeeded to get financial support through some adverts - a very irregular income though - as well as from a governmental department which keeps a regular financial programme to promote books, journals, reading and libraries. This financial support comes through the purchase of 150 subscriptions to be distributed to public libraries all over the country. Since both financial supports do not cover all expenses it is therefore reasonable to wonder how are costs covered. Beyond supports mentioned, expenses, so far, have been shared between editors and publisher. A compromise we assumed but a difficult balance: no debts, no profits.
What it was conceived as an ideal partnership has come to its end: editors who own the journal have the opinion that things, such as distribution, can be run more efficiently, they have decided then to continue publishing the journal but at their own risk, and responsibility. There is already the guarantee that 150 subscriptions will be bought, and it is now the editors task to identify other financial resources which undoubtdely will be found between adverts, and other publishing support programmes.
As this aspect is a weak point it requires an explanation: the journal addresses a very small professional audience (1000 readers maximum) who has access to the journal at their own working places, whether libraries or archives. Being a country where levels of reading are still low, one cannot expect those professionals to subscribe themselves the journal which, in practical terms, means a considerable reduction of potential buyers. Should it be in a different way, and most likely financial programmes to support publishing activity would not be needed. As owners of PÁGINAS a&b we are well aware of this precarious situation, therefore what push us ahead is not the expectation to make profit; our involvement has to do with the belief that it is important for the profession the promotion, and dissemination of new professional viewpoints, and new solutions going on in Portuguese archives, and libraries as well as call professionals' attention to projects being carried out elsewhere. To proceed with this publication is for us some sort of professional commitment, aiming to serve a mixed audience made of members whom we know very well plus other members less well known, and spread in Brasil, and in four countries in Africa. The editorial project is an ambitious target where challenge, and also some sense of political commitment come together A risk really since it aims a specific international audience.
The editorial project as it was defined for PÁGINAS a&b is then framed by these two pilars: on one side, the financial constraints, and, on the other side, the determination to publish a journal which aims to become an authentic forum to debate the profession. Everything indeed depending on the audience: should the audience become wider, and we would be financially well off as, at the same time, a demand for content diversification would transform the jourmal into a much more interesting one.
It is very clear that PÁGINAS a&b is not a commercial journal: it does not depend on any organization but only on our personnal commitment: profit is not definitely among our concerns but since we recognize the fragility of its structure it is of utmost importance to widen the audience. How much then do we know about its current audience, and what kind of audience would we like to build up?
Readers of PÁGINAS a&b work in libraries and archives, and many among them are members of the Portuguese Library Association. It does not seem to be an obstacle to be simultaneously a member of the Library Association, and a subscriber of PÁGINAS a&b. Besides the subscriptions paid by the official programme, there are another 100 subscribers which is a good figure in Portuguese terms. The optimal thing would be to reach a higher figure of individual subscriptions but this objective faces a difficulty which is to convince professionals that words are not enough to push a journal forward; a journal needs supporters determined to make some investment, and one investment's is an individual subscription. This direct relationship requires commitment, and commitment is not comfortable. On the whole, a project facing a financial challenge to all our enthusiasm, and imagination but which can only take over if PÁGINAS a&b manages to stay on the limelight: PÁGINAS a&b has to settle down as a reference within the Portuguese library and archive scene. We firmly believe that reliability is a first condition to enhance our audience: to be able to guarantee a regular publication it does not matter if once, twice or more times a year; to be able to include original contributions; to manage to cover all aspects of our profession publishing but those with intrinsic value.
The other significant aspect about the audience is our perception of their professional needs, and expectations. Librarians and archivists in Portugal have an open attitude, accept easily new solutions, and ideas. As a professional community, there is no evidence of resiliance to change - what else can be said when we know about developments occurred in Portuguese libraries and archives during the last fifiteen years? They like to be informed about each others' experiences, they try to be updated. They read articles about others' practices, and they are willing to read more extensive, and theoretical contributons. What they are not really very keen of is to write, to face the challenge to put their own ideas on a piece of white paper, to talk about their own experiences. As a result, PÁGINAS a&b finds extremely hard to identify authors, to diversify contibutions, to define the content for each issue, to make a plan for the medium and long term. Contingency is the back curtain against which we have to prepare issue after issue. PÁGINAS a&b is, at the same time, the conveyor, and the provoker: the journal aims to transmit new ideas, news about projects and works being carried out making the country known to their own professionals but PÁGINAS a&b has also the mission to push professionals to present their work digging out their experiences, their failures and their successes. To publish a journal within such conditions is quite a distinct thing from publishing a journal supported by an organization, with a guaranteed number of readers. That is, a journal built upon some financial security.
I have just drawn a picture assuming we, as editors, know our fellow mates, those working in Portuguese libraries and archives: we meet each other quite often, and we have the opportunity to exchange viewpoints. But the community of librarians and archivits speaking the Portuguese language is much larger, we hardly know it but information available tell us that it is worth to plan aiming to them:
- under a manager's viewpoint, to widen the number of readers is an interesting path. Production costs would come down, releasing us from a considerable burden. For firms advertising in PÁGINAS a&b it would be much more interesting to reach a wider audience, as it would become much more appealing for those who have refused so far to publicise their goods in PÁGINAS a&b due to the rather small audience. To enlarge the audience would sort out two different problems at the same time: costs would be cut back since the number of issues printed would be nearly all distributed while global costs would be mainly covered by a potential raise of interest from firms;
- regardless problems yet to be sorted out among different governments, the Portuguese language community exists, and it reflects a common past history, and current common interests. A community knowing each other weak points, and difficulties. Only for political or economical reasons one would dare to minimize it. Libraries and archives are full with documents, and records connecting six different countries. Whichever projects to be launched they very often come back to these resources making unavoidable a professional relationship: training frequently involves professionals from those different countries, not to mention meetings, workshops and conferences where more and more often we all have the opportunity to discuss, and mutually exchange information. To have the opportunity to exchange experiences in the same language is not a minor issue. Needless to underline the comfort, and value of learning in one same language, using the same terminology, and conceptual framework;
- it is important to diversify the scope, and the intellectual framework of PÁGINAS a&b, and this would be achieved much easily if the audience was larger. It is not our intention to publish for a group of friends: a group of friends will run out of ideas quickly, and will find difficult to think big. On the contrary, PÁGINAS a&b is in favour of a strong flow of controversial ideas, and debate. To prevent discussion, and debate or to ignore others' developments have always proved as a wrong option. No doubt, there is a market in Portuguese language, and there is nothing wrong about to wake it up: the journal has to be felt as their tool whether as a means to catch up with what others are doing, or to transmit the others what they are themselves carrying out.
This raises a crutial question: how far can editors go when defining the content of a journal? Any journal is a powerful means of influence; a professional journal is not less, and editors have to bear in mind that a professional journal is not only a medium to refer technology, standards, or statistics about readers. All this data can be twisted, and interpreted in different ways. A professional journal is as powerful transmitting ideas as any other communication medium, and, all in all, what will remain are ideas. Over non-commercial journals lays a major responsibility either for what they publish, and for what they do not. This choice is inevitably related to the journal's audience. If the audience is a very diversified one, different levels of development have to be taken in consideration for two reasons: 1. adequacy of articles are not taken by all readers the same way due to their very distinct interests, and local constraints (e.g. technical, financial); 2. even if articles may seem not to fit all readers the same way, would it be up to the editors to decide what can be useful or superfluous?
Assuming this conflict finds itself a solution, assuming editors will always do the right choice, it is more than fair to raise another issue which is as follows: the journal is publishing very frontline articles, deeply oriented to high technology, leading its readers to a world hard to catch because local resources are scarce. Somehow, journals are acting in favour of globalization, but is globalization the solution?Can solutions be imported and exported so easily? What are the consequences? Who gets the larger share? Globalization is an aim for the rich: the poor cannot embrace it, and frustration can seriously question our mission as editors. Globalization is not a solution for everything, and the North-South conflict will not be solved by selling to the South the solutions of success as perceived by the North.
Of course, there is a strong argument against this thought: if editors give up about publishing frontline articles, though of high quality, where will quality go? Are editors preventing some readers to access quality? Are editors carrying out censorship? Where is the border?
Besides the content of the journal, there is yet another problem to sort out if the journal really aims a large international audience spread through different latitudes. I am referring to the language problem, and to the conceptual framework laying beneath. Most of us use the English language as a tool to communicate with the outer world but how many of us would be happier, and profit more, using the mother tongue to express themselves? I am sure that many of us have missed important bits during meetings because suddenly our thoughts do not flow as they would if the official language was our own. Now, if we add this conceptual difficulty to the technical one (due to the eventual complexity of an article), it is not difficult to imagine the ever growing barriers between the author, and the reader. The editors' job is to find ways to overcome this communication problem 1. without losing quality; 2. without pushing the audience away; 3. without giving up the innovative contributions; 4. without pretending to rule an obvious conflict which overcomes his job.
To keep the financial independence of a journal requires a large audience. In Portugal the audience is, and will always be, a small one. We are fortunate to find a potential professional audience applying the same language but editors have to evaluate the impact that the journal may cause. The impact can be positive by bringing discussion in, by revealing profitable experiences; conversely, the impact can be sensible because choices made by editors can be misunderstood by the audience above all being an international one. What entitles editors to tell others what to read, choose or follow? This is always a delicate question that a wider geography does not help to solve.
Commercial journals or those supported by organizations have a scope; those which want to remain independent, have another one, and a struggle to face. It is important that librarians and archivists recognize this, and make their mind to support them. Editors have to evaluate their audiences, to analyze the problems related to distribution, the content of each issue. Altogether, a team concerned with something more than just data, deadlines and productivity. An opportunity to build up a forum to debate, just like this Round Table.