As of 22 April 2009 this website is 'frozen' in time — see the current IFLA websites

This old website and all of its content will stay on as archive – http://archive.ifla.org

IFLANET home - International Federation of Library Associations and InstitutionsAnnual ConferenceSearchContacts

62nd IFLA General Conference - Conference Proceedings - August 25-31, 1996

The Journals of Librarianship In Developing Countries: Availability Difficulties As Seen By Periodical Jobbers

Lester J. Pourciau
Director of Libraries


Rita J. Broadway
Head Periodicals
University Libraries
The University of Memphis
Memphis TN 38152 USA


Several years ago, the phrase "developing country" replaced "Third World," not because it is more accurate, but because it is more euphonious. To those who would want to argue that "developing country" is an accurate description of what they are attempting to convey, we might express the hope that France, the United States, and the United Kingdom are also developing. The foregoing serves to su ggest that the phrase "developing country" is something less than accurate and, if one tries to identify a criterion which will separate developing countries from all of the others, such efforts will invariably be met with frustration. Such is the difficulty in attempting to speak about journals of Librarianship or, for that matter, any other discipline as these are published and distributed in and from developing countries. Nevertheless, for the purposes of this paper, a country is understood to be a developing country if it is one of those which did not embrace the industrial revolution of the 19th and early 20th centuries. This makes the matter only somewhat clearer because there are countries which politicians and economists would agree are developing but which did, in fact, parti cipate in the industrial revolution. These are typically countries which have and, in a few cases, still are experiencing political systems which do not allow for economic growth and development.

In attempting to adopt an approach to examining characteristics of the availability of journals of Librarianship from developing countries, an approach was selected and will be discussed in this paper which called for telephone interviews of representatives of periodical jobbers. For the purposes of this paper, three such periodical jobbers were chosen and representatives of each readily agreed to respond to a series of questions. Two of these periodical jobbers are large companies, and one is a younger, smaller, and growing company. (1)

So that each of the periodical jobber representatives who agreed to an interview would respond to the same questions, a set of these was sent via fax to each with a follow up telephone call several days later to allow each to respond to the questions. These telephone conversations were recorded and transcribed. They will be discussed and paraphrased here. A promise was made to each of the ven dor representatives that no individual comment would be attributed to him or to her, nor would any such comments identified with a particular company. An effort to remain faithful to this commitment will be made. The procedure to be followed will be a listing of the questions followed by a paraphrase and discussion of responses of the three vendors.

  1. What tools do you as a vendor use to identify a journal title and other bibliographic
  2. Each of the vendors responded affirmatively to making use of each of the various bibliographic sources mentioned in the question above. One of the vendors indicated that they have a reference collection of approximately 140 different types of material that are used to identify and to verify titles regardless of where they might be published. All three vendors indicated, also, that they frequent ly use surface mail or fax when this is available to communicate with publishers in an effort to identify journals correctly.

  3. Orders/Claims: How do you contact publishers? Which is used most: email;
  4. The question on orders and claims elicited by far the most response from all three of the vendors queried. All three were of the consensus that the variety of problems they identified and discussed were evident in the publication and distribution of jo urnals of all fields and not only that of Librarianship. The kinds of problems identified had, in a large measure, to do with telephone or telec ommunications technology in some developing countries. One of the vendor representatives spoke at length about some difficulties that company had attempting to communicate with journal publishers via fax. The report was that, in some cases, the phone system in a particular country was technologically so poor that fax transmissions were more often unsuccessful than successful. This same vendor representative went on to speak about attempts to engage in voice communication with publishers in developing countries. Because of the variety of languages spoken throughout the world, again, a consensus of all three representatives was that there is some difficulty inherent in communicating with publishers of journals in developing countries. All three vendor representatives indicated that the overwhelming majority of claims was satisfied with one effort. They did, however, point out that in some cases this one effort was rather substantial. All three representatives were in agreement that approximately some two to three percent of claims never were resolved. Again, this lack of resolution they attributed to communication problems and the use of surface mail in the countries of which they spoke.

    As an aside, one of the persons with whom we spoke indicated some problems encountered with some checks to publishers being altered. The specific example given spoke of a check for twenty dollars being altered so that it was cashed for two hundred dollars. Another was written in the amount of two hundred dollars and was altered so as to be cashed for two thousand dollars. When the other two vendor representatives were asked whether they had similar experiences, they both indicated in the affirmative.

    With regard to publisher acknowledgment of claims in a "timely" manner, the response was that almost rarely is there a status report given on a publication. The vendors indicated that they sometimes get claims resolved by the publisher sending replacement issues, but that they, the vendors, frequently learn this only by way of the customer ceasing to claim issues. In response to the question of whether publishers provide credit or extend subscriptions for issues not received, the response was that typically, the subscription would be extended to accommodate missing issues, and the reason given for this was the difficulty for publishers in developing countries to refund money, especially dollars, out of their own countries.

  5. Do publishers of these journals send the following information in a timely and
  6. The responses to question three were, for the most part, and, in a word, "no." At least this was the qualified response given by the vendor representatives. They all indicated that there was an occasional publisher or experience where communication was prompt, clear, and informative. For the most part, though, they all indicated that it seemed incumbent upon them, the periodical jobbers, to p ursue almost relentlessly information about price changes, frequency of publication changes and, particularly, title changes. All three interviewees spoke of the frustration encountered in determining title changes for journals published in developing countries.

  7. Delivery and billing: Is delivery timely? How long does delivery take: 1 month,
  8. By way of responding to the question of whether delivery and billing was accomplished in a timely manner, the response was, again from all three interviewees, for the most part, "yes" with a qualifying comment by one representative, "... if they are delivering, delivery is timely." With regard to the amount of time required for delivery, there was no specific time frame that the three represent atives agreed upon. For the most part, they indicated that this varied a great deal as various publishers in various countries dealt with different kinds of factors and the delivery of journals took anywhere from one month to three months. They all agreed that delivery was invariably by surface mail unless there was specific payment being made for airmail. This payment for airmail was always i ncluded in the price of a subscription. Approximately eighty five percent of journals from developing countries are set up either as standing order of bill later. In reflecting the experience of whether the vendor relies on the publisher to send invoices for standing orders, to bill later, or whether the vendor claims invoices, the response, again on the part of all three, was that of reliance on the publisher until some recognition that they were not receiving, or that the customer was not receiving service, or that invoices were not being received. Then, a claim was initiated. All three indicated that publishers are given very specific information about where to send invoices but that sometimes they need to be proactive on this matter. One of the representatives indicated that occ asionally they learn that they are not getting service, and have to go back to the publisher to communicate this, and to explain to the publisher the need for an invoice so that payment can be made, but sometimes the publisher will fail to do this and will cease to send issues because payment has not been made. Each of the three vendors has some variation of a "tickler file" which they use to in itiate communication about failure to receive invoices, or failure to receive issues of journals or both.

  9. Does vendor have a local office/representative? What countries?
  10. By way of responding to the question of whether the individual vendor had a local office or representative in various countries, only one of the three indicated offices in a variety of countries and, in most cases, these were not in developing countries. However, each of the vendors indicated that there was usually some individual person or some small office with which they could maintain some degree of communication. It seems that the degree to which an official contact is maintained in "developing countries" correlates very highly with the degree to which an individual country is "developing."

  11. Payment Their currency or U.S. currency?
  12. Each of the vendors indicated that, for the most part, their transactions with journal publishers in developing countries were expressed in terms of United States dollars. Sometimes publishers deal with Deutsche marks, Swiss francs, British pounds, or some other major European currency. Almost always, prices are quoted in United States dollars, and invoices are prepared reflecting United Stat es dollars.

  13. Do many third world publishers refuse to list their journals with vendors? Reasons?
  14. The indication here was that, on the basis of the experience of the individuals interviewed, publishers in developing countries do not really refuse to list their journals with vendors, but sometimes such listing does not take place for other reasons, some of which have been discussed previously. These typically have to do with the communications infrastructure in a particular country and, in the view of one of the representatives, the degree to which a publisher really understands what a subscription agent is and what that agent does.

  15. Is there a local vendor that U.S. vendors must work with to obtain the publications?
  16. Each of the three vendors indicated that it usually was not a question of being required by a publisher to work through a local vendor, but one of making dealing with those publishers so much easier. Each of the interviewees indicated that there might have been somewhere in their experience some r equirement that they were forced to deal with a specific local in country vendor, but it was almost always their choice , if that choice was available, to work with local vendors because it made service to their customers so much more efficient.

    As was stated in the opening paragraph of this paper, determining what is and what is not a "developing country" is not as simple as the question might appear to be at first glance. In the preliminary telephone discussions with each of the individuals whose views and experiences are reflected in this paper, the individuals began their responses by identifying the difficulty of determining exact ly what a "developing county" is. Some modicum of agreement was reached by telling each that they should use their own sense and understanding of what "developing countries" are.

    The word "infrastructure" has become almost trite because it is used so frequently by so many people. This is unfortunate because it is a very good and a very useful word. And, it is the technological infrastructure of whatever developing countries might be that seemed to be the prominent base of difficulties experienced by periodical agents as these were reflected in the various conversation s on which this brief report is based. If this paper begs the question of what lessons were learned, and what information has been gleaned from the interviews which might be useful to libraries, and to other periodical subscription agents, the answer is one of exercising caution, care, persistence, and patience.


1. The three individuals who, very kindly, gave of their time and their experience were Diane Appleton, Denise Nason, and Ree Sherer of, respectively, the Faxon Company, the W.T. Cox Subscriptions, Inc., and EBSCO.