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Are journal subscriptions doomed?

October 17, 2006

Is it worth budgeting for journal subscriptions when so much is free on the Internet?

Hello again,
Somebody recently told me that they didn’t think it was worth subscribing to print journals for their staff library because so many articles were available free of charge on the Internet. I can understand this attitude but think it is mistaken. I don’t want to denigrate...

... the information available on the Internet but there is something about the way we use it that makes it less satisfactory than a print resource, at least when thinking of teaching journals.

I suppose what I feel is lacking is continuity. By subscribing to a journal you build up a resource that is consistent in its approach and which develops ideas with some sort of rational progression. The process of reading the journal is less targeted than researching a topic on the Internet. As you browse through a print journal you are likely to read topics because they are there and thus expand your range of ideas and interests. Of course, nowadays it is possible to download complete issues of a journal so that the same process can take place, but such downloads are usually by subscription anyway.

I also find that the unhurried, peaceful atmosphere of a library or reading room sets up different resonances in a reader’s thoughts than the fast-moving world of Internet technology. Perhaps generations to come will have abandoned such leisurely reading as hopelessly outdated in much the same way that the oral tradition gave way to private reading when printing itself became widely available.

For me, the idea of a school library that did not eagerly await the latest edition of the ELTJ is very strange. But I don’t want to be thought of as a dinosaur and I wholeheartedly accept that the Internet is a wonderfully rich source of interesting articles, available to all at the click of a mouse. If I had to choose one site that all teachers should access regularly it would be the British Council’s Search English site (http://searchenglish.britishcouncil.org/) because it has a plethora of free material of extremely high quality.

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  1. Dan Says:

    Hi Brenda,

    I've followed your blog for a while now and I'm a big fan. I've been primarily a lurker, but this posting has brought me out into the open.

    What is the difference between waiting for the journal to come in the traditional mail and for the notification send to your email? In both cases you settle down in your comfy chair. You go to the TOC first and see what awaits you. You page through the interesting articles highlighting and dog-earing important information. It just seems the same to me.

    At least I would call it no significant difference :)

    I, like you, am still on the cusp of the generation that prefers paper. However, I am not fond of the extra $70 or so for international shipping that comes with the paper copy.

    So, in the end, I'll settle for my slightly heavier laptop and leave the paper copies to collect dust on library shelves.


  1. Eric Roth Says:

    This debate resembles a recent faculty debate over electronic dictionaries vs. paperback dictionaries. Some older instructors wanted to require a particular dictionary, and ban electronic ones. That seems a bit peculiar to me since the electronic ones provide additional advantages - for instance, you can hear the words.

    As you note, this may be a generational divide. By focusing on the content and avoiding snap judgments, we can let see how the experiment plays out. Students and many younger teachers feel more comfortable with online resources than print materials - magazine, newspaper, or book.

    Having said that, I feel quite sad that my favorite daily newspaper - the Christian Science Monitor - is going to become only an online daily starting in April. (The print version will become a weekly.) Newspapers in the US are dying and magazines folding.

    Yet finding solid, objective information may become harder only because the marketplace of ideas has opened so wide. Still your blog - and many other fine websites for ESL teachers - shows that quality can find new audiences and still survive.

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