By Kathy Edwards, Research & Collection Development Librarian, Emery A. Gunnin Architecture Library, Clemson University
Last year a young architecture professor came into my office in Clemson University’s Gunnin Architecture Library to request that we subscribe to two new periodicals: CLOG and Pidgin. Both are architectural ‘zines published only in print. CLOG, founded by independent young architects, critics and bloggers, began publication in October 2011; Pidgin has been produced by graduate students at Princeton University’s School of Architecture since 2006.
My usual response to faculty requests is, “Of course–I’ll do that today.” This time I hedged and considered twice before forwarding a request for CLOG (but not Pidgin) to our acquisitions director. Architecture librarians will best understand why my reaction in this instance was…complicated. My hesitation wasn’t over Pidgin’s annoying lack of a subscription model, nor CLOG’s equally annoying disregard, in recent issues, for basic bibliographic conventions.* The real bogeyman is the P word: Like many of you, I face persistent pressure from Higher-Ups to do away with print serials subscriptions.
Of Clemson Libraries’ 45,000+ current periodicals subscriptions, some 200 are titles available only in print. More than half of these come to my branch library, home to collections supporting art, architecture, landscape architecture, city planning, real estate development, historic preservation, and construction science & management. The most recent nudge from On High to divest of more print came four weeks ago, in the form of a spreadsheet from our new Collections Management team listing 27 print magazine and journal titles on our current periodicals shelves that happen also to be available online via commercial aggregators. With the spreadsheet came the request that I indicate which print titles to cancel, based on this apparent ‘duplication’. At Clemson, subject liaisons routinely weed periodical holdings based on full-content duplication in JSTOR or Project Muse, but until now we have never been asked to cut print subscriptions based on online offerings in aggregated commercial packages.
Uncomfortable with this request, I sent the list out to faculty members for input and used their responses as basis for retaining all but one of the print subscriptions. I suspect, however, that faculty insistence will not carry the day for very long.
In the last decade, electronic formats have completely transformed information delivery and access across most academic disciplines, in some disciplines (engineering, chemistry, physics) displacing print entirely. This technological transformation of the information landscape has altered not just the expectations of those seeking access to these resources, but also attitudes and practices within the library profession itself. In a nutshell, print–for all manner of publications but particularly as a format for journals and magazines–is becoming harder and harder to sustain or defend. Most of us can readily recite the reasons for this:
From a user’s perspective, stuff in print is downright inconvenient: you have to go to a library to get it, once in your possession you have to keep track of it and protect it from harm, you can have it only for a limited time, if you want an image out of it you need access to a scanner, and once you’re done with it you have to return it or face stringent fines. Only one person at a time can use a given issue, and if the issue you want is in offsite storage there’s a request form to fill out, along with that whole delayed-gratification thing Millennials don’t handle very well (it goes against expectations). Worse, what if you wait for it only to discover it wasn’t what you’d hoped for or needed? Some titles may even be library-use-only, yet few academic libraries can afford to be open 24/7, and what about students in programs abroad, or faculty on sabbatical? Anyone without ready access to the library is out of luck, unless offsite delivery is an option–where that’s feasible.
Compare all these negatives to the wonderful world of electronic ‘get-it-now from anywhere at any time’. Conclusion: print is passé.
From the library’s perspective, stuff in print requires effort: mail room and acquisitions staff, catalogers, and circulation staff physically track, handle, label, stamp, transfer, and shelve each individual issue. When it comes time to bind accumulated issues of retained titles, all of this handling is repeated in reverse, after which a new item–the bound volume–returns along the same hand-to-hand chain.
Stuff in print takes up more than its fair share of space: first on specialized periodical display shelves, which can’t be used for much else; then in the stacks until enough volumes accumulate to send some off to a remote storage facility which is, all too often, already stuffed to the rafters.
Stuff in print continues to cost money long past the date of receipt: Binding has to be budgeted for, as do transport, storage, re-cataloging, and reshelving. Print means more processing, materials, real estate, and staff time.
Finally, for libraries, stuff in print represents pressure on a service provision workflow increasingly constricted by staff reductions and crimped budgets.
Given that a significant number of important architecture and art periodicals remain available only in print, it is no wonder that collection managers bring this divest-of-print pressure to bear on the stewards of design collections.
Yet print as a format does have its avid defenders, for all kinds of reasons variously legitimate, radically disruptive, or downright fuddy-duddy:
Compared to e-formats print is relatively ‘permanent’; it affords portability independent of electronics and network restrictions or malfunctions; image quality is often superior; readability is definitely superior; for a good deal of the population print is a deeply ingrained information medium; and print inherently adds value by presenting information in context, providing opportunities for serendipitous discoveries–something many educators consider fundamental to active learning and the creation of new knowledge.
Banners defending print’s virtues are hoisted most often (but not exclusively) by readers, scholars, and designers educated before the Great Digital Revolution.
Who would have guessed, then, that the last five years or so would bring a resurgence of print as a medium for documenting, challenging, even provoking design ideas. This rising tide–in the form of ‘little magazines’ with big and often radical ambitions–is taking on the proportions of a Movement, a global yet decentralized agitprop bent on shaking up professional norms, commercial mediocrity, architectural clichés, and the Internet’s “hot new project as twenty-second eye candy” ephemeral culture. The website Archizines.com, which tracks and promotes this ‘new in print’ phenomenon, currently lists and links to at least 89 recently launched titles from 26 countries across six continents, and adds new titles regularly.
CLOG is one of the best of these and certainly one of the most interesting. Its founders and principals–all young and independent professionals–are motivated by the conviction that architectural projects presented in digital forums today (whether online journalism, blogs, Twitter, image platforms, or discussion lists) rush into public view at such great speed and high volume that critical apprehension is completely undone. Observing that “mere exposure has taken the place of thoughtful engagement, not to mention a substantial discussion,” the editors proclaim the magazine’s raison d’être at the front of every issue:
“CLOG slows things down. Each issue explores, from multiple viewpoints and through a variety of means, a single subject particularly relevant to architecture now. Succinctly, on paper, away from the distractions and imperatives on the screen.”
Ink on paper as a medium, in other words, becomes both refuge and provocation–meaningful and intentional, falling back on print’s ability to fix and juxtapose words and images on a two-page spread, focus attention, and ratchet the decibel level down to where engaged dialog becomes possible. Since the ‘zine launched in 2011, themed issues have explored a single firm (B.I.G.), a brand (Apple), a building type (prisons), a style (Brutalism), a city (Miami), an integral design activity (rendering), a landscape (the National Mall), an architect (Rem), a genre (sci-fi), and so on, via dense, multi-authored text more akin to a blog-tweets mashup than to conventionally presented exposition.
CLOG has proven itself significant enough to be included in the Avery Index to Architectural Periodicals, but its treatment there is problematic: rather than a citation for each individually authored or titled contribution in an issue (of which there are many), each issue is reduced to a single citation, defined by its theme. Without actually picking up and browsing the “Prisons” issue, then, one would have no way to know that its contributors include a former convict, two public prosecutors, architect and critic Michael Sorkin, and the artist Ai Weiwei, among more than a dozen others. Likewise individual photographs, diagrams, plans, and sketches throughout, however named and specific, are inaccessible to search except as illustrations of the overall issue theme.
Despite–and, one might argue, largely because of–the challenges this little magazine’s structure and content present to traditional indexing, CLOG is an intriguing and importantly provocative new architecture serial, and emblematic of a print resurgence that requires our attention and accommodation now. But first the vision of what architecture libraries are and should provide must continue to accommodate print serials for as long as this resurgence plays out.
*Note to CLOG publishers: Your mag is a quarterly; would it kill you to assign something as cataloger-friendly as volume or issue numbers? The year alone, and only on the back cover, doesn’t cut it.