Wednesday, June 01, 2011

Adoption Blues...

 I think my folks subscribed to Smithsonian Magazine practically all my life, and my mom gives us a yearly subscription as a gift for my husband. Why am I telling you this? First, because I love knowing what magazines people read, myself- I think its one of those markers, like the condition of your top bedroom bureau drawer, or the inside of your bathroom cupboards (both of which would tell you horrible things about me...) -- but also because last weekend I finally went through a huge pile of papers in my study and found a small "to blog" pile that included the page in the photo next to this. Every so often, our new monthly issue has a cover with this on the back:  Adopt-A-Library by giving them a subscription to Smithsonian Magazine (and save some on your own next renewal). You can specify a library, or have the Smithsonian people select the place for you.

The text notes that "under the pressure of difficult budget restrictions, we have watched with dismay as the number of library subscriptions has dwindled and as fewer and fewer students and members of the general public have access to Smithsonian."  Yeah, I can definitely attest to that. But...

Libraries (and other organizations) have long had programs for donors to give books, databases, benches, and building wings, but this is the first time I've seen a concerted effort to encourage people to give specific subscriptions. Note that they are not asking you to give your own copies of Smithsonian to your local library after you've read them (many magazines and journals have rules against that, actually -- and it can be quite problematic for your library as well).

I'm a bit ambivalent about this. It's absolutely true that Smithsonian is a high quality and engaging magazine. It's also true that libraries' journals budgets are imploding (reduced budgets and annual inflationary increases see to that) but I'm not sure that donations of specific titles by individuals is the way to respond. First, based on my own history, I can see a kind giver just forgetting to re-subscribe the next year, or perhaps having to pinch a few more pennies...

But really, I wonder if I'd rather see concerned library communities, and members of the community, work to improve the budgetary outlook of libraries so that libraries can choose what to purchase based on their established selection criteria and have it done through established vendors and workflows (and I have to note that I don't really know how this program works, and the folks at Smithsonian may very well have a list of libraries that subscribed in the past but had to cancel due to budgetary issues).  On the other hand, an issue of Smithsonian in the hand of a 15-year-old or a 60-year-old is worth a bunch of abstract idealism in the bush, too. It makes me very sad that things have come to this.

2 comments:

Patrick said...

Hi. The library I work at just started getting an "adopt-a-library" subscription to Smithsonian. I appreciate the donor's generosity, but in this case it was misplaced. This library is a specialist college library and a general readership history magazine is not of any use to us. Besides, the college library system has an online subscription. Why doesn't Smithsonian ask if we have any interest in receiving the magazine before sending it? We just put it on the "free stuff" table. This seems like a scam on Smithsonian's part to increase their circulation numbers by sending out issues that weren't wanted, at the expense of generous donors.

Lorena said...

Hi Patrick;

I just saw your comment! Yeah, I wouldn't call it a scam, but your point about asking is very true - that's why we *have* collection development policies!