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63rd IFLA General Conference - Conference Programme and Proceedings - August 31- September 5, 1997

The European Federation of Serials Groups: a source of information, inspiration and cooperation

Claus Pederson
Department of Periodicals,
State and University Library,


I. Introduction.

As the present chair of the European Federation of Serials Groups I am honoured to be here today to give a short reading on the history of the Federation and the importance of such initiatives in serials management, not only in Europe but in fact worldwide.

I will tell you a little of the actions that led to the formation of the EFSG and I will cover the aims of the Federation, what are we doing now and what we will do in the future. The title of this speech has already given you an idea of what my conclusions will be.

I must admit that I have had to do some research on the early history of not only the Federation and the incidents that led to the formation of it, but also - and especially - the time where the first national serials groups were established. Some of this actually happened before I entered the library world 15 years ago. So the idea of cooperation within the serials business is not new at all although the Federation that I represent today is a fairly young organisation, established only in 1994.

II. What is a serial?

(And this is fundamental for the whole question of formation of serials groups).

A serial is any publication - in any media - which continues on a serial basis, either regularly or irregularly. This covers e.g. periodicals, magazines, newspapers, bookseries, microfiche/microfilm, CD-ROMs and E-journals.

At my library - which is the State and University Library in Denmark - we spend about 70 % of our funds for acquisition on serials. And this is not exceptional. Many libraries actually spend more money than we do on serials. The economic part of the serials industry is enormous.

Libraries all over the world buy huge numbers of journals - not enough, I can hear some publishers whisper - and of course there is an enormous interest in serials in the library sector.

What do we get for our money? Can we serve our patrons and the library community the way they want us to do? Will the paper journal survive? What will the future bring? It is very important - not least now when one might say "that times they are a-changing" - that there is some sort of co-operation and communication between the different sectors of the serials industry. We all want to survive.

There is a community of interests between librarians, publishers, subscription agents and information workers, regardless of whether we are focusing on paper or electronic media. And to help this cooperation between the interested parties the formation of interest groups is an effective way.

III. What is a serials group?

The simple answer to this question would be: it is a group of people interested in serials.

The declared objectives of the United Kingdom Serials Group, which was the first serials group to be constituted, gives an impression of what a serials group can be:

UKSG is a non-profit making body whose primary aim is to bridge the gap between the producer and the end user of serials, by providing a forum for the interchange of information, ideas, suggestions and the solution of problems. The main objectives of the Group are:

  1. To encourage and promote a continuing discussion concerning serials and associated areas, between all interested parties in the information industry, both nationally and internationally.

  2. To develop and maintain links between all those concerned with the production, distribution and use of serials.

  3. To encourage professional awareness in all those connected with serials.

  4. To encourage and assist in the development of appropriate research in the field of serials management.

These - should I say - basic elements are more or less the same in the serials groups that have been established following the formation of the UKSG in 1977, although many of these later serials groups - contrary to the UKSG - have been constituted within mother-organisations, whereas the UKSG is an independent body. I will come back to this later.

IV. United Kingdom Serials Group

I have said quite a few words on the UKSG already, and this is not without reason, since the UKSG must be considered the "mother of all serials groups". It was established in 1977 as a result of a conference on serials, initiated by Blackwell's. One of the aims of the Group was to bring together librarians, publishers, serial agents and other information workers in the field of serials. One of the most important functions of the UKSG has been to provide a forum where common problems can be discussed: pricing, automation, document delivery, sharing resources and so on - and through this the hostility that has existed for many years between libraries and members of the publishing industry has actually been overcome. People concerned with similar problems from different perspectives are working together, trying to help each other, trying to understand each other - trying to respect each other - and that is of course vital elements to make and have peace in this world as in any other world. The committee of the UKSG reflects this solidarity. People from all branches of the serials industry come together here: librarians, subscription agents, publishers, booksellers, documentation specialists and information brokers. They are all colleagues in the serials industry.

V. International serials co-operation

Serials is an international business and though many publishers and subscription agents do have offices or even the head office in UK of course cooperation within the serials world has not been limited to the establishment of the UKSG. The UKSG-model of a serials group has however been useful in developing groups in other areas of the world. The North American Serials Group (NASIG) was established in 1985 after contacts between the American library profession, the American publishing industry and the UKSG. The Australian Serials Group (ASSIG) was set up following the same concept in 1987. Both in North America and in Australia the visible results have been a more structured system for the serials industry building networks across their continents.

In Europe many people working with serials became interested in the work of the UKSG. Librarians and publishers from different countries all over Europe participated in the UKSG conferences. The publishing industry of course has been familiar with the work of the UKSG almost from the start, but the librarians on the mainland of Europe only later became aware of the activities of the group. However there has been an increasing interest in the work of the UKSG and in some countries even an idea of setting up similar serials groups to the one in the UK. The problem for many countries in Europe in this context is that there are not that many publishers or subscription agents/booksellers in each country. The dialogue is not always possible because there is not a large number of agents and publishers as in the UK and the Netherlands: there is only the library side. As a representative from a Danish library - I must admit, that we mainly agree when it comes to facing problems with the publishers - and in Denmark we only have one large international publisher i.e. Munksgaard International Publishers.

VI. European Serials Conferences

In April 1989 the idea of a European serials conference was first mooted in the UKSG. One of its main purposes was seen as helping to crystallise individual countries desires to get more involved in serials co-operation. It was the hope that regional groups would sprout up all over Europe as a consequence of the inspiration and experience from this conference. Or that a possible consequence could be the creation of a European Serials Group.

The first European Serials Conference was thus arranged in the Netherlands 10-12 September 1990 as a joint initiative between UKSG and a consortium of 3 publishers and subscription agents.

I will quote John Urquhart, former Head of Research and Library Resources at the University Library, Newcastle upon Tyne, who said it so ambitiously and yet so beautifully as a prelude to the conference in an article printed in the UKSG-journal "Serials" in July 1990 just before the conference took place. "It is important that no one organisation or interest should prevail, and that each sector of the serials industry in whichever country they operate should recognise the over-riding need for agreement on common goals and priorities. This is the only one aspect of the emergent global village, which in turn is the child of new information technology and the spirit of our times. It is that spirit which we hope will pervade the workings of the European Serials Conference, and encourage mutual understanding and fresh endeavours in the field of serials, which in the long run play such an important part in the advancement of human society."

These words could stand not only as a prelude to the first ESC but as a heading for the duties of the EFSG, that a few years later has been a direct result of this conference.

The programmes of the first ESC concentrated on the following themes: Pricing for Europe (librarian's view, agent's view, publisher's view), New Technology (with a CD-ROM panel - this was before the Internet has driven us all mad), International Co-operation (East-West exchange of information), Education and Training in Europe and the EC Plan of Action for Libraries. There were 150 delegates from 22 countries which, it would be fair to say, was absolutely satisfactory and in all the conference was a big success.

What then came out of it with regard to the formation of a European Serials Group? Well, the Group was not established at this time - but there was a growing awareness of the necessity of interest groups in other European countries. And shortly after the conference a Dutch group was established, affiliated to the Library Association of the Netherlands, but with publishers and agents among the members.

The planning of a 2nd ESC was agreed to by the UKSG immediately after the success of the 1st ESC. The conference was to take place in 2 years time at the same place in the Netherlands. The planning and organisation was managed by the UKSG but supported actively by the Dutch Serials Group after its formation in 1991.

The 2nd ESC did take place in the Netherlands from 9-11 September 1992, and it was as big a success as the first. Nearly 200 professionals from 21 countries all over the world participated in the conference. From the programme is worth mentioning sessions on: electronic publishing, advances in document supply, and the automated environment. The keynote address entitled: "Serials and new technologies: opportunities for libraries, problems for the law and threats to publishers", struck a note for the future.

A 3rd ESC was organised and held in September 1996 in Dublin, Ireland. This time under the auspices of the European Federation of Serials Groups. Still the UKSG did the hard work, but this time inspired and influenced by the many serials groups established around Europe in the beginning of the 1990s in the light of the 2 previous conferences and the work of the UKSG.

I will come back to these groups and give you a European tour of serials groups at the end of my presentation. The 3rd ESC was attended by 250 people from 20 countries including the Republic of South Africa and the USA. Topics discussed were security and censorship on the Net, copyright, e-journals, reinventing the subscription agent and serials archiving and exploitation. The preamble of this conference was: "The first opportunity for the European serials community to debate the major issues of the day since the arrival of the Internet as a significant instrument of change in the scholarly communication process". And this I find expresses one of the major advantages and gains of the EFSG. It provides an interchange of experience and knowledge.

VII. European Federation of Serials Groups (EFSG)

The EFSG was established in late 1993 primarily by the UKSG and the NVB Serials Group, which at that time were the only two fully formed European serials groups. The ambitions for the new Federation were high - as were the original ambitions for a European Serials Group (as previously mentioned). One of the main issues has been the balance between UKSG as a well established and professional organisation and the less well developed serials groups from the other countries. However I will not tire you with formalities. At the end serials groups involved have agreed with the following objectives:

  1. To foster close and effective liaison between organisations in Europe having a professional interest in serial publications.

  2. To foster awareness and understanding of professional, commercial, economic and user issues concerning serial publications and related information sources, products and services between its members in a European and broader international context.

  3. To give information, advice and encouragement to those wishing to establish serials interest groups in their own countries.

  4. To promote a regular European Serials Conference and such other meetings and activities as may support the fulfilment of the aims of the Federation.

Membership shall be open to serials interest groups and associations based in Europe.

We are at the moment working on organizing an ESC 4, which will be held either in Finland, Hungary or the UK in 1999. We are considering coming up with a policy plan for the EFSG with ideas for our future work and we would like to encourage cooperation not only within Europe, but also worldwide i.e. with the IFLA Section on Serials Publications.

VIII. A European tour of serials groups:

I will finish this paper by taking you on a European tour of the present serials groups, apart from the UKSG, which I already have mentioned quite a few times:

  1. NVB Serials Group (the Dutch Serials Group)
    The NVB Serials Group is 5 years old in May 1997 and is affiliated to the NVB (Nederlandse Vereniging van Bibliothecarissen, Documentalisten en Literatuuronderzoekers - The Library Association of the Netherlands). The serials group strives for close contact between those interested in scientific journals and related media and includes publishers, libraries, subscription agents and end users. It holds an annual course each year on serials. It arranges workshops, for instance on EDI and on E-journals and other topics for courses are: the role of subscription agents, new technologies, collection development, checking in of serials etc. Membership is open to individulas and organisations interested in serials and the group is self-financing, despite the affiliation to the NVB. The Group has 80 members and the current Secretary and business manager is: Mr Mathieu Sikkema, The Library at Delft University of Technology.

  2. Grupo Espanol de Revistas (the Spanish Serials Group)
    The Spanish Serials Group was formed in 1994 as a Spanish model of the UKSG. The group is a forum for all sectors involved with periodical publications, from producers to users. The group produces a journal/information bulletin with contributions on all topics connected with serials. The group holds seminars and conferences with topics such as payment methods, automated systems, electronic journals, union catalogues and collection management. The bringing together of publishers, agents, librarians and users of serials to discuss ordering, electronic transmission of data and copying/copyright is very important to the group. The Spanish Serials Group has 50 members at the moment and the current chair is Dr Miguel Duarte, Biblioteca Central, Universidad de Cádiz.

  3. Magyar Periodika Kör (the Hungarian Serials Group)
    The Hungarian Serials Group was established in 1994, with members from all sectors of the serials industry. The group has 82 registered members and more than 100 people who are interested in the activities of the group. The aims of the group are: to encourage discussion and cooperation between all parties in the serials chain, to develop links between them both nationally and internationally, to encourage professional awareness and provide training and education, to be a forum for the exchange of information, and to be a representative body of the profession in major decision-making processes. The group has arranged several meetings and conferences since the establishment in 1994, covering topics such as tendering and tender laws, electronic media/electronic journals and trends and developments in periodicals. The is always an annual conference held in connection with the International Book Festival. Current chair is Ms Ilona Fonyo, Technical University of Budapest.

  4. Finnish Serials Group
    The Finnish Serials Group was founded back in 1981 and has the Finnish Research Library Association as its parent body. This structure is similar to the one of the Danish Serials Group, which I will come to in a moment. The Finnish Serials Group today is very small with only 7 official members, but their activities are open to non-members. Since 1982 the Group has organised an annual conference attended by between 40-100 participants (last years annual conference dealt with electronic journals). The number of meetings held by the Finnish Serials Group is however diminishing as a result of the growing use of electronic mail, which has become a very important communications tool in a country where long distances are involved. The aims of the Finnish Serials Group are: to keep the members of the Association informed by writing articles in the Finnish Research Library Association journal "Signum" and by organising local conferences and training days, and to encourage research work on the usage and purchase of serials. Current chair is Ms Irja Laamanen, The Finnish Institute of Occupational Health.

  5. Swedish Serials Group
    The Swedish Serials Group was founded in April 1994. It is organized as a part of a larger organization called the Swedish Society for Technical Documentation. The Serials Group is one out of five interest groups operating within this organization. The Group, however, is financially independent of the parent organization. The members of the Swedish Serials Group are divided into five local groups, due to considerations of travel distance. The local groups are situatied in Stockholm, Uppsala, and in the Northern, Western and Southern regions of Sweden. Each local group has a coordinator who is responible for its activities. The five coordinators form a working committee for the total group. The use of electronic mail is very important to the group - just like the Finnish Group. The Swedish Serials Group has more than 150 members and although the members mainly work in university libraries, there are also representatives of private industry, government, vendors, publishers ans serials agents. The Group organizes informal meetings that function as a forum for discussion to create informal links between the people with a common interest in serials. Topics have included: pricing, tendering, cancellations, document delivery, acqusition versus ILL, outsourcing and copyright. Current chair is: Ms Annika Sverrung, Chalmers University of Technology.

  6. Danish Serials Group
    The Danish Serials Group was founded in May 1993 at a 2-day meeting on "Serials in the electronic library" arranged by the Danish Research Library Association. The Danish Serials Group - like the groups in Finland, The Netherlands and Sweden - is not an independent body since it works under the auspices of a mother organization: the Danish Research Library Association. The Group is one out of 5 interest groups, but it acts independently and normally the activities will not have to be authorized by the Danish Research Library Association. The Group, however, is not self-supporting so it depends on subsidies from either the Danish Research Library Association or the individual organizations in which the members work. The Danish Serials Group has nearly 100 members coming from research libraries, public libraries, research institutions, vendors and publishers. The Group organizes conferences and one-day courses on topics such as E-journals, licensing and outsourcing and the services available from subscription agents. Fortcoming events will concentrate on "loan instead of own" and the science of drawing up and estimating a budget in the light of price increases. Current chair is: Ms Susanne Lindow, The Danish National Library of Science and Medicine.

IX. Conclusion

I hope by this reading to have given you a short impression of what is going on in at least some of the European countries concerning serials and of the growing cooperation that has been established within the EFSG. You all know the subjects concerned. What is discussed nationally - and I have mentioned many topics during this reading - is almost always also discussed internationally. Undiscovered solutions can be found where you do not expect it. The concept of international cooperation and of cooperation between all links of the serials industry is very important since it is an opportunity to share knowledge and expertise. It should not be necessary at an occassion like this to stress the necessity of information, inspiration and co-operation, but basically, that is what it is all about.


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Pilling, Stella: A European Tour of Serials Groups. Serials, vol. 10, no. 2, pp. 148-150, 1997.

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Urquhart, John: The role of Serials in the Modern World. Serials, vol. 3, no. 2, pp. 65-67, 1990.