How do you use AJP? Do you regularly read every issue cover to cover, or just look at an article occasionally? Do you use it in your research, or in your teaching, or as a student? Do you access AJP through an individual AAPT membership and subscription, or through an institutional (library) subscription, or in some other way?
The sheer variety of ways to use AJP means that there are right and wrong ways to use it—or at least, better ways and worse ways. That's because the way you access a journal nowadays can have unforeseen consequences. If you're not careful, using AJP incorrectly may even jeopardize your access to it! Let me explain.
Most of us work at institutions that have been through good and bad economic times. For example, the Great Recession of 2008 forced most colleges and universities in the U.S. to slash budgets, cut jobs, freeze hiring, and justify every dollar being spent. Although the U.S. economy has improved since then, some schools are still facing very tight budgets and no institution is immune from future financial challenges.
So what does this have to do with AJP? Well, when an educational institution tries to figure out how to deal with a financial crisis, one of the most common strategies is to cut the budget of the library. The library is an attractive target because much of its budget is in journal subscriptions, which can be cut without laying off staff or violating contractual obligations. Moreover, the cost of journal subscriptions has been rising especially fast, raising questions about whether this expense is sustainable even in normal economic times.
In some cases, when the library needs to cut its budget, departments may be asked to list and prioritize all the journal subscriptions that affect them. In other cases, departments may simply be forced to reduce their subscription costs by a fixed dollar amount. And in the worst scenarios, libraries may drop subscriptions without consulting the affected departments at all.
While it may seem incredible for libraries to make decisions on which journals are cut without any input from departments, such actions are a growing trend. Because almost all research is now performed online, it is generally pretty easy for libraries to obtain usage statistics for journals. That is, libraries can determine how many times particular journals have been electronically accessed from on-campus computers. Having such data makes decisions about which journal subscriptions to cut relatively straightforward: simply eliminate journals that are not being “appropriately” used. Sounds pretty reasonable, actually. But there are potential problems with such a procedure, and it turns out that you might be (inadvertently) part of the problem.
The problem arises because usage statistics determined in this way are incomplete. These statistics do not include anyone who accesses a journal electronically using a personal subscription from an off-campus computer. Nor do they include anyone looking at the print version of the journal (assuming one exists). And while this may not be a problem for a research journal—after all, who performs research by sifting through the stacks nowadays?—it might pose a problem for a journal like AJP. Many people still read the print version of AJP that shows up every month in their mailbox. And although the number of such print-version readers has been gradually decreasing, the point is that library usage statistics completely miss this potentially significant amount of AJP usage.
Even more usage can be missed in the following scenario. Suppose you're preparing to teach a course in, say, classical mechanics, and a colleague mentions an interesting article in AJP that you might find useful in your course. (I can't resist providing some recent examples from the past six months that you might find useful for some of the core courses in the physics curriculum; see Refs. 1–10.) Suppose further that you read the article and decide that it really is useful for your course. What do you do next?
I personally have been in this situation many times. One thing I might do is to prepare a few lectures and in-class activities that are related to the topic of the article. I might even decide to assign an out-of-class experiment or mini-project for students to work on. But one thing I would almost always do is ask students to read the original article (though maybe not until after we had discussed it in class). After all, AJP articles are often written with students in mind and it is always a useful experience for students to interact firsthand with the published literature. But how would I accomplish this last step? That is, how, exactly, would I go about asking students to read the article? It is this last step that is of critical importance in the modern age.
In the old days, I would typically go to the library and make however many photocopies were needed and then pass them out in class. But it is much more convenient today to simply download the PDF and either email it to the class or upload it to a course-management web site from which the students can download it themselves. But this procedure is potentially problematic and is precisely what you should not do, no matter how tempting it might be. Why? Because when you follow this procedure, your library will record only your access to AJP (assuming you used an institutional subscription to access the journal). An entire classroom full of students will end up accessing the journal and yet none of these uses will get counted in the library usage statistics.
Think this doesn't matter? Even if there are only ten students in the class, the library usage statistics would be underrepresented by an order of magnitude! And if it happens several times in a single department over the course of a year, it is quite significant. Your library might very well put AJP on the chopping block due to its apparently infrequent use.
So how should you assign such a reading to students? The key is to have the students download the article themselves directly through the library's access portal. Typically, this is completely seemless, as most institutional subscriptions are validated using IP addresses. All you need to do is send students the link to the online article, or post this link to a course management page (like this: <http://dx.doi.org/10.1119/1.4933205>). If you are at a nonresidential school where students may need to access AJP from off campus, ask your librarian how you can direct your students to an AJP article in a way that the library will record.
So I repeat my question: how do you use AJP? This is probably not a question you have thought about in any serious way before. But if you enjoy the benefits of AJP and don't want to see the journal discontinued at your institution, perhaps it is a question worth pondering.