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American Women: Resources from the Serial & Government Publications Collections

Women in Periodicals

Edward Penfield, artist. Harper's [for] June. 1897. Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division.

Perhaps even more than the daily newspaper, current periodicals represent the diversity of interests of the American reading public. Through home subscriptions, newsstand purchases, library reader requests, and electronic subscriptions, Americans choose what interests them, and it is those interests that determine what continues to be published in the United States.

More than 75,000 periodicals are published each year in the United States and Canada alone, and that number swells to over 125,000 worldwide. Consumer magazines alone account for more than 20,000 North American titles, and women's magazines have consistently ranked in the top ten magazine categories. Women represent 51 percent of Americans, and their purchasing power has long been recognized by advertisers, marketers, and publishers. In 1998 women's interest magazines were among the top twenty-five best-selling new magazine titles published. Women's magazines account for half of the top ten magazines by circulation: Better Homes and Gardens, Family Circle, Good Housekeeping, Ladies' Home Journal, and McCall's.

Women's consumer magazines may be the most popular magazines read by American women but they cover only some of the subjects of interest to women. The current periodical collection of the Serial and Government Publications Division is one of the few places where researchers in women's studies can find many of the most popular magazines side by side with the most esoteric. The diversity and size of the collection are its strengths. In addition to U.S. material, the division has a substantial collection of foreign periodicals in all western European languages; the United States is a fascinating object of study and imitation for many around the world. Periodicals can be used in a variety of ways to study women's issues: articles, columns, photographs, layout, and advertisements can all contribute to an understanding of popular and scholarly interests concerning women.

The current periodicals are arranged in closed stacks by title of journal—the title as listed in the Library of Congress Online Catalog (which may vary from its popular title owing to cataloging practices). On these shelves can be found Cosmopolitan, More, Mode, Jane, and W, but also Out, Curve, and Bust. General women's magazines (McCall's, Good Housekeeping, and Ladies' Home Journal ) share shelf space with magazines targeting a narrower consumer audience (Working Mother and New Woman ). Also available are supermarket tabloids; the National Enquirer (with older issues available on microfilm for use in the Microform Reading Room) and other tabloids include gossip, fashion, and rumor, making them among the most popular weeklies in America. Ethnic women have also become the focus of publishers: Latina and Estylo are directed toward Hispanic American women, and Essence, Heart & Soul, and Sisters in Style are among those targeting African American women.

Popular consumer magazines represent only one aspect of women's interests. Less common are literary and art journals created by feminists or intended for them: Calyx, Kalliope, Hurricane Alice, Iris: A Journal about Women, and Writing for Our Lives. Gender issues, politics, and public affairs have a woman's aspect, as represented in Chrysalis, Issues Quarterly, Woman of Power, Peace and Freedom, and Z Magazine. Publications investigating women in business, as professionals, and as activists include Romance Writers Report, Soroptimist, Choices, For Entrepreneurial Women, Working Woman,andSocial Anarchism.Hobbies and home crafts are well represented in current periodicals (McCall's Quilting, Boating for Women, Sportswoman, Taste of Home) and reflect the diverse interests of women outside the workplace. Care-giving, single-parenting, and relationships are also important to women, as is religion (Today's Christian Woman, Friendly Woman, and Church Woman).

Eroticism and human sexuality are represented in the collection as well. Copies of Hugh Hefner's Playboy, Larry Flynt's Hustler, Playgirl, and Oui as well as other similar titles are held in the division. 

The current periodical collection contains thousands of titles that include articles by and about women. Although indexing is the preferred and invaluable way to discover women as subjects of articles and as authors, it is not uncommon for researchers in the Newspaper and Current Periodical Room to request all issues of a title in order to page through the publication and discover the women for themselves.

An emerging trend in periodicals is the “born digital” journal. The Internet is an increasingly important publishing medium, and more individuals, organizations, and publishers are taking advantage of its immediacy and accessibility to publish journals directly on the Web. Many journals (and newspapers) are publishing editions in paper and on the Web simultaneously but with different content. The Library's initial digital collecting efforts in serials have been concentrated on acquiring access to collections of periodicals, through subscription databases such as Project Muse and JSTOR. Access to these databases is available at the Library of Congress and other libraries that subscribe. Recently an initiative to begin collecting digital serials in an organized way by extending already established Library of Congress collection policies to them has begun. Eventually born-digital periodicals like Postmodern Culture and Salon will be as accessible through the Library's online catalog as any print journal is today.