Purpose The purpose of this paper is to propose an approach of quantitative assessment of academic value and demand of journals for a discipline. Design/methodology/approach This study defines relative citation rate (RCR) and utilization rate (UR) of journals cited by a discipline with a case of inorganic chemistry discipline in Jilin University, ranks the journals in decreasing order of RCR and UR, and analyzes the RCR and UR curves with mathematical statistics and physics. Findings The RCR and UR curves can be expressed as: RCR(n)=N1exp(−n/t(N1))+N2exp(−n/t(N2))=64.54exp(−n/1.98)+31.14exp(−n/23.11) and UR(n)=Y1exp(−n/t(Y1))+Y2exp(−n/t(Y2))=85.06exp(−n/108.6)+12.94exp(−n/705.8). The parameters t(N1), t(N2), t(Y1) and t(Y2) can be used to assess quantitatively academica value and demand of journal for a discipline and to determine core journals of the discipline. Research limitations/implications This approach is used to quantitatively assess academic value and demand of journals for a discipline. Practical implications This approach may provide useful information for journal management of library. Originality/value The present work is original.