Robert W. Boissy
The scholarly publishing industry has been in a state of self-analysis since the Internet and linking technology upended its environment. It is as if publishers began to produce online versions of their journals and books before comprehending where such actions would lead, and then they woke up and got nervous. The Internet’s momentum was self-perpetuating—any attempts to mold, guide, shape, or obstruct its progress were futile. The inevitability of the migration of all future scholarly publishing to some online format draws a natural parallel with that point in history when publishing emerged from the scriptoriums and was transformed by another piece of technology—the printing press. We should remind ourselves about the mid-15th century when Johannes Gutenberg introduced this history-altering mechanism. Andrew Pettegree (2010, 29) describes it nicely in his work The Book in the Renaissance: The Gutenberg Bible was an immediate sensation. . . . But recouping the purchase price from a mass of individual customers or intermediary agents was inevitably a slow process; too slow to save Gutenberg’s partnership with Fust. As soon as the Bible was published, Fust sued for return of his loans. Gutenberg could not pay. The case went to court, and Gutenberg lost. To meet his obligations he was forced to surrender his only substantial asset, his printing shop. . . . Gutenberg faded from the scene. He would not be the last printer to learn that large complex projects carry the greatest risk, as well as the greatest renown. Although the Bible was a technical triumph, it effectively ended Gutenberg’s active career as a printer. So, does Gutenberg’s experience offer anything to modern scholarly publishers who are fully engaged with the electronic medium? Do not trust your partners? Cultivate advanced sales? Develop better sales and marketing strategies? Or perhaps just take on projects you can afford in this new environment until you can finance outright more elaborate projects. The student of history must go beyond the interesting tale of Johannes Gutenberg, and view the bigger picture. The lesson from the 15th century is that a new technical environment for distribution of knowledge and entertainment that radically increases both the volume and exposure of content will likely lead to (1) a change in the valuation of that content and (2) the creation of markets that were not foreseen. The following remarks on the forces shaping modern scholarly publishing should be considered in light of these two basic transformative factors.
Of all the developments in scholarly publishing since the mid-1990s that have shaped valuation and markets, the open access model, or open access movement if you prefer, has had the greatest impact. Open access should therefore be defined before further commentary. To paraphrase the Bethesda Statement on Open Access Publishing, from June 20, 2003, an open access publication is a complete work in a standard electronic format, made freely available online to the public immediately upon initial publication, with permission for liberal use in exchange for proper attribution.1 In some sense, the logic of open access arrived with the Internet, though proponents were still needed to shepherd the process along.2 Today we see ongoing, if not always comfortable, progress with both newer and long-standing publishers increasing their open access offerings, alongside other open access content made available by individuals, libraries, and disciplinary groups. All of these efforts owe a debt of gratitude to the Creative Commons Organization, which has carefully charted the options and terminology necessary to promote and support open use of intellectual property.3 The question publishers ask themselves is if we are to be viable contributors to open access publishing, how will we survive financially? How do we avoid Gutenberg’s fate? One answer is instituting processing fees to authors or research funding organizations. The size of such fees and the commercial viability of publishing based on a fee system has been studied and openly debated.4 It is also notable that while some researchers are quite vocal in their promotion of open access, the vast majority are more concerned with (1) their own access to the content they require and (2) the ability of a journal or book to improve their chance for tenure, promotion, and other recognition (Hunter 1998; Warlick and Vaughan 2007). Another option for scholarly publishers interested in moving forward with open access, awkwardly enough, is advertising. Scholarly publishing held advertising at arm’s length, as the principal clientele for academic content has been academic librarians, who believe their subscription payments should preclude the need for advertising (Esposito 2008). But in an attempt to balance production and distribution costs with the increasing pressure to expand open access content, publishers must consider every method to defray costs. In sum, no matter which method or methods publishers employ to manage the open access model of publishing, manage they must, as open access is the strongest active force shaping developments in scholarly publishing today.
A second important factor shaping scholarly publishing is the rise of the user-centered assignment of quality: perhaps another element of the information ecology that logically emerged along with the Internet. Electronic content can be readily found, sampled, and used online, and that use can be counted. When you can count use reliably, one may tend to equate higher use with higher quality. Even though publishers, librarians, and researchers know that popularity is not a substitute for scholarly integrity, accuracy, or comprehensiveness, there has been a growing trend to trust popularity over intellectual review and selection since we entered the world of online scholarship. For many librarians, the conflation of use with quality reaches its logical conclusion with demand-driven or patron-driven acquisition programs, in which an electronic book is added to a library’s permanent collection only after someone has used it. What librarians do not realize is that ceding selection to end users directly influences publishers, fundamentally changing the nature of editorial work.5 Editors receive the message that content need not be so carefully selected based on assessments of academic rigor or excellence in a niche area, but must rather be assessed in terms of potential popularity with the larger population of potential readers. In other words, just look to the data on what content is being used the most, and produce more of it. We must be wary of this development to the extent that it leads us away from better scholarship. This development can be welcomed, however, to the extent that user preferences can be married to a distribution system that continues to make rigorous, high-quality content available.
A related measurement of quality is the impact factor, a well-known measure that correlates value with the number of times content is cited.6 Impact factor is such an established measurement of quality that it is now often viewed both inside and outside of publishing as confining. Consequently, new quality measures have been floated to complement impact factor, some universal and some local. Today we see many academic institutions assessing journal collections based on local faculty participation on editorial boards or as editors. Another metric is the number of times local faculty publish in or cite a particular journal. Other measures include eigenfactor and the usage factor proposed by UKSG (formerly the United Kingdom Serials Group).7 The eigenfactor takes the approach of ranking journals based on whether they are cited by other influential journals, and also how long users spend online with articles. The UKSG usage factor is a compilation of COUNTER (Counting Online Usage of Networked Electronic Resources) compliant usage data to get at universal popularity of a journal. One measure stresses intellectual selectivity and influence, and another stresses universal appeal. Balanced against all measurements of usefulness and quality stands both the individual editor, making choices about what is good enough and deserves to be published, and the individual librarian, who sometimes still gets to select individual journals and books based on whether they will further the mission of his or her institution. As will be discussed by others contributing to this volume, there are pressures moving against the act of intermediated individual intellectual selection as both editors and librarians have traditionally practiced. For editors, the sheer mass of content to be assessed threatens selection. For librarians, it is the preponderance of database products, bundles, and patron-driven acquisitions that has altered content selection.
Another important factor shaping scholarly publishing is the inevitable and insatiable demand for enhanced technology to improve the user experience and educational impact of, and research outcomes with, scholarly content.8 Most publishers’ initial response to the demand for digitized content has been to digitize all their content backward and forward in time, using the most convenient format available—PDF (portable document format). If the market for scholarly publishing content was stable in its acceptance of the PDF, some financial pressure might be relieved. The market, however, seems to call for more sophisticated content delivery and manipulation options all the time, partially driven by the parade of ever more sophisticated consumer electronics. The pressure has mounted to go beyond a database of PDFs to something more sophisticated—to include, at the very least, search engine optimization for better discovery of content. Applications for specific reading devices are proliferating, and semantic linking of content to other similar content augments the well-understood reference-linking infrastructure already in place. Data sets, interactive tables, three-dimensional images that can be manipulated, supplemental content, and video content are all part of mainstream publishing now. The ability to give feedback and commentary, and make both private and public annotations has transformed what it means to publish. What was once a set and final document may be an ongoing dialogue. And, beyond the technology itself, the increasingly technical nature of scholarly publishing has transformed the staff skills publishers need, whether production and distribution are managed in-house or outsourced. Today publishers must respond to market demands pushing them to adopt the many technical wonders available to augment publishing on the Internet. The largest publishers are able to make technical advances based on their economies of scale, but smaller publishers struggle to keep the technical aspects of their product offerings current.
The increasing volume of scholarly content available to publish is often cited as a factor pressing publishers to increase output and raise prices accordingly. The question is whether publication of more and more research is contributing to the well-being of scholarship (Bauerlein et al. 2010). Certainly there are more scholarly authors than ever before, and the amount of published content has risen dramatically through the 20th and into the 21st century. Publishers differ on the amount of content they appraise and accept for publication, but most would agree that manuscript flow has been steady over the past decades. What has changed is the increasing percentage of content contributed from Eastern countries as compared to the Western countries. Will this change the nature of scholarly publishing? Yes, probably, though the effect is not immediately apparent. A large-scale study would be needed to evaluate trends in disciplinary preferences, applied versus theoretical content, and so forth. For the short term, publishers have found it important to invest in services that aid English-as-a-second-language scholars and to provide advice on navigating the publishing process.
Duel delivery models for scholarly content also challenge publishers who are trying to save money and streamline workflow. Is there still pressure to publish in print? To some extent, pressure to keep a print option open remains. This has disappointed those who see 100 percent electronic publishing as the ultimate goal for convenience and cost savings. However, much as we hear about retail sales of eBooks outpacing print books, there is still a large market for print books, although the market for printed scholarly books has diminished. For this reason, print-on-demand or print-when-ordered options are still available from even the most electronic of electronic publishers. This demand-driven approach to printing eliminates warehousing, wholesaling, returns, and much financial uncertainty, even if it sacrifices typeset hardbound editions with color images for soft-cover gray-scale editions.
No analysis of the challenges facing modern publishing would be complete without mentioning the urgency to publish content more quickly. Research is done not only to advance human understanding of the nature of the physical universe but also the career and notability of the researcher. Researchers, like artists, want their work to be widely viewed, appreciated, and experienced. But unlike art, research is almost always incremental, building on recent findings to advance knowledge in a discipline. For this reason timing is critical, and publishers have been under ever-increasing pressure in the Internet era to publish scientific findings quickly. This pressure to release content quickly has led publishers to post articles online prior to the release of the journal issue. The journal issue had its roots in print convenience and logistics, and is largely a holdover in the electronic world. The journal article is now the focus of modern science. Even books, once thought to be the steady and thoughtful summary review tool for science, are now being published through a much faster cycle than before. Book chapters are becoming more like journal articles in their speed of production, importance in the discovery layer, and tendency to stand on their own. Both journal articles and book chapters are now sold on their own through a variety of established and experimental models, reflecting the increasing granularity of reader interest. The logical endpoint of granularity is the specific unit of scholarly content that answers a question, bolsters an argument, or suggests an alternative. The logical endpoint of speed in dissemination of scholarly findings is disintermediated communication between and among researchers, which is simultaneously (1) happening all the time and (2) not an efficient way to keep track of scholarly advances for a wider audience. For now, publishers can best answer the call for speedy publishing by making their print and electronic versions available simultaneously, so that overworked librarians can make their format choices confidently and efficiently.
Some publishers have felt the need to organize their e-journal and/or eBook content into bundles, offering a volume discount and a low per-unit price. E-journals are typically sold through library consortium licenses. eBooks are more typically sold in packages direct to individual libraries, though there are variant models for both e-journals and eBooks. In his 2005 work Books in the Digital Age, John B. Thompson (2005, 368–69) identified two ideas publishers fostered in relation to making eBooks a viable product. First, he notes that “the principal market for scholarly book content in electronic form is likely to be institutional rather than individual.”9 This statement is not surprising—no publisher will realize a profit selling scholarly eBooks to individuals when academic librarians have been the primary curators of scholarly books for centuries. Thompson (2005, 368–69) also states, “The best way to maximize the added value of delivering scholarly book content online is to treat individual books as part of a scholarly corpus or database which has scale, selectivity and focus.”10 He goes on to point out the utility of a collection of information for searching and cross-referencing. Thompson’s points mirror the thinking of commercial publishers, and this approach to content dissemination has benefits for authors as well. Even a librarian at a well-funded institution would select only certain titles from any imprint based on an assessment of topical relevance for his or her institution. But selling a bundle of content to a library exposes more of a publisher’s authors to an institution’s researchers, encourages multidisciplinary investigation, and attracts authors to an imprint that might have gone unnoticed due to the specialized nature of its title list. Even with the most analytical of selection workflows in place, bibliographers find it difficult to predict the journals and books that researchers will use (Collection Development Executive Committee 2010). Selection is, after all, an attempt at intellectual premonition. One common anecdotal finding is that neither publishers nor librarians could anticipate the e-journals and eBooks that would be utilized as part of a package or bundle of content. It is fair to say that the pushback from librarians against bundling has been equal to the push from publishers to sell bundles. Similarly, the preference to have either bibliographers or library users select content has been equally as strong as any publisher’s desire to expose large groupings of its portfolio to readers.
There is a tendency, particularly among nonscientists, to romanticize or idealize science as a pure pursuit. But science is as vulnerable to politics, pet projects, cronyism, least publishable unit thinking, and inertia as any other human endeavor. The natural ebb and flow of scientific discovery happens within a lattice of funding, reviewing, and the hierarchy of authority. What is published can sometimes have as much to do with a researcher’s positioning of his or her study and methodology in relation to some current context as it does with the inherent quality of the research itself. In other words, one of the important factors in determining what publishers publish is what authors offer, and how well the author positions his or her work in relation to other influential works of the day.
Finally, there has always been and will always be pressure on publishers to cut costs, streamline processes, lower prices, and generally make every aspect of publishing less expensive. For commercial publishers this will always be done within the context of making a profit. But cost cutting is never easy and can sometimes be in direct conflict with a quality publisher’s primary goal, which is to produce high-quality content worthy of its intellectual reputation. Hence there is a tension between outsourcing to cut costs and close oversight to control product quality. In the electronic world, this struggle continues.
This reflection was not put together in isolation. Besides the input of numerous editors and other colleagues at my company, I have the pleasure of providing implementation and promotional support to academic librarians from the Northeast and Mid-Atlantic regions of the United States. So my days are spent listening to how publishing can be made better by librarians who are not shy with their feedback. As a librarian myself, I understand the motivation to provide excellent information services. For hundreds of years, publishers could enjoy a comfortable arm’s length relationship with libraries, and libraries in their turn could focus on building excellent information collections that by themselves would attract readers and researchers. Now this cushion of managing print logistics has been significantly removed and we share the challenge that comes with the Internet—to provide a rich, organized, and useful information environment for researchers, mostly of online content but partly still in print, while staying within our economic means. This situation is likely to require publishers to become a bit more like libraries with respect to service values, and to require libraries to become a bit more like publishers with respect to marketing orientation. Scholarly publications must be made affordable and libraries must market what they acquire. This is a challenging message. So be it.
1 As befits its content, the full Bethesda Statement is available online at http://www.earlham.edu/~peters/fos/bethesda.htm. All other definitions since this benchmark statement are mostly gloss. 2 Stevan Harnad is the most well-known advocate for open access scholarship. See his Web site http://openaccess.eprints.org for the latest discussions in this area. 3 See http://creativecommons.org/ for more on the various licensing options open to creators of intellectual property these days. 4 For a refresher on the environment of article processing fees, see David J. Solomon and Bo-Christer Björk, A Study of Open Access Journals Using Article Processing Charges, available online at http://www.openaccesspublishing.org/apc2/preprint.pdf. 5 There has been so much written and presented about patron-driven acquisitions. I mention one recent article for those feeling the need to catch up. Erin S. Fisher and Lisa Kurt, “Exploring Patron-Driven Access Models for E-journals and E-Books,” The Serials Librarian 62 (2012): 1–4, http://www.tandfonline.com/doi/abs/10.1080/0361526X.2012.652913. 6 See http://thomsonreuters.com/products_services/science/free/essays/impact_factor/ for a recent explanation of the impact factor. 7 See http://www.eigenfactor.org/about.php for an introduction to the eigenfactor and its use in bibliographic research; See both the UKSG Web site (http://www.uksg.org/usagefactors) and the COUNTER Web site (http://www.projectcounter.org/usage_factor.html) for more on usage factor. 8 While one does not normally cite a whole conference, it seems appropriate here. The annual O’Reilly Tools of Change Conference would be the place to go to catch up on the latest in publishing technology and experiments in publishing. http://www.toccon.com/. 9 Italics are the author’s. 10 Italics are the author’s. REFERENCES Bauerlein, Mark, Mohamed Gad-el-Hak, Wayne Grody, Bill McKelvey, and Stanley W. Trimble. 2010. “We Must Stop the Avalanche of Low Quality Research.” The Chronicle of Higher Education, June 13. http://chronicle.com/article/We-Must-Stop-the-Avalanche-of/65890/. Collection Development Executive Committee Task Force on Print Collection Usage. 2010. Report. Cornell University Library, November 22. http://staffweb.library.cornell.edu/system/files/CollectionUsageTF_Report Final11-22-10.pdf. Esposito, Joseph J. 2008. “Open Access 2.0: Access to Scholarly Publications Moves to a New Phase.” JEP: The Journal of Electronic Publishing 11 (2). Hunter, Karen. 1998. “Electronic Journal Publishing: Observations from Inside.” D-Lib Magazine, July/August. http://www.dlib.org/dlib/july98/07hunter.html. Pettegree, Andrew. 2010. The Book in the Renaissance. New Haven: Yale University Press. Thompson, John B. 2005. Books in the Digital Age. Cambridge, UK: Polity Press. Warlick, Stephanie E., and K. T. L. Vaughan. 2007. “Factors Influencing Publication Choice: Why Faculty Choose Open Access.” Biomedical Digital Libraries 4 (1). http://www.bio-diglib.com/content/4/1/1.
APA (American Psychological Assoc.)
Albitz, B., Zabel, D., & Avery, C. (2014). Rethinking Collection Development and Management. Santa Barbara: Libraries Unlimited.
MLA (Modern Language Assoc.)
Albitz, Becky, et al. Rethinking Collection Development and Management. Libraries Unlimited, 2014. EBSCOhost.
Library collection development is the decision-making process by which libraries seek to accumulate and disseminate useful resources over time. With or without formal collection policy statements, libraries of all types strive to rationalize their content purchasing decisions by relating their acquisitions to organizational goals. Collection building, we would like to think, is intentional, aimed at fulfilling certain a priori needs or purposes. These collection-building purposes will obviously vary by library type and the user community that any individual library is committed to serve. The general point of this chapter, however, is that collection development for any library is—or should be—goal-driven, and there should be some accountability for the extent to which collection expenditures achieve their intended purposes.
This chapter focuses on the collection development activities of large research libraries, but many of the challenges faced by the large academics are, in one form or another, being visited upon other library types as well. Past and current patterns of library collection development and collection management raise several important questions about how libraries think about their collection development responsibilities:
• What are the goals, stated or otherwise, that library collection development seeks to achieve?
• How do we assess whether those goals are being achieved?
• How have the goals of collection development changed with changes in the ecosystem of scholarly communication?
• How is the work of collection development being carried out?
• What does the future hold for library collection development and management?
Most academic libraries proffer that the goal of their collection development efforts is to support campus research and instruction. Such vague goal language, however, does not allow research libraries to adequately assess if they are accomplishing their stated intention to advance either research or instruction. For any given library to evaluate its collection development program, much tighter measures would be required to direct staff efforts or to determine if their acquisition program is fulfilling expectations (Tenopir 2012a; Anderson 2011).
Most business textbooks teach that organizational goals should be specific, measurable, and time-bound (Mager 1997). Following such leads, orienting goal statements for research library collection efforts would take the following form:
• Increase circulation of legacy print holdings by 5 percent in 2014.
• Increase the chapter downloads from purchased or licensed eBooks by 10 percent in 2014.
• In the fall semester, induce 20 humanities faculty members to assign the use of licensed historical corpora in undergraduate term papers.
• Reduce the ratio of collection management costs to content costs by 3 percent.
• In two years’ time, increase the number of community (noncampus) uses of special collections by 5 percent.
• Over the course of the 2014 academic year, increase undergraduate citation of specialized research journals by 7 percent.
• By 2015, reduce the loss, theft, or damage to 19th-century collections by 10 percent.
While the substance of these examples should be ignored, their form is intended to show that collection development officers and library directors could be doing more to manage their campus investments in scholarly resources, and the costs associated with building and maintaining those library collections. In theory, this kind of goal setting and program assessment seems obvious. In practice, however, management at this level is almost entirely absent from past and present-day library oversight of collection development activity (Yi 2013).
Much of the difficulty that libraries face in articulating collection development goals is a reflection of a lack of overall goals for academic research libraries. As tax supported—or tuition supported—lending exchanges, the value of library collections or services is not typically determined or reinforced by the consumers of collections and services. A third-party payer system at work in developing library collections and services attempts to intuit the value provided by the library for campus users, when neither the library nor its users have an incentive to limit collection expenditures. While third-party funders exist in many other spheres, there are often sophisticated systems in place for assessing the value provided to end users, and some co-pay strategy that would inhibit overuse or abuse (Aron-Dine, Einav, and Finklestein 2013). Libraries and their funders have placed few such governors on the acquisitiveness of library subject specialists, campus faculty, donors, and library directors.
In most respects, libraries are a distribution channel for knowledge in the way that retail outlets—grocery stores, clothing stores, and so forth—are distribution channels for other goods and services. Taking the grocery model, storekeepers aspire to stock their shelves with saleable merchandise, some intended to meet known needs of consumers—for example, milk, bread—and some that might tempt consumers to acquire and spend more than intended—for example, Hostess Twinkies or M&Ms (Hitt 1996). A retailer’s goal is to maximize profits by selling as much inventory as possible, as quickly as possible, and for as much money as the consumer market will bear. People coming into a store to simply browse, stay warm, use the restrooms, read magazines, and leave will likely be treated courteously to the extent that they are perceived as potential purchasers. In most cases, however, retailers are not simply trying to drive up their gate count by attracting browsers to their space. Rather, they are attempting to generate revenues by selling shoppers products: preferably more than the customer initially intended by driving up impulse purchases through clever product placements, sales, and other time-tested marketing techniques.
Unlike retail stores, libraries, without incentives for sales or profits, are more inclined than storekeepers to stock their shelves with purportedly high-quality products that are deemed good for their constituents, as opposed to popular items that are more likely to capture users’ attention or unleash their consumptive urges. In other words, academic libraries are not in the business of profiting from the baser needs of their users. They endeavor, instead, to build a prescriptive inventory of items that they consider to be intellectually nourishing, even if that means that potential users might not show up in large numbers, and will not load up their shopping carts with intellectual staples or treats. Collection development librarians do not share the grocer’s imperative to sell and sell fast. Instead, they are more inclined to invest in the edifying and enduring, as opposed to the popular choices du jour.
In this sense, collection librarians are perhaps more like museum curators than storekeepers. For storekeepers—at least those storekeepers still in business—their inventory reflects the preferences of their customers rather than their own personal tastes or preferences. Successful retailers fill their scarce shelf space with the items that customers expect and want. In contrast, museum curators and administrators are more likely to make acquisitions based on their own aesthetic sensibilities; the sensibilities of known art critics; the perception that some pieces or artists complement and reinforce earlier acquisitions; or the goal of advancing thematic commitments for an institution—for example, local artists or local themes. This less-than-market-driven approach to collection building is certainly understandable for educational institutions charged with shaping young—and not so young—minds, or challenging banal social preferences with more evolved or acquired tastes.
As educational and cultural institutions, museums and libraries are understandably prescriptive about the opportunities they provide for learning and enrichment. Neither of them, however, is very systematic about defining or measuring such learning events, relying instead on gate counts or foot traffic, on the apparent assumption that mere proximity to learning opportunities can translate to actual learning. Although both museums and libraries are good at acquiring the tools of learning—for example, collections—neither seems unduly troubled by their inability to demonstrate when learning outcomes have been achieved by their users. While retailers work day and night to convert browsers into shoppers, museums and libraries are remarkably laissez-faire about converting their visitors to learners.
Circling back to the driving question of this section, the collection development goals for large academic libraries are surprisingly ill-defined considering the amount of money expended, the intellect of their users, and the management savvy of library and campus administrators. It does not do much good to say that the goal of collection building is to support the research and instructional needs of the campus, if (1) we do not know much about those needs; (2) we do not understand the relationship between library resources and the fulfillment of acknowledged needs; and (3) we have not considered whether there might be more efficient or effective ways of satisfying campus needs than by funding the development of a large and locally managed library collection.
If an academic research library is spending something on the order of $7, $10, or $15 million per year to purchase scholarly resources—and perhaps an equivalent amount on operations to select, acquire, process, store, promote, circulate, and preserve those print and electronic resources—it is not unreasonable to think they would have pretty compelling data about the dividends being returned on these investments (Oakleaf 2010; Montgomery and King 2002). By default or design, libraries, as a community, have been slow to develop such measures of the value of their collections (Neal 2011). Later in this chapter I discuss the increased reliance upon usage statistics for managing electronic resources, but usage alone does not really address the issues of value, which would more directly link campus or user goal attainment to library expenditures (Tenopir 2012b).
In earlier times—by which is meant print times—libraries might have been more inclined to conflate the size of a collection with its quality. Historically, libraries used collection size—that is, volume count, current subscriptions, and so forth—as the best indicators of the value they were producing—or the latent value that could be unleashed in the hands of the right user. Such measures made particular sense in the print world of scholarly communication, where campuses that were located out of shouting distance from the centers of leading-edge scholarship (i.e., London, Paris, Boston, etc.) relied upon large, standalone libraries to connect local scholars with the ideas and research of their colleagues from around the world. In the 19th-century world of limited real-time channels of communication, books and journals housed at arm’s length, connected far-flung scholars to the major contributors and contributions of their disciplines. If a professor of philosophy in the 1860s were to take a position in Athens (Georgia, Ohio, or Greece), access to a large, proximate book stock would be essential to maintain contact with worldwide scholarly communities.
Skipping ahead 150 years, most agree that it no longer makes sense to tout collection size as a surrogate for library effectiveness (Franklin 2005). The Association of Research Libraries (ARL) members should be actively working to develop meaningful benchmarks and best practices that could shine a light on the meaning and significance of collection efficacy in a world of increasingly distributed collection resources (Lib-Value n.d.). While they are at it, the research library community could also seek to measure the efficiency of their collection building programs—that is, the level of campus collection use in relation to the cost of building those collections (Franklin 2005).
If large is no longer beautiful when it comes to library collections, then some characteristic or combination of characteristics are still leading most universities to believe and say that they possess an excellent library collection. An excellent collection, in the parlance of a research library, likely means that the tens of thousands of books they add each year are written in a manner that approximates a scholarly format, and cover a broad array of topics approached from an equally broad array of cultural and theoretical perspectives. The notion of an excellent collection undoubtedly connotes library shelves crammed with some combination of outstanding, good, and mediocre scholarly output, even if that output exceeds consumer demand, or if the subject matter, language, or level of discourse is a poor fit for the interests of the campus user community.
Of course, there are other ways to assess collection excellence than the size, breadth or diversity of accumulated library holdings. One such measure is use: use relative to the overall size of the collection, use relative to the size of the campus, or use relative to the dollars invested. By focusing on collection use as a measure of excellence, we might find that the libraries at liberal arts colleges or smaller regional campuses have a greater claim to collection excellence than their counterparts at top-tier research universities. And, by refining our measures of collection use we might be able to draw more meaningful comparisons among research libraries themselves. In retrospect, one can certainly question the complacency of library directors, collection development officers, and bibliographers about the staggering investments their libraries and campuses made in un- and under-utilized library materials (Gammon and O’Neil 2011; Kent 1979). A grocer or shopkeeper would act with urgency to reduce investments in inventory that is not selling, and yet library collection officers accept with complacency that a significant proportion of their book inventory will not be read.
If students and faculty members are rejecting library offerings in the tens of thousands and millions, it might be time to reconsider the marketing strategy of libraries, or to question the competence of library book buyers. Cramming more and more unwanted books into a finite space can hardly pass muster as a rational business strategy, or as an effective means for advancing scholarly communication. Granted, libraries buy what publishers sell, and publishers sell what scholars write, so the overall supply chain of books is not the creation of libraries. Libraries, however, have stoked the flames of authorship and publishing by shoveling cash into that market for decades, providing necessary capital when there was no evident reader interest—neither in academic nor trade markets—that would sustain a publisher or incentivize an author. In the name of collection excellence, academic research libraries became buyers of last resort, taking it upon themselves to ensure that every book was granted an inch-and-a-half of shelf space, if not a reader as Ranganathan (1931) had once suggested.
Just about everything I have said about library collections so far applied to collection structures built to support large, on-site print collections in the geographically dispersed academic research libraries of a bygone era. To what extent have the issues characterizing print collection development been attenuated—or exacerbated—with today’s campus reliance on electronic resources? Volumes—in print or electronic form—could be written about the impacts of digital resources on campus scholarship and research libraries, so in the space of a chapter we can merely enumerate a few highlights and try to identify fruitful directions for more in-depth analysis. Some of the many changes that have rocked the collection development world are as follows:
• The tendency to purchase electronic content in bundles or large aggregations as opposed to individual titles.
• The attention paid to the platforms upon which the content is made accessible, and the licensing terms governing that access.
• The option to lease access to content as opposed to purchasing and owning it.
• The proliferation of nontraditional publishing and dissemination options for scholarly content.
• The extent—and quality—of available content on the free Web, as opposed to that purchased or licensed by libraries.
• The extraordinary amount of retrospective born print content being marketed to libraries, including science journal backfiles.
• The proliferation of digital information formats, including numeric data, spatial data, audio and video files, art images, medical illustration and simulations, and so forth.
• Investments in local digitization initiatives or mass digitization partnerships like the Google library scanning program.
• Content decision making compounded by format decision making—that is, print, electronic, or both.
• The emergence of Amazon and the popularity of eBooks in the trade market.
• Greater centralization of library budgets and library decision making.
• The systematic monitoring of usage that is possible with electronic resources.
• Stronger collection-building roles for regional consortia, and even national coordinated purchasing strategies.
In the space available to us here, I will focus on just a few of these themes that address the issues raised earlier about the mission of research libraries going forward. In particular, I will highlight the ubiquity of electronic information, the assault on expertise, and the emphasis on usage as an indicator of value.
Electronic content is at once everywhere and nowhere—it has lost any spatial connectedness or locale. The shoving match between libraries and publishers about sending article PDFs in response to interlibrary loan (ILL) requests is a good example of this: a hypothetical user in Timbuktu could gain access to an article from an American research library in about the time it would take a student in a dormitory to access the same article in print form from a library at the heart of campus. As annoying as ILL has been to publishers in the print era, there were clearly disincentives to lenders and borrowers to supply or rely upon the shipping of physical items. These barriers can be totally circumvented in the electronic world where the only limitation on transmission of information is the speed of light. This is obviously threatening to commercial publishers who are struggling mightily, not only against the sharing ways of libraries, but also with the open sharing norms of tens of millions of academic authors and users worldwide.
While the difficulty of spatially bounding electronic content is a challenge to the potential earnings of commercial publishers or rights holders, it also presents a significant potential challenge to thousands of academic libraries at thousands of colleges and universities nationwide. If Harvard, MIT, or Stanford can teach courses to tens of thousands of dispersed students online, then we can begin to envision a world where the libraries at Harvard, MIT, or Stanford could supply content as needed to students anywhere. And, if not these libraries, we could envision online providers of higher education moving into this space—as have the University of Phoenix and the Open University in the United Kingdom—or the development of scholarly content stores by less library-like suppliers such as Apple, Google, or Amazon. It is understood there are valid academic concerns regarding such utopian or dystopian predictions about new distribution channels for scholarly information, but these are raised here to make the fairly incontrovertible point that in a world of electronic information resources, a couple of thousand locally developed, locally managed, and locally delivered print and electronic hybrid library collections could be usurped by a nationally or globally developed and distributed collection of electronic academic resources.
While no local academic library of any consequence has shut its doors in the age of the Internet, nor disbanded its collection development programs, there have been evident trends for nationalization of eResource decision making or licensing in countries across Europe, Asia, Latin America, and Canada. While this pattern of national dealing is not as advanced within the United States, we have seen glimpses of scaled-up selection in Ohio, California, and the Midwest. ARL, Lyrasis, and the Center for Research Libraries have all been exploring the potential for national purchasing agreements, reinforcing the contention that the nature of electronic resources makes it possible—and perhaps desirable—to envision different structures for acquiring, housing, and distributing library content in an electronic age than the structures put in place for meeting the needs of scholars in a world of print books and journals.
Some—perhaps many—might challenge the notion that national deal-making could adequately reflect and support local research, scholarship, and curriculum needs on any given campus. Since all campuses are not alike, it cannot be the case that a globally conceived collection would be a good fit for the needs of any particular user community. Libraries have long celebrated the customization of their collections such that differences from one to the next are justified in terms of calibrating the mix of resources to align with campus demand. While customization to address local needs is a theoretically compelling argument for local control of collection development, in practice we know that local control of decision making has not always resulted in the desired results of collection relevance. Defenders of the status quo should be asked to address some or all of the following:
• Is there a point at which the costs of customization outweigh the benefits?
• Is there a point at which hiring thousands of librarians to avoid buying unwanted material undermines the available funds to purchase desirable content?
• For similar universities in terms of mission, structure, status, and budgets, how much variance might one expect in their associated library needs?
• Given that libraries are currently funded to build collections locally, how confident can we be that the resultant collections actually satisfy the campus needs they are intending to support?
While collection decision making based on local priorities might sound like a good idea, when pitted against the best practices or modal decisions of a hundred peer libraries, reasonable campus administrators might question the preference for supporting the prerogatives of an individual selector versus the wisdom of the crowd.
More so than they had in the print world, collection librarians do pay attention to usage statistics for electronic resources. In the case of journal usage, user downloads are routinely monitored and used to (1) demonstrate the value of library licensed content; (2) cancel low-use journal titles, or in some cases whole databases; or (3) threaten publishers with cancellations or otherwise point to low-use content to gain some advantage in price negotiations. Mostly, usage statistics are used to trim already selected or acquired content as opposed to informing selection in the first place. While it is true that usage cannot be measured if readers do not have access to the content in question, it is most often the case that users somewhere have access, and data from these other libraries could be considered before a new subscribing or purchasing library makes a commitment. Such meta-analysis of library use would clearly steer toward consensus decision making, de facto establishing a national collection that undergirds the work of scholarship everywhere.
To employ usage statistics prior to purchase, libraries or publishers would need to contribute data to some regularly updated service for gathering usage reports, contextualized with information about the reporting institutions. Knowing that certain titles receive low usage at 10 peer universities could be valuable baseline data for a purchase or licensing decision, although could be trumped if there are known program differences among the universities reporting data and the one considering a particular title or product. Despite the potential utility of such interlibrary meta-analysis, libraries have not chosen to invest in tools to share usage statistics, or otherwise calculate the statistical probability of use prior to purchase. While much of the needed information is already available to publishers, aggregators, and discovery services, developing predictive systems to analyze library content usage is apparently not in their business interests, and perhaps not in the interest of libraries either.
Beyond the general limitations of deploying usage statistics in prospective library decision making, the collection development community has not done a good job of norming usage patterns by discipline, or campus status (i.e., faculty, graduate, or undergraduate student), and, in fact, does not track on such user data. Whereas advertisers are very interested in the demographics of users who are viewing their ads on TV or in magazines, libraries have shown no such interest in parsing usage statistics by more or less valued communities of users. This issue harkens back to the failure of libraries to set goals for their collections, but most would agree that not all uses or downloads are of equivalent value to the campus, just like not all TV viewers are of equal value to a Mercedes dealership that purchases ad time.
Probabilities of content use could be accurately calculated by taking into account the characteristics of a user community, and numerous factors about the content itself, including variable descriptors regarding the author, publisher, discipline, topic, theoretical perspective, language, format, length, reviewer comments, and other factors that might emerge over time as predictive. Publishers routinely make these calculations as a matter of course in deciding upon a business case for any given manuscript, and library selectors do as well in making purchase decisions. What is being suggested here, however, is that these intuitive calculations of potential value could be replaced by much more sophisticated and objective predictive tools by taking advantage of the large number of data points that make up the collective library holdings, student bodies, and research communities at U.S. universities (Silver 2012).
Were libraries to embrace more sophisticated systems for predicting the likely use of particular titles, it would inevitably weaken the continued control that local library subject specialists might exercise over collection development decisions. On the other hand, tools that would enhance the desired outcomes of library acquisitions would ultimately strengthen the perception of library (King et al. 2005). With improved tools for collection decision making, responsibility for collection development could be shifted to library staff with little or different training. For that matter, formulaic approaches to collection building based on sophisticated computer algorithms could provide the underpinnings for a national stocking service for libraries, akin to way that retail outlets from the largest box stores to 7-Eleven convenience stores manage their inventory and stock their shelves (Chanil 2010). While there is understandable discomfort at treating scholarly journals and monographs as if they were chips and beef jerky, it is hard to imagine that more data-driven, crowd-sourced, and real-time strategies for managing collections will not emerge: strategies that ultimately shift the locus of collection building beyond the purview of the local library and its cadre of collection development specialists.
Limiting ourselves for the moment to collection building in the print world, bibliographers had all the incentives to over-purchase for their libraries and audience, using size and diversity of their past acquisitions to argue for ever more funds to purchase greater quantities of little-used material. If activity is the measure of the professional performance of a bibliographer, then the more one acquired—including pursuit of obscure offerings once the readily available sources of content were exhausted—the better the assessment of their performance. In the world of bigger is better, dozens of library bibliographers at a given institution, or in a given discipline nationally, had every incentive to try to outdo each other in bibliographic gluttony. Needless to say, there are not many business analogies for the kinds of perverse incentives that characterized the work strategies adopted by research library bibliographers post-World War II.
While bibliographers of prior decades might have made a habit of overbuying, they were acting in good faith to fulfill the expectations codified in their institutional job descriptions and collection development policies. The drive and ability of these bibliographers to build large and often idiosyncratic collections were traits rewarded by their managers, peers, and campus constituents. In retrospect, we can see that there are indeed negative consequences of overconsumption that haunt libraries to this day. Research libraries are now burdened with the obligation to manage an accumulated glut of little-used legacy print collections that demand staff attention and occupy valuable space (Courant and Nielsen 2010). In addition, this legacy of aggressive acquisitiveness and spending on the journal front has set burdensome expectations for continued library expenditures at historically established levels.
All this is to say that, in the absence of goals or measures for defining the quality or fitness of a collection, it is pretty much impossible to assess the performance of those responsible for developing and managing it. This stands in marked contrast to the way commercial organizations manage their account managers or sales representatives where goals are clear-cut and success is easily determined. I will say more about this topic in the next section.
A scan of the current Web sites of ARL libraries surfaces a lot of language about the outreach and liaison roles of library subject specialists, to an extent replacing older job descriptions that focused on their back-office functions as selectors (Mack 2010). In fact, current library norms suggest that administrators want their subject specialists spending more time interpreting the library for users, and much less time picking and choosing books and journals. The library liaison movement has been evolving for several decades, but subject-related service roles are clearly now the norm for collection development job descriptions. Liaison roles usually include such activities as providing new resource updates, advanced reference service, classroom instruction, research consultation, tours and graduate orientation, assistance with faculty recruitment, and support for making decisions about publishing rights and data management (Hahn 2009; Williams 2009; Logue 2007; Latta 1992).
While the concept of library subject specialists providing expert consultation to faculty and advanced students makes sense in theory, it is not clear that the concept has taken hold in practice. For one thing, there have been, and continue to be, pockets of resistance on the library side. Many library selectors and bibliographers who were hired at a different time, and with different expectations, have not embraced the newer service roles, or are not well suited to carrying them out. Thus, the experience of liaison support on most campuses is uneven at best, and, overall, might be said to skew to the negative side of a performance continuum.
Beyond the limiting factors of librarian aptitude for liaison roles, there is little evidence to suggest that the concept has taken hold with faculty or students. Studies of user expectations for their libraries suggest that faculty care more about the purchasing role of librarians than the services they might offer to provide (Schonfeld, Housewright, and Wulfson 2013). This does not mean that some faculty members on some—or perhaps most—campuses do not value the support of their library colleagues. That, however, is not the attitudinal norm, nor is seeking support from a library liaison anywhere close to a normative faculty behavior. It is likely the case that faculty do not recognize the subject expertise of their library colleagues, nor do they value many of the services being promoted.
While execution of the liaison concept is limited by both librarian aptitude and faculty attitude, the most serious hurdle to success is how these programs are managed. The library has assembled an array of goods and services that it believes would be desirable to the market it serves—campus faculty and students. Uptake of the library’s offerings, however, is less than ideal. Given this disconnect, how can libraries increase market uptake? The typical answer to this common challenge is to (1) make the goods and services being offered more appealing, more convenient, or more affordable; or (2) elevate market awareness through promotion and sales. While most library liaison programs attempt to position their professional staff as expert colleagues to the faculty—or perhaps service-oriented support staff—a more effective model might be to organize the cadre of library liaisons as a sales force, trained and incentivized to breakdown market resistance. While our first instinct might be to say that this would not work in an academic culture, it has to be recognized that textbook publishers have unleashed legions of sales representatives to interact with faculty on a more-or-less regular basis, and we can only assume that such investments in sales pays dividends.
Were a sales management strategy applied to library liaison work, we would expect to see some very different library strategies in place for hiring, managing, and evaluating staff. There is literature on sales aptitude, suggesting that certain personality traits and skills can predict sales success. These predictive traits can vary widely, in part due to the variation in sales models or strategies in place. So, for example, some companies that emphasize a problem-solving approach to sales might seek applicants who have skills such as relationship building, memory, empathy, and customer service, while another company whose sales program relies upon cold calls might seek out candidates who score higher on traits associated with convincing or closing, including assertiveness, fluency, doggedness, and the ability to withstand rejection. There are dozens of different approaches to sales, and therefore dozens of notions of the kinds of individuals that adapt well to particular models. The general point being made here is that libraries might be well served to give more weight to the appropriate sales characteristics in their hiring decisions.
Were library liaison roles modeled on sales, we would expect a whole different management and reward structure in place for library staff. Most sales workers are incentivized by commissions, and managed with the assistance of activity trackers and organizers like Salesforce.com. As for incentives, it is understood that in a campus library setting there can be no one-to-one application of commissions based on sales revenue, especially since there is no sales revenue from which to draw commissions. Ironically, sales success in a library setting would not beget additional salary, but additional work (i.e., instruction sessions, reference consultations, etc.). Nonetheless, if library collections and services were more ubiquitously and highly valued across a campus, one could expect that library funding would increase, including resources directed to librarian salaries.
As for the management of library outreach, systems like Salesforce.com—the industry leader in this space—are best known for their Customer Relationship Management modules, including measures of sales effort (i.e., emails, calls, visits, time spent), customer responses, and forecasts of the likelihood of converting a contact into an active customer (Salesforce.com n.d.). If faculty departments were viewed as a sales territory, and faculty were viewed as customers, then libraries and their liaisons could be much more intentional about their efforts to optimize uptake of library resources and services. As currently managed, however, it is not the case that library liaisons have sales skills, nor the tools and direction needed to succeed at what they are being asked to do. And, in those cases where success is apparent, either by luck or the sheer perseverance of uncommonly self-motivated librarians, there are no structures in place to recognize and reward those successes.
Library collection development in academic settings has evolved from models that emphasized faculty control, to bookish bibliographers, to more service-oriented library liaisons. Where is this evolution likely to lead over the next decade? First and foremost, it is likely that attention will be given to reducing the costs of collection development, not only by continuing to challenge the unsustainable costs of content charged by commercial publishers, but also by addressing the equally unsustainable staffing costs that libraries currently commit to this work. One can readily foresee that the 19th-century idea of maintaining thousands of locally shaped collections across the United States—or world—will give way to aggregated digital collections that can be developed and stored once, yet distributed everywhere. Whatever one might think about the track record of local collection development librarians in acquiring useful scholarly resources, we expect that local collection management will be supplanted by national strategies because the distributed alternatives are no longer affordable.
If collection development does scale up to national and global selection—and many instances of this are already in place—that means that our libraries will need to give much greater attention to the transition of staff time from the back-office functions of selection and collection management to an emphasis on managing the outreach efforts of library liaisons or outreach librarians. Organizing and managing these staff roles will need to evolve with the overall changing functions of libraries in a rapidly changing academic culture. Faculty liaisons—or what we might prefer to view as customer development and service librarians—will measure their performance by the number and quality of the faculty contacts they are able to cultivate and convert to valued users of library services.
Students, too, need to be converted to customers by librarians. For students, however, we would deploy different sales and marketing strategies. Since students are both greater in number and more transient than faculty members, relationships, cultivated by the library, would necessarily be less personal than those forged with the faculty. Successful strategies are most likely to be centrally conceived, implemented, and disseminated via online channels such as social media sites, and a variety of mobile applications. In other words, different sales and marketing strategies would need to be developed to address the needs and habits of different library customers, and different library staff skills and attention would need to be directed to each constituency.
What then do we foresee as the future role of collection development librarians? First, no matter how strong the relationship between library liaisons and their campus constituents, sales success requires a good product at the right price; price here refers to the effort required to access library resources and services. We know that what faculty members most expect from their libraries is access to needed resources. As argued earlier, traditional collection development approaches have not proven particularly adept at predicting the resources that will be needed by local scholars, and that the computer profiling and algorithms of companies like Google and Amazon might achieve better results if applied to the challenge of anticipating library user needs. Customer profiling and referral services could be managed in Amsterdam, New York, or Mountain View, so the idea that a local cadre of collection specialists is required to surface researcher interests is just not defensible in an age of Web-scale computing.
Second, as current scholarly resources—published or otherwise—are almost entirely produced in digital form, the idea that libraries must predict and acquire resources in advance of demand will likely be superseded by emerging business models that will allow users to access needed content instantaneously, regardless of whether that need had been anticipated by a library or dissemination service. iTunes may or may not correctly predict a customer’s next album purchase, but that is not really an impediment to the service’s ability to provide immediate access to a selection that strays from predicted patterns.
Third, the current emphasis that libraries place on subject specialty for selection and management of scholarly resources will likely be replaced by more generic skills of relationship building—librarian or otherwise. As collections go global—both in development and in access—relationships and most services will remain local, customized, and individual. Call it sales, outreach, or collegiality, the future of libraries will depend upon the ability of their staff to be as appealing to users as the resources and services they represent.
Fourth, the current distinctions between ownership, subscription, and access will almost certainly recede in significance, as discovery and access transcend local collecting practices. The 19th- and 20th-century conventions of building thousands of scholarly collections at arm’s length to scholars in remote locales will inevitably be replaced by central discovery and retrieval strategies.
Fifth, even though there are legitimate concerns about the long-term archiving of so-called scholarly record, it does not make much sense to think that a thousand libraries need to be deciding what they will and will not preserve for the ages; or that tens of thousands of library subject selectors, working, as they do, in geographic and disciplinary silos, will ultimately develop a coordinated strategy for efficiently and assuredly fulfilling this needed archiving function. If archiving maintains its place as a priority for libraries, publishers, and scholars, we can be confident that one or several national or global strategies will be developed at scale.
At the margins, we can foresee some individual library attention given to building, servicing, and preserving highly specialized collections like local history, campus ephemera, or gray literature. Collection development at this level might take on the roles currently fulfilled by archivists in special collections. For mainstream, published scholarship, however, we can only assume that a business form equivalent to Amazon, iTunes, or NetFlix will obviate the need for thousands of locally and idiosyncratically developed library collections. This does not portend the end of research libraries, but it does suggest that they need to redirect their efforts from selecting and warehousing an ever-expanding universe of content to helping their constituents navigate that universe of scholarly content as it is being aggregated elsewhere.
The specter haunting research libraries is that their practices for building collections in the past missed the mark—often by a wide margin—and that has visited upon them a considerable burden to manage large, deteriorating, and little-used legacy collections into the future. Add to this the near inevitable eventuality that library collection work will increasingly face disintermediation from more nationally and globally developed services for content provision, we can foresee that local library collection work will be relegated to the dustbin of history. Research libraries everywhere are now struggling to unshackle themselves from the bounds imposed by their little-used print collections. At the same time, they have been slow to embrace the analytical tools or strategies that would justify their continued primacy as gatekeepers for maintaining access to legacy print holdings, while securing access to some, but not all, born digital collections going forward.
This chapter suggests that legions of locally oriented and managed library subject specialists will inevitably be replaced by more rational and cost-effective strategies for matching users to the content they need. Going forward, this will likely involve sophisticated computer algorithms for predicting demand, if indeed, prediction is even necessary in a world where digital content can be transferred in real time from central or distributed servers to any user, without limitations that stem from their locale or preferred medium of communication. Authors, publishers, libraries, retailers, and readers will all need to adapt to new business models for incentivizing, funding, and disseminating scholarly information.
While it is predicted here that the local collection development roles of librarians might be short-lived, there is a need for continued campus outreach—even increased and more effective outreach. As educational institutions, campuses need to impart and reinforce lessons about accessing scholarly information in a rapidly changing landscape of exponentially increasing authorship, rapidly emerging and receding channels of dissemination, concentration of content provision for some kinds of content, while the dissemination of other bodies of continually upgraded and updated platform enhancements, and shifting social and legal conventions surrounding the use of scholarly content. Libraries are not wrong to emphasize their campus service roles, although they might be trying to fulfill these roles with the wrong people being managed in the wrong way. Librarianship, as a profession, does not necessarily encompass the skills of marketing or sales as a profession. Just as librarians would take umbrage if a publisher encouraged students to direct their advanced reference questions to an online chat service they provide, perhaps we should reconsider if existing library staff—or the new staff being hired in the image of the old staff—are in the best position to build the kinds of relationships with campus users that our libraries should aspire to develop going forward.
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How many times have you been told it must be nice to read all day because you are a librarian? For many professionals working in the library, or those of you whose titles include the term librarian, our friends, family, and community often make this assumption. While this conjures up images of cozy reading nooks or large, wooden reference desks with stacks of books around us for our enjoyment, it is a traditional and antiquated view of librarians. And although we likely all enjoy a cozy reading nook, this type of reading is not part of a librarian’s professional activities. We can also use the example of the stereotypical librarian, whose closet is bursting with tweeds, sensible shoes, and sweater sets. There is also that common and often frustrating assumption that all staff employed by the library are librarians. Although we can spend the day listing all of these misconceptions, the fact is, our profession is riddled with stereotypes, generalizations, and assumptions. Many of these are based on traditional views of libraries, while others are born out of a lack of communication, a lack of desire to delve deeper into the profession, static practices and theories within librarianship, and apathy.
Within our profession and among each other, there are also generalizations, assumptions, and stereotypes. While attending library school, we assume that the social and outgoing individuals will become public-service professionals, whereas the studious and quiet will find themselves tucked in the backroom of libraries, never dealing with the public and happy to spend their years in the company of books and other inanimate collections. When we find ourselves in the workplace, these assumptions also continue. Rather than a cohesive workplace, many larger libraries continue to operate an organization comprised of silos, assuming traditional roles and applying traditional job descriptions. While many managers will argue that despite the silos, staff in technical services and public services work together and often share responsibilities, it is the very nature of the language we use that places a label (and meaning) on how we practice librarianship and our specific roles within the organization.
Before moving forward, however, it is important to define the meaning of technical services and the departments found therein. Technical services is the name used for the department that traditionally houses cataloging, collection development, and processing and receiving. Information technology (IT) often also falls within this department. It is interesting to note that while IT falls under the umbrella of technical services in many libraries, Web site design and maintenance does not. Although not within the scope of this chapter, it would be interesting to explore why these two departments are not more closely intertwined, and whether a closer relationship should be addressed between these two areas of service. Selecting, purchasing, and receiving are functions that exist within the realm of collection development. However, how those services are organized varies from library to library. The collection development department may rely on vendors for selection of items, librarians within the system, or make all purchasing decisions within the department. Cataloging, in the most traditional capacity, provides description and access for the purchased items. However, with more items arriving within libraries already cataloged and prepared for the shelves, this service and its function are changing. This is addressed in more detail within this chapter. And finally, the processing department not only prepares new material for the shelves but also often takes part in the weeding and mending process. For those who work in technical services, we understand that none of the tasks we perform stand alone and that many of these duties rely on partnerships among department members. As such, it is hard to create black-and-white definitions for each service. For example, the collection development manager seeks a cataloger’s assistance regarding the collection placement of an item, while the processer consults with both to determine how best to make a three-piece item shelf-ready. It is the building of a larger relationship within the library that this chapter seeks to examine.
This chapter explores the nature of the divide between technical services and public services staff. While consideration is given to why this divide exists, the emphasis is on how we can breach the divide and start building relationships that will strengthen our profession, professional practices, the operations of the library and, by extension, the services that we offer to our communities. Important consideration needs to be given to the following questions:
• Why does the divide exist and why do we continue to practice in professional silos?
• What are the benefits of working in an environment with fewer silos and less hierarchy?
In her book, Civilizing Rituals, Carol Duncan presents the idea that the way we build museums, the materials we use, the descriptions for the artwork and all other elements of a structure or an exhibit influence how we behave, think, and interpret. The same can be applied to libraries. Rather than focusing on libraries on a large scale (which is beyond the realm of this chapter), let’s examine how this can be applied and evaluated when applied to public services and technical services staff. The title of this chapter gives some indication of the bias of terminology that may be the cause, or result, of the silos that generally exist between technical services and public services staff. Does the term public service not apply to technical services? Do those backroom staff, largely responsible for collection development, collection access (cataloging), Web resources, and IT, not provide public service to both staff and customers? While changing the roles of technical services has evolved from a paper-based, backroom-specific operation to a broader, virtual one, it seems as if the terminology used in our profession continues to color our perception of the roles and responsibilities found within. However, this is not only a backroom issue. Frontline staff are also dealing with the effects of traditional name branding. The familiar reference desk is being renamed throughout libraries to reflect the new demands of users and the attempt to turn a traditional service with preexisting assumptions into an applicable and desired service. We can conclude that the name we give to a department or service within the library influences how our managers, vendors, we, and ultimately our customers view the service. In an effort to create an impression of equality within this chapter, the term public service is applied to all areas of librarianship. The terms frontline and backroom staff are used to differentiate between the traditional technical and public services terms.
Unfortunately, the terms we choose to label our departments and services are not the only possible barriers that we face within the profession. Physical proximity, or lack thereof, may also impact the relationships we develop between frontline and backroom staff. The physical layouts and design of libraries have contributed to an unspoken but existing rift between frontline work in libraries and backroom activities. Traditionally, if backroom services, such as cataloging or collection development, were housed within the library, they were either located in the basement or tucked away in an out-of-the-way and often less-desirable space. Even today, if these services remain housed in libraries, the space tends to be limited, the offices dark, and the furniture old. This is in direct opposition to many newly renovated libraries that reflect open spaces, light, and state-of-the-art furniture. While many public library spaces even include windows rather than opaque walls to invite customers into the workings of the library, backroom staff continue to operate behind closed doors. The negative impact of this closed-door policy is twofold. The customers and frontline staff are unable to observe and interact with backroom professionals, and vice versa. And today, the movement to relocate backroom staff from the physical library to an offsite location may increase the risks of sustaining our fragile collaborations and relationships.
The distance, created by physical proximity as well as by terminology, may have created the barrier that exists between backroom and frontline public services staff, or it may just be the result thereof. It is important to understand that if these situations exist in libraries, they may continue to strain or inhibit a healthy, thriving relationship between these two areas of public service and thus we need to determine how best to overcome these limitations to promote a collaborative environment.
When we attend library school, we are united by our interest in joining the library profession. As a team of soon-to-be professionals, we work in groups to discuss current issues facing libraries; we collaborate on projects and talk about emerging trends. We are comrades and colleagues.
Unfortunately, when we enter the practicing profession, we tend to follow our interests and grow apart from each other. Whether we choose reference, cataloging, youth services, or readers’ services, we follow our passion and feel that the area we have chosen is vital to the services that libraries provide. Because of this passion and dedication to our own area of librarianship, some professionals believe that their interests and their services are more important to the running of the library than another area of librarianship. As a group of professionals, we no longer look at the importance of librarianship as a whole, but divide it into smaller parts, which results in an us versus them mentality. Unfortunately, the result of focusing solely on our special areas of the profession deteriorates relationships and the collaborative environment we enjoyed while attending university and at the early stages of our career.
This problem is further exacerbated by budget cuts and library closures. We often become even more divided, seeking ways to devalue another library service in an effort to save our own positions. In essence, we are attempting to rob one area of librarianship to sustain another. While we do not intentionally do this, and writing it down on paper makes us appear calculating, it is a reality in many library situations. We are all facing budget cuts, limited resources, and an increasing amount of pressure to justify our existence. Added to this, our community is demanding more services and competitive expectations with commercial organizations.
As professionals, we should be aware of the importance of each service provided in the library. While we may not feel comfortable or qualified performing in specialized areas of librarianship outside of our own, all areas of the profession are vital to sustaining a thriving information community. As such, it is important to understand and promote transparency in all areas of librarianship. This will demonstrate to management, staff, and our community the need for a variety of service areas within the library, and how each service depends on or complements another.
The purpose and intent of this chapter is to encourage relationships between frontline and backroom public services. As such, it is important to realistically acknowledge the silos within your organization, including the biases and the reasons behind divisions between services. After identifying these factors, you can begin to build new relationships and strengthen existing ones. However, if you view certain services as inferior, believe they are poorly managed, or lack the understanding of what their function is, you cannot expect your collaborative efforts to succeed.
It is easy to focus on the idea that our profession performs its daily activities in a silo structure. We can point to a variety of reasons why we have not taken advantage of each other’s expertise, or why we are so late in realizing the importance of relationship building between frontline and backroom public service. However, rather than focusing on the past and trying to determine the causes of possible divisions between services, it is with an optimistic view and lists of possibilities that we can look to developing rich relationships between backroom and frontline public service staff.
In many respects, we need to thank the Internet and the Web 2.0 movement for the role it has played in revealing just how much potential there is for developing stronger relationships between these two areas of public service. When our libraries went online and developed a virtual and social presence, many of us began to recognize the implications of working—and not working—together. Those libraries with strong bonds between the frontline and backroom services began collaborating in an effort to extend the services from physical library into the online environment. An online environment was often controlled by backroom services. What we began to see were catalog records with additional content reflecting readers’ advisory services, links to programming, and the ability to recommend books for purchase—all within the catalog. These types of elements were the result of collection development staff, readers’ advisory staff, programming individuals from across departments, and cataloging staff all working together toward a common goal: to extend the services of the physical library into a virtual environment. We now recognize that this is gaining ground as the only space in which we interact with the majority of our customers.
Interestingly, there are libraries that are successfully bridging the dichotomy gap by flattening their hierarchical structures and advocating for staff to participate in all areas of the library profession: from doing reference work to getting trained as readers’ advisors and performing copy cataloging. These arrangements tend to be found in small libraries where librarians and library support staff are expected to wear many hats.
A new set of eyes is often all we need to turn a good project into a great one. Building relationships between the frontline line and backroom takes advantage of this new set of eyes, offering new perspectives, solutions, and procedures. In the article “Bringing Public Services Experience to Technical Services: Improvements in Practice,” vanDuinkerken (2009) discusses the success that Texas A&M University (TAMU) Libraries had in handing over the reins of the Acquisitions Monographs Unit to a reference librarian. With a mandate to improve their users’ experience, this reference librarian was chosen due to her strong user-services background. The rationale for placing a frontline librarian in a backroom position was that the new perspective and strong user-services expertise may offer insight into existing procedures (vanDuinkerken 2009). Charged with adding transparency to the acquisitions process for selectors and evaluating the daily processes and skills necessary to fulfill these tasks, this reference librarian-turned-acquisitions-librarian ventured into the unfamiliar territory of the backroom with great success (vanDuinkerken 2009). Not only did this librarian develop a list of best practices that exceeded the expectations of her management team, but also the Acquisitions Monographs Unit was nominated for the Texas A&M President’s Meritorious Service Award. This award is given for outstanding service to the university community (vanDuinkerken 2009).
Although this success story takes place in a university setting, the best practices that were established have direct application to public library practices as well. And, although many of us view the placement of a reference librarian into a collection development role, without training, as a radical notion, we can see the benefits that are gained through fresh perspectives, new outlooks, and wide ranges of expertise. Offering opportunities to job shadow or swap positions within an organization for a set period of time may provide many of us with a new outlook on other services that run concurrently with our own. This also allows us to develop a deeper understanding and transparency of the services. After having walked in someone else’s shoes, it is easier to understand existing procedures, influence change, and begin collaborative relationships.
Although collection development is often classed in the hierarchy of a library under technical services, this is a service that relies heavily on subject experts (often frontline librarians) and is, indeed, a public service (Brooks 2012). While traditional structures may continue to house this department in the backroom, it is a service that relies heavily upon its relationships with subject experts (Brooks 2012). In return, subject experts also need to initiate meaningful conversations with the backroom in an effort to understand the inner workings of collection development. Often, these conversations do not go beyond the budget allotment for specific subjects. In other words, the conversation between collection development and frontline staff ends after the subject expert is aware of the areas for which they purchase and the money that has been allotted for each collection. Shouldn’t the relationship go beyond this? Steps taken at TAMU to continue this conversation include providing selectors with frequent, informal training sessions and inviting conversations that address selector concerns and questions regarding the processes and procedures that begin at purchase of the book and end with its receipt (vanDuinkerken 2009). Creating an open dialogue not only establishes a transparent window into the functions of acquisitions but also invites selectors to provide feedback for existing practices. Getting to know selectors and starting a dialogue also impacts the acquisitions staff. These new relationships allow staff a greater understanding of their role in the big picture of the library (vanDuinkerken 2009).
In his article “Technical Services-Public Services Partnerships,” Brooks also suggests that relationship building between collection development staff and frontline subject librarians not only involves partnerships but also an awareness that frontline partners are also customers of backroom departments (Brooks 2012). Highlighting this idea requires that you consider the position in which that places backroom staff. If “we serve the people who serve the public” as well as partner with them, this gives backroom staff an even greater reason to seek opportunities for collaborative relationships (Brooks 2012). Increasing communication will not only invite a new perspective and outside expertise to view, understand, and comment on current practice models, but it will also provide invaluable feedback into how our users perceive backroom processes.
Readers’ advisory service is another area that benefits from a strong relationship between backroom and frontline public services. At the PLA 2012 Conference, Neal Wyatt advocated for the saturation of readers’ advisory content within the library catalog. With the knowledge that the majority of all holds placed on library materials happen remotely, as well as understanding the need to meet readers where they are, it is in our best interest to look at mash-ups between services. While staff at the physical library may hold conversations with readers, this is a self-selective group. These are often social readers interested in sharing reading experiences. But for many, reading is personal, as are reading preferences, suggestions, and requests for purchases. Providing readers’ content where the reader is—presumably the catalog, as that is where the collection resides—and wherever the reader is physically located, strengthens three services: collection development, cataloging, and readers’ advisory services. An argument can also be made that a relationship between staff in those departments extends to staff in adult services, teen services, and children’s services.
Providing readers’ services in the library catalog emphasizes the strong relationship needed between staff as well as cross-training. Terminology, ease of use, and content are all factors in this decision. Building a partnership between readers’ advisory services staff and cataloging staff creates benefits for both services. The relationship creates a conversation between the two departments, which in turn results in knowledge sharing of the latest trends in reading, current buzz words being used to describe genres, and cataloging practices that may allow this content entry into the catalog. Collaboration, education, and a willingness to examine current practice models based on library-wide feedback to meet the needs of today’s society are essential.
The library, now more than ever, has become a social gathering place for our community. This is never so apparent than when community members, who are not library patrons, book our rooms for events and meetings, or teenagers drop in after school to chat, text their friends, or listen to their iPods. The physical library is a popular gathering place because it is centrally located and convenient. Libraries are easy to access and provide immediate gratification of users’ needs—even if it is not what the user expected or wanted. The physical library is and continues to be successful because it provides the same type of elements that the Internet provides—convenience, ease of use, location, social interaction, and information. But, the one thing the physical library cannot do is always be where the people are—in homes, on the bus, at the airport or the grocery store. We will continue to see an increase in the need for extending our services in virtual environments. Rather than performing our services separately, a greater focus on shared resources will be emphasized in the future. Emphasizing shared resources includes cross-training staff between departments as well as expectations that we may be called upon to assist in performing these services. This is also evident in the blurring of responsibilities between paraprofessionals and professionals. As outsourcing and vendor products continue to offer services to libraries that were traditionally performed in-house, we are left with staff with fewer responsibilities. This is an opportunity for us to look at our services and focus on areas for improvement. It provides us with individuals looking for increased responsibilities and knowledge.
In the past, backroom services staff were often viewed as performing mundane, daily processes. However, with increasing emphasis on remote, online presences, the tasks and responsibilities of backroom staff are transitioning. And, while we are now accustomed to defining our branches and to some extent our online presence as social spaces, our organizations are still based on the premise that patrons use our library primarily to access our collections. If we still believe that our collections are important, and perhaps the most important part of our library, then we also need to seriously explore the idea of the library catalog as a collaborative and interactive space. With successful collaboration between frontline and backroom public services staff, library catalogs “provide the branch library experience virtually. For example, they can link to recorded author readings or programs, as well as provide pathways to program announcements, special events within the library and, links into the greater community,” all within the catalog (Tarulli 2012).
Library patrons who visit the physical library branch belong to the culture and community within that branch or library system. The sense of community they share in this social space has to do with trust, familiar faces, comfortable surroundings, and the knowledge that they are in a safe, communal environment. Our online presence, often controlled by backroom public services staff, can provide an experience, while virtual, that mimics our experience within physical libraries. Drawing from frontline and backroom expertise, we can create a new, virtual frontline that “draws together elements of trust, interaction and contribution, discoverability, personalization and customization, intuitiveness, belonging and immediate access to information. In all, we can create a level of experience that has been, up until now, only been found in the physical library” (Tarulli 2012).
This chapter examined reasons why relationship building between frontline and backroom public services should be promoted. While it is important to understand why there may be barriers that prevent relationships, or have prevented relationships in the past, it is more important to understand the many benefits obtained through engaging in cross-training within library specialties and open, transparent service models within departments.
In the 1983 special issue of The Reference Librarian, Michael Gorman wrote an article addressing “two kinds of librarianship” in which there are “ ‘people people’ versus ‘book people’ ” (Gorman 1983). With this in mind, he states that there are
two “kinds” of librarianship . . . [one] concerned with esoteric “technical” matters and populated with reclusive adepts, has concerns which are mysterious and methods which are suspect. . . . The second is concerned with “The Public” and populated by bluff men and women (democrats all), deals with real issues, real people, the library user in tooth and claw. (56)
While it is unlikely many of us take such a dark and negative view of an existing or imaginary dichotomy today, we can certainly look at this statement as a situation and belief system to avoid at all costs. Many of us have built strong and successful relationships with our frontline or backroom colleagues: one of the most successful and well-known being Williamsburg Regional Library. For smaller libraries, these relationships have often extended further, by sharing responsibilities and expecting feedback from colleagues in other departments. In fact, in many libraries that have developed strong relationships between frontline and backroom services, there is an expectation that staff will contribute across library silos and add value to workflows. With the amount of user expertise, subject expertise, and technological expertise found within libraries, our libraries are bursting with potential to create increasingly dynamic, interactive social spaces, both virtually and within our physical walls. Understanding every cog in the wheel and how all of the pieces fit together results in a work environment that welcomes creativity, new ideas, and perspectives. These are characteristics in a workplace that both employees and employers admire and hope for. In an effort to strengthen the collaborative environment within libraries, we can focus on the best practices that are found within vanDuinkerken’s article. When there is a transparency in workflow, invitations, and opportunities to understand, train, and provide feedback among staff, and a genuine interest in improving processes and service, the natural results are stronger relationships and increased communication between departments.
By extension, this also results in improvements in two areas: the library as a whole and the community we serve. The implications for library management and staff include the potential for an increase in effective workflow, an increase in job satisfaction, and shared institutional knowledge and expertise. Resources, including budgetary resources, may also be affected positively. The customers, or community, will also benefit from the forging of strong and lasting relationships among frontline and backroom staff. By working together, the increase in effective workflows and shared expertise will directly impact the quality of services offered online and within library branches. The flow from one service to another will create seamless offerings and interactions with customers.
Whether working in a culture where shared responsibility and open communication is standard practice, to enjoying a position where the potential for collaborative opportunities is only beginning, we can all look forward to the exciting and rewarding outcomes from building relationships between technical services and public services staff.
Brooks, Stephen M. 2012. “Technical Services-Public Services Partnerships.” AcqWeb. Available at:. Accessed October 22, 2012.
Gorman, Michael. 1983. “The Ecumenical Library.” The Reference Librarian 9 (Fall/Winter): 55–64. Quoted in Henry Wessells. 2010. “Gap between Technical and Public Services Librarians.” Information Science Today. Available at:. Accessed October 31, 2012.
Tarulli, Laurel. 2012. “Library Catalogues of the Future: A Social Space and Collaborative Tool?” Library Trends 61 (1): 107–31.
VanDuinkerken, Wyoma. 2009. “Bringing Public Services Experience to Technical Services: Improvements in Practice.” Library Collections, Acquisitions, & Technical Services 33: 51–58.
In light of all that has been written on evaluating databases and the millions of dollars that libraries have invested in these resources, it is quite remarkable to read Bernard Reilly’s report from the 2011 Charleston Pre-Conference on evaluating research databases: “There is no single, uniform approach to database evaluations. ‘Best guesses’ about local user needs and potential user uptake are the norm” (Reilly 2012, 54). Reilly’s characterization of the current environment with respect to databases raises a number of questions. Is database evaluation an art that a professional cultivates over time, based more on experience and intuition than on analysis (Johnson 2009, 108)? Do local users’ needs resist generalization? Or is it the case that the nature of databases, especially the colossal and continually expanding Web-scale variety, introduces elements that defy attempts to develop a uniform approach to evaluation? How is true value to be determined when user needs differ and resources are in continual evolution?
The current information landscape abounds with general and specialty databases covering traditional and emerging research areas. Journal-based databases now coexist with databases that provide access to primary source collections, raw data, and resources in various media, including sound, image, and video. In the past five years, we have seen the emergence of Web-scale discovery systems that centrally index much of the content contained in these disparate databases, promising one-stop searching from a single search box.
How do we wrap our minds around these varied and evolving databases and research tools? They live on Web platforms, feature an array of different search interfaces, and offer a variety of different user-based functions. The costs associated with database content and services are not trivial and often require ongoing financial commitments. Now more than ever, libraries are challenged to ensure effective return on investment (ROI) and to participate in the current culture of evidence-based practice.
This chapter focuses on current and emerging issues in evaluating subscription databases. Unless otherwise noted, the term database refers to abstracting and indexing (A&I) resources, full-text aggregators, or hybrids of the two. The decision-making processes involved in evaluating databases are examined with particular attention to the users for whom these databases are acquired and the various contexts within which the selection activity operates. The evaluative process is examined from the perspectives of both database content and platform. Considerations for strategic action as well as the authors’ thoughts on desired outcomes are discussed.
Databases, like libraries, are information systems and services. Information systems take many forms, as do the information resources they store, which range from raw data to books and articles to audio and video files to artifacts. What is important to note, as Losee and Worley observe, is the common function of these systems, namely “to acquire, store, organize, and retrieve information” (1993, 2). Databases exist, as do libraries, to enhance the information processing capacities of human beings.
Atkinson, writing on the individual’s interaction with the organized collections of libraries and databases, notes that human beings create knowledge through the discovery and invention of relationships:
Unitary objects of information are useless for purposes of knowledge production. In order for them to be made useful, they must be related to other objects. . . . Such a relationship is not so much something that “is,” as it is rather something that the user does. The creation or perception of that relationship is an event, and the production of knowledge is a consequence of such event experiences. Ensuring that such experiences are possible, and that users have the ability to record, apply and communicate the results of those events, must form the abstract foundation . . . for any truly effective information services in the future. (Atkinson 2005a, 23)
As database systems have continued to evolve, so has their capacity to support this kind of activity. The early pioneers of relational databases envisioned a new, casual user group and developed an underlying architecture designed specifically to remove the technical barriers standing in the way of nonprogrammers querying the system. As the central figure in the development of the relational database Edgar “Ted” Codd proclaimed: “Future users of large data banks must be protected from having to know how the data is organized in the machine (the internal representation)” (Gugerli 2012, 293).
The prescience of Codd and other early developers of relational databases helped pave the way for the sophistication, flexibility, and user-centered designs of present-day systems. The shift toward user-driven information systems was further accelerated with the advent of Internet search engines operating in a networked, global environment. The simplicity and elegance of Google’s single search box and the power of its search algorithms have become the gold standard by which all information systems are judged.
Libraries and library users now find themselves embedded in a hybrid environment engendered by the World Wide Web. In 2000, Manoff observed that “the boundaries between our libraries and the rest of the world are becoming more porous. . . . The scholar and his work have become nodes on a vast information space that both integrates and confuses commerce and culture. . . . Patrons often cannot distinguish precisely where a library’s Web site ends and where resources mounted elsewhere begin” (858). These words are as true today as they were a decade ago.
The richness of this environment together with the individual’s unfettered access to it has the potential to be both mind-expanding and overwhelming. “What most of us find on the net is not the fulfillment of a utopian fantasy of free information but rather a vast array of consumer choices in a sea of poorly organized information,” notes Manoff (2000, 859). According to Atkinson, access to information is only part of what users require from their information systems (and information professionals): “Utility and access are, of course, inseparable. . . . But access can also be understood as a necessary but insufficient condition for utility. A relevant object of information may be accessible, and yet it may, for a variety of reasons, lack utility. Its relevance may not be evident, either because the user cannot decipher the object or because the user does not perceive the relationship between the object and the task at hand” (Atkinson 2005a, 13–14).
The preoccupation of libraries with providing access to information threatens to overshadow a critical need of users, namely for intellectual structure and context. In 1997, Miller cautioned that librarians and administrators need to ask: “access to what and what kind of access?” “The quality of access,” Miller noted, has “momentous consequences for library users” (101). If anything, this issue has grown more pressing in the intervening years. Granted, such powerful search tools as Google enable users to circumvent the intermediaries that have traditionally separated individuals from the information they are seeking. However, mediation services, whether they are provided by libraries, publishers, database vendors (or increasingly, by authors or users), are not barriers to information. Rather, they are a means by which users discover and create relationships. Indeed, in a rapidly expanding information universe, mediation services are vital. As Atkinson notes, they “help people to think” (2005b, 61). The ability of databases to address this fundamental information need of library users is a key feature by which they are, or ought to be, evaluated.
Subscription databases emanate from and form a part of the dynamic and complex research ecosystem in which scholarship unfolds. Once selected, they become a part of the library’s collection of resources. The composition of these collections, Miller notes, is “an increasingly complex mix of formats and means of access” (2000, 663). As collections and user needs continue to evolve, evaluation methods that are responsive to both must be developed.
“All selection decisions,” says Johnson, “begin with consideration of the user community and the long-term mission, goals, and priorities of the library and its parent body” (2009, 108). This remains a fundamental maxim for libraries, but more global issues are also at play. For example, when libraries form consortia and negotiate collectively with vendors, they surrender a measure of control over the selection process. In these contexts, decisions regarding the appropriateness of a resource may reflect the priorities of the cooperative rather than the local institution. In addition, since so many databases and electronic resources are leased rather than purchased, the reputation of the vendor and the terms of the licensing agreement must also be considered along with the merits of the database itself. As Hazen observes, libraries are “actors within a web of interdependent agents, institutions, processes, and agendas” and this “complex matrix both shapes . . . possibilities and establishes . . . limits” (2000, 822).
A significant influence on libraries’ decision-making process is the growing emphasis on performance outcomes. Whether in the context of accreditation, student retention, or strategic planning, administrators and other stakeholders are focused on positive, measurable benefits for users. “Although librarians may think of collection analysis as measuring the collection’s quality (an amorphous concept, at best),” writes Johnson, “the real objective is to measure the collection’s utility—how effective the collection is in satisfying the purpose for which it is intended” (2009, 225). This consideration also comes into play when evaluating databases. Gorman and Miller note that “libraries everywhere are driven by the need to determine the adequacy of their collections . . . in relation to intended service priorities” (2000, 316).
The current climate in higher education highlights the contrast between two activities involved in collection management: evaluation and assessment. Both these activities play a role in database selection. According to Johnson (2009), these activities, while frequently conflated, can be differentiated by intent. “Evaluation seeks to examine or describe collections either in their own terms or in relation to other collections and checking mechanisms” (226). Assessment, in contrast, seeks “to determine how well the collection supports the goals, needs, and mission of the library” (226). Evaluation addresses the question: “Is the item worthy of selection?” (109). Assessment considers: “Is the item appropriate for the collection?” (109).
Today’s culture of assessment pushes libraries to articulate more clearly their core values and mission. Without guiding principles, libraries have no standards against which to measure utility or success. In an ideal world, these core values would be easily harmonized and balanced, but, in practice, they often prove to be in tension. Further complicating the decision-making process is a rapidly evolving information environment. Davidson, commenting on crises and opportunities in the future of scholarly publishing, observes, “We are not in an environment where long-range planning makes sense because all of the conditions are in flux at once: market conditions, tax structures, demographics, state spending, technology infrastructure, new methods of evaluating productivity, and so on” (Alonso et al. 2003, 34). Despite these challenges, reflection on the purpose of resources and collections is essential to providing a sound basis for selection choices.
The following sections of this chapter examine databases from both content and platform perspectives. Assessing the content and functionality of databases in relation to user needs is central to a library’s selection process. However, as the considerations mentioned earlier suggest, contextual criteria used to judge databases—and the priority assigned to each—will vary according to institutional differences in core values, service priorities, and budget. There is no mechanical formula that can be applied to database selection—no one-size-fits-all approach. Context, above all else, is the decisive factor.
When selecting or comparing databases, the content of the database(s) and how well that content meets users’ needs are key considerations. Jacsó (1997), citing Tenopir, writes: “At the core of all aspects [of databases] is content: the information itself as created by the author, secondary publisher, or database producer. Without quality content, other aspects (powerful and usable search software, acceptable response time, etc.) become unimportant” (233). Evaluation of content takes into account a number of different variables, which have been extensively reviewed in the scholarly literature (see, e.g., Jacsó 1997; Allison, McNeil, and Swanson 2000; Blessinger and Olle 2004; McMullen et al. 2006; Johnson 2009; Gregory 2011). The quality of content—to a certain extent always in the eye of the beholder—can be gauged in various ways. In journal-based databases, quality can be evaluated according to journal-citation impact factor or by the number of peer-reviewed journals in the database. The total number of journal titles indexed and the comprehensiveness of journal coverage are also basic evaluation criteria. Journal coverage entails not only the breadth, or time span, of coverage, but also the depth of coverage (complete vs. selected content) as well as the continuity of coverage (Have journals in the database been subject to cancellation? Are there gaps in coverage?). The scope and composition of the content is also a consideration: Is the database a general, multidisciplinary database or a discipline-specific or niche database? If the former, are certain subject areas emphasized over others? Are the titles that are included in the database appropriate to its scope, or is there evidence of title padding? Today’s researchers place a high premium on both the currency of content and the availability of full text. Librarians need to consider the frequency with which journal content is updated and any embargo periods on full-text content. Finally, the number of unique titles also plays a role in selection; overlap or duplication of content is a key factor. So, too, is the increasing amount of content that may be freely available from other sources on the Web, including government publications, news sites, digital collections, open access journals, or institutional repositories (Reilly 2012, 55).
While many of these evaluative criteria have their counterparts in print collection analysis, the realm of digital resources is a much more challenging environment in which to collect this kind of data. Jacsó refers to the “daunting” and “very time-consuming tasks of learning the true profile of databases, the pros and cons of their real versus purported assets” (2010, 806–7). To some extent, database vendors themselves are responsible for these challenges. The product data they provide to libraries is sometimes incomplete, erroneous, or even misleading. A lack of standardization in defining and reporting data elements is another issue. (To cite just one example, database providers have no standard, agreed-upon definition of peer-reviewed content.) To address the thorny issue of journal coverage and content overlap, various assessment tools, both nonprofit and commercial, have been developed. These include Serial Solutions’ Overlap Analysis, the United Kingdom’s Joint Information Systems Committee’s (JISC) Academic Database Assessment Tool (ADAT), the CUFTS service from Simon Fraser University, the Colorado Alliance of Research Libraries’ (CARL) Gold Rush Reports, and Ulrich’s Serials Analysis System (USAS) (Jacsó 2010; Stranack 2006; Oberg 2003; Jacsó 2012). Another important assessment tool is The Charleston Advisor (TCA). This publication provides critical reviews of databases and other Web-based electronic resources. It provides a freely available review scoreboard ( ) that rates products based on content, and also searchability, price, and contract options or features ( ).
While the most common type of research database remains the journal-based variety, these increasingly share space with databases based on primary source material or large data sets that are available in a variety of formats, including text, image, video, and audio. While some of these resources have counterparts in print or other formats, and in theory could be compared with these, Horava notes that researchers often use and interact with these types of databases in different ways (2011). Uncoupled from scholarly journals and the assessment tools associated with them, non-journal-based databases can be difficult to evaluate. For this reason, knowledge of how researchers use these resources in actual practice, and the contexts in which they are used, is essential.
In addition to evaluating the intrinsic merits of database content, assessing how database content supports curricular programs, addresses the research interests of faculty, and advances the mission of the research institution is integral to the decision-making process. As we have seen, this is an increasingly complex and multifaceted process. Horava observes that, in previous times, “mapping resources to an institution’s collective needs was challenging but not impossible. The universe of available formats and publications was finite; with professional experience, one could connect the dots . . . in relation to a specific collection’s desired parameters.” “While these core activities remain integral to our work,” writes Horava, “their scope has altered significantly” (2010, 142). In part, this has to do with the sheer volume and variety of potential acquisitions. In addition, as Machovec notes, rapidly changing technologies are mirrored by changing expectations, standards, and values: “What was great a few years ago may be unacceptable today” (2011). One of the greatest challenges facing selectors, institutions, and consortia is to weigh and balance diverse, and occasionally competing interests, and to discern potential issues with the interoperability of multiple systems. Selectors now wrestle with questions such as these: Can large indexing tools or aggregator databases replace specialty, discipline-specific indexes? In an era of tight budgets, can full-text databases stand in for traditional A&I databases? How do emerging Web-based discovery tools factor into this mix? Are they poised to edge out A&I databases?
Database evaluation needs to consider not only the quality of content but also how well the database supports the individual’s use of that content. The users of databases are diverse—from the undergraduate looking for sources for a paper due the next day to the serious researcher conducting an extensive literature review. The questions to which users seek answers are varied also, as are the practices and contexts—scholarly, professional, and personal—from which these information needs arise. What cuts across user types, however, is the thoroughgoing way in which information-seeking practices have been impacted by advances in information technology.
An evaluation of the quality of a user’s interactions with a database necessarily focuses on the database’s structural or platform aspects. For the purposes of this chapter, features of databases that can be said to be platform-based include the search interface, core search and retrieval functions, indexing and thesauri, and database workbench features. As databases have matured, there has been increasing standardization of certain of these platform-based elements. Most databases, for example, have both basic and advanced search options. At the same time, new database workbench tools are appearing that are designed to more effectively integrate databases into users’ “workflow,” “learnflow,” and “researchflow” (Dempsey 2008, 111). This is an area ripe for innovation as developers harness the potential of networked technologies. Likewise, subject and niche databases continue to introduce features and functions that are specific to their disciplines and research methodologies. Non-journal-based databases are also rolling out platform features formulated to work with the entities they index (e.g., data sets, multimedia).
When evaluating a database’s search interface, librarians can refer to widely accepted best practices for interface design. Today’s users expect the same ease of use and navigation when searching databases as they do when interacting with commercial Web interfaces. McMullen et al. (2006, 73), Hariri and Norouzi (2011, 702, 715), and others reference Jakob Nielsen’s classic 10 usability heuristics for user interface design (Nielsen 1994) as a standard for evaluating digital libraries and databases. These heuristics are (1) visibility of system status (or “Where am I and where can I go next?” [McMullen et al. 2006, 73]); (2) match between system and the real world (i.e., the system should speak the user’s language and follow real-world conventions); (3) user control and freedom (including clearly marked “emergency exits” for unwanted outcomes); (4) consistency and adherence to standards; (5) error prevention; (6) recognition rather than recall (i.e., the system should be intuitive and minimize the user’s memory load); (7) flexibility and efficiency of use (e.g., adaptable to the needs of both novice and seasoned researchers); (8) aesthetic and minimalist design; (9) help for users to recognize, diagnose, and recover from errors; and (10) general help and documentation (ideally, context-sensitive). As the gateway to a database’s content and tool functions and the means by which the user interacts and communicates with the system, the database interface significantly impacts the user’s search experience.
Search and retrieval functions are at the heart of database operations, and, for journal-based databases, there is a growing standardization of features. Allison et al. (2000) and McMullen et al. (2006) offer helpful checklists of important features. In addition to basic and advanced search options, support for natural language and Boolean logic searching increases the user’s flexibility and efficiency. Field-specific searching (e.g., author, title, subject terms) increases precision and is another sought-after feature. Depending upon the information need, users may want to browse or execute direct, targeted searches; both types of searches should be enabled. In addition to browsing, features that assist with lateral searching (e.g., hot-linked subject headings, author names, publication titles) help to facilitate serendipitous discovery (Allison et al. 2000, 60). The options that a database provides for working with search results are especially important. Many databases allow users to sort results by relevance as well as chronologically. Options for expanding, narrowing, and refining searches, as needed, should ideally be available from the results screen, obviating the need to re-execute a search. Some databases employ search facets to accomplish this. A growing number of databases provide what Allison et al. refer to as “system-assisted searching” (60), which, in addition to natural language searching and relevancy ranking, includes “find articles like this” suggested search queries and spell-check features. Users also need reliable “saved search” and “saved results” functions and expect printing, downloading, emailing, and, increasingly, bibliographic management features to be standard.
The quality of the indexing provided by a database also has a significant impact on search and retrieval. Atkinson has written extensively on the importance of metadata and the intellectual infrastructure it provides to the researcher. “The purpose of metadata,” writes Atkinson, “is to facilitate the creation of [information] object contexts” (2005b, 65). Metadata enhances discovery by exposing the relationships between information objects and enables various kinds of deep linking. It is “data about data” (Atkinson 2005b, 64). Databases employing thesauri (indexes based upon central concepts linked to narrower, broader, and related terms) allow researchers to refine searches by either broadening or narrowing the search terms used. Thesauri may also afford less coding complexity in search algorithms. Not all metadata is created equal, however.1 Miller recommends that libraries take a close look at a database’s controlled vocabulary: “Is there a controlled vocabulary based on the literary warrant of the actual collection of items in the database, or has a database aggregator simply adapted a one-size-fits-all vocabulary specific to nothing and of little true value in bringing users all of the available items on a topic?” (2008, 53). Miller also advises libraries to determine whether indexing is performed in-house by trained, qualified staff or outsourced to “who-knows?” (53). Facilitating hierarchical and relational searching, exposing more relevant search results, and creating deeper discovery experiences are key mediation services of databases and are some of the primary ways they add value for researchers.
In addition to search and retrieval functions, a number of databases are developing scholarly workbench functions. Increasingly, the value of research databases will be judged according to how seamlessly they can be integrated into scholars’ workflows and how well they support the wide array of activities that constitute scholarly research. Horava argues that research content and users’ interactions with it “cannot be separated into discrete compartments for attention. . . . Being a creator, publisher, and consumer of information are facets of the same continuum of activity” (2010, 143). In our emerging culture of participatory engagement, users expect to be able to contribute content and/or metadata to a database. Databases specifically designed to operate in this environment represent an advance over those in which tool functions have been developed in a more ad hoc manner. As Horava notes, “We need to focus on the ways our patrons communicate, search, share, and repurpose information” (2010, 148).
In recent years, a number of studies have documented scholarly research practices in order to identify ways that library services and information systems can better support these activities. These studies, together with database trials and usability studies, provide rich data that can be used to inform the database selection process. A 2006 University of Minnesota Libraries project report identifies four basic functions in which scholars across disciplines were “regularly and consistently engaged” (38). These functions were “discover,” “gather,” “create,” and “share” (38). The report notes that, while a great deal of progress has been made in enhancing retrieval of content, there has been less attention paid to assisting scholars with other aspects of the research processes (56). In addition to difficulties associated with content discovery and retrieval, scholars face significant challenges with organizing, managing, and gaining intellectual control over content. Scholars seek support with analyzing and synthesizing content, sharing data, and working collaboratively. These are all areas in which database workbench tools have an increasingly important role to play.
In a recent two-part study, Fagan (2011, 2012) attempts to match the features of four online search engines to a select set of scholarly information activities detailed in an OCLC report authored by Palmer, Teffeau, and Pirmann (2009). Fagan examines features of Google Scholar, Microsoft Academic Search, Scopus, and the EBSCO Discovery Service in order to determine how well each supports (1) direct searching, (2) chaining (e.g., hyperlinked bibliographies or cited reference search features), (3) browsing or “open ended exploration,” (4) probing (i.e., “exploring relevant information outside one’s usual discipline”), (5) accessing or “unfettered direct access to materials,” (6) gathering and organizing (i.e., “managing a personal collection of content”), (7) assessing (i.e., “quickly determining documents’ relevance and utility: differentiating, comparing, and sifting”), (8) monitoring or “regularly reviewing new relevant information,” and (9) translating or “navigating the research and publications of another discipline” (328). While Fagan found that no single system combined all desired features, a number of these workbench features were being addressed in innovative ways by one or more of the systems reviewed.
Other studies of users’ information-seeking behaviors have focused on the specific scholarly practices of researchers in the sciences, humanities, and social sciences, and in individual disciplines.2 These studies reveal differences in scholarly practices driven by discipline-based research needs and methodologies. Given these differences, it seems unlikely that large, broad-based search engines such as those studied by Fagan will ever completely replace individual subject databases. There will always be a need for PsycINFO’s thesaurus or the MLA International Bibliography’s subject headings, predicts Fagan. That said, Fagan acknowledges the “separate appeal” of large, general databases and suggests that their presence in the information ecosystem could mean that “subject-specific databases will be relieved from the pressure to become more mainstream, and instead [can] focus on becoming even better tools for the disciplines they serve” (2012, 75).
Databases, in concert with their service platforms, are doorways leading to rich discovery. By means of these tools, researchers elicit meaning or understanding, acquire intellectual mastery over fields of study, formulate effective decisions, and create new knowledge. By means of these tools, insights are born. Databases and related discovery services are transformative when they inspire understanding within the mind of the seeker.
Today’s researchers face a host of challenges. They must manage large retrieval sets to effectively make comparisons, detect trends, formulate theories, and construct models. Frequently, they must cross disciplinary lines as they pursue their inquiries. The systems they search contain data created, collected, and curated with varying degrees of standardization. To address these challenges, databases need to operate in more integrated ways to harmonize with other products and services in the digital realm. In order to accomplish this, they must continue their structural and functional evolution from individual silos to networks of linked data. A mature Semantic Web in which data and scholarly works are increasingly linked or embedded in meaningful ways through the utilization of standardized metadata, systems, and practices appears to be the way of the future. While databases and the next generation of discovery tools have the capacity to transform users’ engagement with data and information, there are, at present, persistent sociopolitical, legal, commercial, and practice-based barriers that prevent true system interoperability and the emergence of tools capable of exposing deep levels of relationship between information objects.3 These are concerns that Clifford Lynch and the Coalition for Networked Information have been addressing for several decades.
One critical barrier for transformative discovery is the lack of consistently applied standards. For library and database systems, the creation and assimilation of inconsistent and incomplete metadata frustrates computational functions such as de-duping and gathering like terms. Giles describes the purpose of quality metadata as one designed “to maintain the continuing usefulness of information so that it can be understood, exploited, reused and repurposed” (2011, 29). Metadata that is standardized and consistent (i.e., accurate and complete in accordance with agreed upon sets of rules or practices) enables computerized systems to make meaningful connections between data. When metadata can be referenced by unique numerical codes, computational activities such as matching, comparing, grouping, or inferring can be done with precision and speed.4 This increases efficiency in mining text, data, images, and other information objects.
Global and national efforts have been established by such groups as the International Standards Organization (ISO), American National Standards Institute (ANSI), and NISO to encourage consistent practice and to build increasingly complex (or deeply linked) system interoperability. All library systems, with varying levels of compliance, adhere to these standards. Among others, these standards include ANSI/NISO Z39.50 for information retrieval (Digital Object Identifier for identifying specific digital objects ( ). Another significant initiative for creating and applying standard metadata is the Open Researcher and Contributor ID (ORCID). ORCID is a unique identifier, which is assigned to an individual researcher. The aim of assigning a unique number to a researcher name is to disambiguate equivalent or similar names by computational means and to achieve a level of author normalization.5 The ORCID registry can be integrated within the digital information ecosystem to achieve accuracy for name searching and discovery within and among databases.6), ANSI/NISO Z39.88 OpenURL Framework for Context-Sensitive Services for resource linking ( ), and ISO 26324
With the exponential growth of data and research networks, system integration and interoperability will become a more prominent criterion for evaluating and assessing subscription databases. Every library will want the databases it selects to function in a deeply integrated (cross-platform) environment. A grand-scale, yet-to-be-developed infrastructure may someday seamlessly integrate most databases (Schreur 2012, 237). Because human language is a living phenomenon subject to continual change, there are challenges associated with maintaining database thesauri and, by extension, machine interoperability. Despite these issues, thesauri transmit valuable intellectual enrichment. Hider notes that “controlled vocabularies provide context not only for computers, but also for people” (2012, 195). At this time, no single universal and comprehensive ontology (i.e., structure of known knowledge) or super thesaurus has been systematically deployed. However, fields such as medicine have been working on these types of structures. One such example is the National Library of Medicine’s Unified Medical Language System (UMLS).7
As part of their strategic planning, libraries will need to assess subscription databases for their functional value as discovery services in the library’s overarching discovery plan (Okerson 2011). Is the acquisition of specialty subscription databases effective for the library’s overall discovery picture? What of the monolithic Web-scale discovery services that index much of the content in these subscription databases?
Web-scale discovery services offer libraries the ability to reveal all of their licensed, locally created, and free resources through one discovery interface. Each library implementing these Web-scale services maintains individual local instances of the discovery system, including an integrated knowledge base of resources. In addition, these libraries must engage in periodic exporting of their local catalog and digital repositories for re-harvesting by the discovery service in order to insure their local instance is up to date. While these systems have been growing in popularity for one-stop searching and locally centralizing resources, they duplicate, to some extent, the indexing done by subscription databases. They also create systemic duplications by locally maintaining indexes of largely nonunique resources.
This raises a compelling question: Should libraries continue to locally centralize all subscribed resources? As scholarly communication and practices become more open, do closed or hybrid systems unnecessarily complicate or disenfranchise linked data systems and specific user groups? An alternative strategy to current discovery services might feature less local centralization and more external centralization or cloud-based connectivity. The result would be an economy of less system or service duplication and fewer mechanical intermediary systems. More direct connections via knowledge base registries and link resolvers would reduce errors of omission multiplied or perpetuated through machine mismatching or mistranslation. What is more, the library’s dwindling purchasing power could be directed toward content procurement.
As Dorner observes, “being a collection manager in the digital environment . . . involves a blurring of boundaries which requires a holistic perception of information services and what constitutes a collection” (2000, 41). Today’s collections, in effect, connect endless combinations of collections and data located throughout the digital information ecosystem. One day, databases and discovery tools may become part of a system in which “a library may want to synchronize data with union catalogs, Google Scholar, and other network level disclosure services” (Dempsey 2008, 117; see also Dempsey 2012). As library collections and scholarly practices continue to evolve, can discovery become more open?
Lewis, writing on collecting in academic libraries, sees open practices as a “central driver” for change in libraries and scholarly communication (2013, 161). Lewis references Burton’s view of open scholarship (2009), which includes open review, open dialog, open process, open formats, and open data (2013, 166). To Burton’s list could be added open access, open standards, open software—and the next logical step—open discovery. Lewis gestures in this direction, noting that studies by Herrera (2011) and Howland et al. (2009) suggest that “Google Scholar will be a, if not the, major discovery tool for the scholarly journal literature in the near future” (165).
Indeed, transformations in the information discovery space are beginning to appear. In February 2013, OCLC and ProQuest announced an agreement to exchange metadata within their discovery services (ProQuest 2013). Project Muse lists among its “discovery and linking partners” both proprietary systems like EBSCO and public systems like Google (8). As the authors were finalizing this chapter (October 2013), they received an email from a Thomson Reuters account manager, stating that an announcement would be made at the November 2013 Charleston Conference describing a new Web of Science and Google Scholar collaboration. Another email from Elsevier brought news that the publishing company is partnering with Google to share libraries’ ScienceDirect holdings information and make these accessible via searches on Google. Open principles are also in evidence in JSTOR’s initiative, Register & Read, “a new, experimental program to offer free, read-online access to individual scholars and researchers” (JSTOR 2012). If content can be open in limited ways, could not open discovery (i.e., search functionalities) be open in fuller, more robust ways?
If the discovery of scholarly resources were open, libraries would be able to apply limited funds toward content procurement via a blend of free- and fee-based systems. In return, libraries could test database and discovery tool utility and provide critical feedback for various discovery implementations via evidence-based practices. In this way, libraries and the commercial sector could engage in collaborative partnerships to promote open discovery while harvesting return on investment for both parties.
This chapter has surveyed best practices and emerging considerations for evaluating and assessing subscription databases through the examination of key content- and platform-centered functions vital for transformative discovery. Rapidly expanding global networks and exponential growth of data urge a questioning of recent library and corporate strategies with respect to databases and the systems by which they are connected. These decisions center around the suite of research tools offered to library users. Data and information resources need to reside in an intelligent ecosystem that incorporates standardized metadata and effective platforms to enable users to meaningfully mine information and manage retrieval sets (Dempsey 2012; Lewis 2013). Scholars and students should be able to easily navigate and master this complex environment. The task facing libraries today is to identify the information systems and services that are best designed to facilitate transformative discovery.
Financially sustainable solutions also need to be part of the decision-making process. Tensions surrounding libraries’ abilities to seek effective, economically sustainable information systems have not lessened. Balancing budgets and crafting collections to meet user needs in a 24/7 information-now economy require deeper, more collaborative partnerships between libraries and the commercial sector. More standardization, less duplicative system intermediation, and more open discovery systems and databases have the potential to create deeper, transformative discovery for all.
Writing more than two decades ago, George Machovec urged libraries to “be aggressive in embracing technological alternatives for access to information.” Today these words remain a challenging call for change. As Machovec foresaw, the challenges and opportunities outlined in this chapter call for a rethinking of “traditional thinking, traditional organizational structures and traditional funding patterns” (1991, 2).
1 The National Information Standards Organization (NISO) has created a standard for the construction of thesauri. For more information see ANSI/NISO Z39.19–2005 (R2010) Guidelines for the Construction, Format, and Management of Monolingual Controlled Vocabularies ( ) and Project ISO 25964 Thesauri and Interoperability with Other Vocabularies ( ).
2 For further reading on transformations in scholarly communications and researcher workflows, see Rutner and Schonfeld (2012); Swan (2012); Palmer, Teffeau, and Pirmann (2009); University of Minnesota Libraries (2006); Meho and Tibbo (2003); and Brockman et al. (2001).
3 For a discussion of barriers to interoperability, see Uhlir (2012) and Hepfer and McElroy (2004).
4 Tim Berners-Lee (2010) sees linked data referencing and relating specific information via functional uniform resource identifiers (URIs) as the next logical steps in fostering intelligent design on the Web.
5 The issue of disambiguation of names is discussed by Fagan (2012, 72–74).
6 For additional information on ORCID, consult the ORCID Web site ( ). ORCID follows the ISO 27729 International Standard Name Identifier ( ) conventions. This registry is similar in function to the Library of Congress Name Authority File (LCNAF) in fostering the standardization of names of persons ( ).
7 For additional information on the UMLS, consult the UMLS Web site ( ).
8 There are other encouraging signs of movement in this direction, including, for example, open searching in Science Direct; open topic collections in SPIE Digital Library ( ); and Oxford Reference Online’s Index Underbar ( ), described as a “free search and discovery service, which shows links to related content from all Oxford University Press online content.”
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Print collections in academic libraries are an interesting phenomenon. Traditionally, they have contained the books, journals, media, maps, and reports that support the teaching and research in the various disciplines of the college or university—providing faculty and students with information to guide and support their intellectual efforts. For generations—and in some cases, for centuries—academic library collections have been painstakingly built to accumulate the knowledge needed within the disciplines served by the parent institution. Academic libraries have continuously purchased, organized, and made available the resources required of and requested by the academic community that the library served. Over time, collections grew larger and larger, building an accumulated knowledge base for everyone working, studying, and learning at the institution. When information existed entirely in print formats, people came to the library because that is where the scholarly information was located. Over time collections grew as new materials were added, often reaching into the millions—and in some cases, tens of millions—of volumes. Growth was good and rarely was anything removed from academic library collections.
Libraries began to be evaluated and rated by the sizes of their collections. The more volumes a library had, the better it must be. Volumes were easy to count and more was always better. Bigger collections by their very definition contained more information than smaller collections. Growth was viewed as the objective and weeding was rarely done. Collection development was associated with collection building, constantly accumulating and never deleting.
Starting in the early 1990s, the nature of academic library collections changed forever. The introduction of networked electronic resources provided academic libraries—and more importantly, academic library users—with access to information at an unprecedented level. The astronomical growth of the Internet provided students and researchers with instant access to information wherever they were located and whenever it was needed, not just from print resources in the library when it was open. When the World Wide Web was created, one of its primary objectives was to allow scholars to share information across borders regardless of geographic location. In fact, some of the first documents added to the Web were preprints and documents in physics. The idea of constructing a web of scholarly information was part of the impetus for building the Internet as an open platform rather than as a proprietary network. Clearly, this model was a success.
Although commercial and personal interests quickly discovered the Internet and its power for marketing and communications—resulting in most of the information on the Internet being far from scholarly—there is in fact a tremendous amount of valuable research information. Any search of Google Scholar brings up a huge amount of material on just about any subject area. Today, researchers turn to the Internet as their source of first resort for most of their research needs. Library collections are consulted only when desired information is not readily available online.
As subscription databases and electronic journals became the preferred format for scholarly information, use of the equivalent print resources declined dramatically. Yes, a few patrons—primarily older faculty members—would still come into the library and consult the print volumes, but most usage of these resources moved online. Circulation figures in academic libraries declined while database statistics skyrocketed. In the 20 years since the World Wide Web was introduced, we have seen a true revolution in the way that scholars access information. As a result of this revolution, print collections have become less relevant—and it has become time to reduce the size. Yes, it is time to weed academic library print collections.
Although the weeding of academic library collections sounds like a simple concept, there can be many misconceptions about the process due to varying understandings of the nature of higher education and of libraries. For the sake of this chapter, the following definitions apply.
Academic institutions are schools, colleges, and universities that grant degrees above the secondary level. These include community colleges, four-year liberal arts colleges, universities with graduate programs at the master’s and doctoral levels, trade schools, and some specialized educational institutions. Academic institutions may be public or private, nonprofit or for-profit.
Academic libraries are the libraries that serve students, faculty, and researchers in specific academic institutions. Library collections are the accumulated information resources selected and organized by library staff, which are made publicly available to all users of the library. Collections contain materials, including books, journals, databases, sound recordings, video recordings, microforms, and archival materials, in a wide range of formats. They do not include materials on the open Web or information that is restricted to only a few users, such as teaching materials developed by faculty for specific courses or student research papers. Most materials in a library collection may have been purchased or licensed specifically for that purpose. Others may be deposited by government agencies, gifts from users, or freely available electronic resources.
Most academic library collections contain a variety of subcollections that contain specialized resources. These materials may be of interest to a particular campus community (departmental library), serve a specific purpose (course reserves), or play a role in preservation (archives). Some subcollections are housed in different physical locations, such as departmental libraries based on subject area (law library, medical library, or business library) or educational level (undergraduate library or graduate library). Other subcollections may be groupings of types of materials within a library (reference collection, periodicals collection, or music collection). The term library collection refers to the contents of the entire library, including all subcollections regardless of their physical location.
Print collections are the analog collections traditionally found in libraries. Print collections include printed books and journals, as well as maps, government documents, music, videos, and microforms. The term print is used because it represents the largest component of analog library collections, but in the context of this chapter it is intended to represent all physical formats included in the library collection.
Weeding is the process of permanently removing materials from print library collections. Other terms often used for weeding include deaccession, deselection, deacquisition, and discarding. When materials are weeded, they no longer remain in any part of the library collection. The transfer of materials between subcollections is not weeding because the material remains a part of the overall library collection. Similarly, materials that are discarded because they are damaged or lost by users are not part of the weeding process. Weeding is the intentional decision that specific items will no longer be included in any part of the library collection.
While academic libraries obviously have much in common, each one is unique and no two academic library collections are identical. Each collection has been built and maintained, usually over a period of many years, to match the needs of the college or university that the library serves. Variations in subject disciplines, degree programs, preferred formats for materials, historical retention rates, languages used, and other factors make each academic collection unique. Weeding must always take into account the local needs of the institution.
However, while each collection is unique, there are also many similarities among the various types of academic libraries. Most academic libraries fall into one of the following categories.
Comprehensive collections are those that attempt to obtain and preserve as much information on as many subjects as possible. Typically containing millions of volumes, these libraries have become vast intellectual warehouses of published scholarly information. They tend to serve large, comprehensive universities that offer undergraduate and graduate degrees in a vast array of disciplines. Comprehensive collections range in size from truly massive collections at institutions such as Harvard, Yale, Illinois, and the University of Toronto to those that are somewhat smaller (yet equally impressive) at institutions such as Georgia Tech, Colorado State, SUNY-Albany, and the University of Guelph. Comprehensive collections tend to be international in scope, collecting all of the research in the subject areas of interest regardless of the nation of origin.
Comprehensive collections have long been viewed as the pinnacles of academic library collections. Throughout the 20th century, the building of such collections was the primary goal of many academic libraries. At a time when print collections were the primary means of distribution and preservation of scholarly information, such collections were considered to be the measure of a university’s commitment to scholarship. Comprehensive collections contain not only the primary books and journals on the disciplines that they collect, but also the more obscure resources used by scholars in those areas. The larger the collection, the greater the chance that the collection would contain information needed by researchers at the university. From a purely mathematical perspective, large is always better—it is twice as likely that a collection of 10 million volumes will have what any researcher wants as one of five million volumes. In that sense, comprehensive collections have long been the poster children for academic libraries. In comprehensive libraries, weeding has traditionally not been a common practice or priority. Since weeding reduces the number of volumes available, it is done very sparingly in comprehensive collections.
Libraries with comprehensive collections are also the laboratories for much of the research in the field of librarianship. Academic librarians frequently look to their peers at institutions with comprehensive collections for direction. Comprehensive collection libraries not only have more materials, but they usually have more staff and more funding than other academic libraries. They also are part of institutions with a deep research culture that encourages the assessment of collections, practices, and service. In addition, the faculty and students that comprehensive collections serve are often the leading researchers in their fields, publishing at a higher rate and bringing in more grant funding than faculty and students at other institutions. The ARL, whose membership includes most such libraries, was created to serve as an organization to discuss and to research the issues affecting libraries with comprehensive collections.
Although comprehensive collection status may have long been the aspirational goal within academic librarianship, it has rarely been achieved. While there is no firm definition for such libraries and any line of demarcation between comprehensive and other types of collections will be decidedly gray, there simply are not many academic libraries that have reached comprehensive collection status. Of the over 4,000 academic libraries in the United States and Canada, fewer than 150 would be considered comprehensive if the figure of 2 million volumes is used as the threshold collection size for this type of library. Furthermore, of these 150 libraries less than one-third contain over 5 million volumes and only about a dozen have collections of over 10 million volumes. Although these libraries are a tremendous resource for the scholarly community, they represent only a very small percentage of the total number of academic libraries.
Based on size, the next largest level of academic library collection is the research collection. Defining research collections as containing between approximately 500,000 and 2 million volumes, most academic libraries at colleges and universities that grant graduate degrees fall into this category. An estimated 1,000 academic libraries would be considered research collections, which represent approximately 25 percent of all academic libraries in the United States and Canada. Libraries at campuses such as James Madison, Bowling Green, Northern Illinois, and San Jose State are typical of research-level library collections.
Research collections usually provide a strong breadth of coverage of the disciplines taught at the college or university, but do not have the depth of comprehensive library collections. Research collections were built to meet the research needs of most faculty and students, but they also rely on other libraries for more esoteric materials. Research collections may be comprehensive in a few selected subject fields, but not in all areas taught at the university. Research collections are more selective than their comprehensive cousins, containing the primary books and the most significant journals in each discipline but not the more esoteric publications found in comprehensive collections. Research collections tend to be geographically focused, collecting primarily North American publications and have fewer European, Asian, and third-world materials.
As a result of their more limited scope, weeding is more common in libraries with research collections than those with comprehensive collections. Since librarians who build research collections are not attempting to provide everything in the subject fields that they collect, they are more likely to discard out-of-date or little-used materials. Research collections will grow in size over time, but not as rapidly as comprehensive collections.
The third level on the scale of academic library collections—and the level that includes the most total institutions—is the teaching collection. Teaching collections support colleges and universities whose primary focus is the instruction of students rather than research by faculty. Many four-year colleges and almost all community colleges fall into this segment of the academic library universe. Teaching collections are typically fewer than 500,000 volumes in size.
Teaching collections contain only the most important books and primary scholarly journals in the subject areas taught at the college or university. They rarely contain the secondary journals or more esoteric materials found in research and comprehensive collections. Budgets and staffing are typically much smaller than those of research and comprehensive collections.
Since the goal in teaching collections is to support the needs of students, weeding is much more common in teaching collections than in research or comprehensive collections. Teaching collections focus on current materials—those that are out of date are frequently discarded. Weeding is very much a part of collection development in teaching collections.
Some academic institutions focus on only one subject field. These are not comprehensive colleges teaching students in a wide range of disciplines, but are independent educational institutions teaching a single discipline. These academic institutions are not colleges or institutes that are part of a larger university, but are independent educational institutions. Libraries supporting these institutions might collect at the research or even the comprehensive level, but their collections only contain materials in a single discipline. Institutions that fall into this category include independent law and medical schools, seminaries, art institutes, music conservatories, and some trade schools. Depending on the research interests of the institution and its faculty, the library may or may not support research-level collections. Weeding needs of these academic libraries will vary tremendously, but all will most likely be involved in weeding at some level.
Over the past two decades, a new type of academic institution has evolved—the online virtual college or university. These institutions have very quickly taken a prominent place in North American education. They teach hundreds of thousands of students and grant thousands of degrees, many of which are accredited by the same accrediting agencies that serve more traditional residential institutions. The success of National University, the University of Phoenix, Kaplan College, and a host of other for-profit educational institutions is forcing academia to revise how education is delivered to students—and how libraries support those students.
Libraries at these institutions are almost entirely virtual, existing almost exclusively in the electronic world. Students in these programs primarily use electronic resources provided by the host institution. While some of these virtual colleges do have libraries with print collections, those collections tend to be housed far from the students that the institution teaches. Material is delivered to the students on demand—or those students go to academic or public libraries in the area where they live. Since libraries at these virtual institutions have very limited print collections, weeding of those collections is almost irrelevant. While this chapter is aimed at libraries with print collections, the fast rise and increasing market share of this new type of academic institution is forcing academic librarians in more traditional settings to rethink the role of print collections—and is a symptom of the diminished need for such collections in all types of academic libraries. In that sense, these new online institutions will have a strong influence on weeding in academic library collections.
Most academic libraries are members of one or more resource sharing systems that allow users to borrow materials directly from other member libraries. Ohiolink, I-Share (Illinois), and Link+ (California and Nevada) are all examples of this type of resource sharing network. Each system allows users to search, find, and request materials directly from other libraries—effectively expanding the local collection to include the materials in the collections of all other system members. Collectively, the network raises the collection level of each of its members—often up to the size and scope of a comprehensive collection. The rapid availability of materials from other libraries reduces the pressure of each member to purchase—and especially to retain—materials of marginal local value. In other words, it frees each member to weed the local collection because it knows that copies will be available through the resource sharing network. The network becomes an insurance policy that allows access to these materials—even when they are no longer available in the local collection.
In addition to resource sharing programs, other cooperative collection arrangements make materials available to academic libraries. The Center for Research Libraries (CRL) in Chicago is one of the oldest cooperative collections and it serves as a global repository for low-use academic research materials. Members—most of whom are institutions with comprehensive or research-level collections—are able to deposit collections and to freely borrow any materials in the collection. Much of what is held at CRL is unique research material that is not readily available from other sources. Even nonmember libraries may borrow materials on a fee-based basis.
On a more regional or local basis, several library networks have created shared storage facilities for their members. The University of California, the Five Colleges Consortium (Massachusetts), PASCAL (Colorado), and the Tri-Universities Group (Ontario) are all examples of shared storage facilities that provide materials freely to their members. Members may submit items to the facility and researchers may request materials from the facility, regardless of which institutions contributed it. The collection of the consortium provides expanded access for each of its members, effectively expanding the collection size of all participating libraries.
Ideally, weeding is done on an ongoing basis to keep academic library collections fresh and relevant for the community that the library serves. However, in practice, weeding is usually a low-priority activity in most academic libraries. Staff shortages, multiple assignments, and time-critical activities in other areas of the library (e.g., instruction sessions, reference duties, committee meetings, and administrative activities) leave weeding as a low-priority project for most academic libraries. While weeding is viewed by most academic librarians as a common good, it is usually a process that is relegated to a secondary or tertiary priority in actual practice. However, three common scenarios where weeding becomes a higher priority in academic libraries arise.
Academic libraries do weed collections on an ongoing basis, and most frequently it is due to retention policy decisions. Retention policies are predetermined lengths of time that a library will keep a specific item or type of item. Some journals and serials have a short lifetime in which they are useful, in which case libraries will decide to keep only a designated timeframe, such as only the current year or only the most recent three years. As new issues arrive, the older ones are replaced. Similarly, some reference works are often weeded based on retention policy. With some types of reference works, including almanacs and directories, libraries retain only the most recent volume. While comprehensive collections may wish to keep back volumes for historical purposes, most research and teaching libraries weed those volumes as a matter of course. Weeding due to policy decisions is a standard practice in teaching collections, is common in research collections, and is used selectively in comprehensive collections.
In practice, the motivating factor most responsible for weeding in an academic library collection is the space in which the collection is stored. Nothing motivates academic librarians to weed their collections more than the need to shift or move thousands of physical volumes. The larger the collection, the more important this aspect becomes in the decision-making process. Libraries that are under renovation, building an addition, changing locations, integrating other collections, moving into an entirely new space, or simply running out of room in existing shelf space are suddenly forced into emergency weeding projects. Almost every academic library that is moving into new or renovated space weeds the collection before the move is done. Unfortunately, many do not continue to weed the collection until the next shift is needed. This motivator applies to any kind of academic library collection.
Academic library collections contain multiple formats of materials, not just print on paper. And while print remains a viable format for library materials, not all formats that were used in the past are worth retaining. Academic libraries contain many older formats in their collections, including VHS tapes, floppy disks, vinyl records, and a variety of microforms. As those formats get superseded by newer and better equivalents, libraries must decide to keep, weed, or transfer the information that they contain. Comprehensive collections may try to transfer or retain the content, but research and teaching collections are likely to weed those materials from the collection. As formats become obsolete, materials in those formats should be weeded.
Deciding whether to retain or discard any individual volume or title is often the result of an educated guess by the librarian—a guess that is based on that librarian’s knowledge of the contents of the collection, research habits of its users, and overall knowledge of the discipline. However, rather than relying entirely on that knowledge, librarians have specific usage data available to help make weeding decisions scientifically. Circulation systems all retain checkout data for individual items, allowing librarians to see what has been checked out and what has not. For circulating collections, this information is invaluable in determining whether library users value the item in question. The more that an item is used, the less likely it will be weeded. By consulting usage data for any item being considered for weeding, the librarian is able to verify that it is—or is not—something that is likely to be requested by future users.
Unfortunately, not all items in an academic library circulate. Reference sources, journals, music, and microfilm are all components of most academic library collections—and do not circulate in most libraries. Fortunately, several methods are available for collecting usage data for these collections. Most circulation systems also have a separate means for capturing in-house library use. These systems allow the staff to scan items before they are re-shelved, tallying the number of times that they have been off the shelf. Collecting this data over a period of time will provide the librarian with a snapshot of collection use. While there is staff time required on a daily basis to scan materials before they are returned to the shelf, the data gathered allows the librarian to understand what aspects of the collection are being used.
While using the circulation system is the most effective way to gather use data, several other methods are also available. Perhaps the most time-honored method is to simply mark the books that get used. This can be done by placing a flag in the book, pasting a dot on the spine, or making a physical mark on the volume. The flags, marks, or dots provide a visual clue that the volume has been used. Some libraries that use this method mark each book only once, whereas others add multiple marks to show frequency of use. Since flags or stickers can disappear, this method is less accurate than counting use by the circulation system. However, it provides the staff with an indication of which materials are being used.
Another simple method for collecting use data is to simply write down or copy the call number of materials being used. This works best for collections with low use, but it can be used in many different situations. Entering that data into a spreadsheet or word-processing file allows the librarian to manipulate the data as desired. Comparing the data on the materials used to the entire collection allows the librarian to determine what should be weeded. No matter what method is used to collect data, it is important to use all available data when weeding. By checking the usage data, librarians are less likely to discard something that a faculty member or researcher will want in the future.
Since weeding involves the permanent removal of materials from the library collection, it must be taken very seriously. Once an item is weeded and removed from the collection, it can be very difficult to replace if that weeding decision needs to be reversed. Ideally, libraries develop a process for weeding that includes checks and balances to ensure that only items that are no longer necessary are removed. An ideal weeding process looks something like those described in the following.
A librarian or staff member goes to the collection area being weeded and reviews the materials on the shelf, one at a time. That individual searches for out-of-date, superseded, or superfluous materials and selects items for review. Those materials are either pulled from the shelves or flagged for identification later. Shelf review is the first critical step in the weeding process because it allows the staff to see all materials in an area in the context of the collection as a whole.
Next, the usage data for each potentially weeded item is determined. While most potentially weeded items will show low usage (which is very often why they are being considered for weeding), a few will demonstrate high or moderate levels of use. Staff then determine if those materials that are being or have been used should remain in consideration for weeding. In some cases, materials that demonstrate use will be retained in the collection—in others they will still be weeded.
It is usually a good idea to check to see if materials being weeded are readily available online or from any resource sharing partners. The insurance policy provided by resource sharing allows libraries a safety blanket when removing materials from their own collections. If an item can easily be obtained from other libraries, it can be safely weeded. If it is not available—or not available easily—from other sources, the library might decide to retain it even though it has low use.
In most cases, weeded materials will not be replaced. However, in some cases items will show high use because there are not newer or more appropriate materials available in the collection. In this case, staff may look for newer or better sources to replace the items being weeded. In this sense, weeding not only eliminates old and inappropriate materials from the library collection but also contributes to the selection of up-to-date and appropriate materials to replace them.
Ideally, a staff person other than the one making the initial decision should look at all of the items selected for weeding before they are discarded. This second-level review serves as a balance to ensure that items that might be of future use are not discarded. Since materials that are weeded are usually gone forever, it is good to have more than one person involved in deciding which materials will actually be weeded.
The process of weeding is definitely an art and not a science. Although weeding should be approached scientifically, taking into account a variety of factors related to each item, the ultimate decision whether to retain or weed any given item from the collection can be a very difficult one to make. Retention is always the easier choice, but weeding requires that staff make the tough decision to eliminate materials from the collection. Knowing what else is available in the collection, what is available through resource sharing, and what library users may wish to consult in the future helps make that decision easier.
Weeding academic library collections is really very simple. The librarian just has to get rid of the materials that no one wants, and keep those that someone does want—or that they will want in the future. However, failing in the skill to read the minds of the thousands of students and faculty members who use the library—and lacking the ability to travel forward in time to see what future users will be interested in—the librarian must weed based on educated guesswork. This can paralyze some librarians and is one reason that weeding often is not conducted in academic libraries. Barring space considerations or other incentives to weed the collection, it is often easier to just leave materials on the shelf than to try and figure out what should be weeded. This is how many research and most comprehensive collections are built—with the addition of new materials and very little withdrawal of older volumes. However, even in the most weeding-averse situations, there are certain categories of materials that should definitely be considered for weeding, which include the following.
Back volumes of journals comprise a large segment of just about every academic library collection. Once considered the best way to preserve paper journals, bound volumes have created large back files of journals in most academic libraries. When print was the primary format for the distribution of journals, these volumes received a lot of usage. However, now that virtually all academic journals exist almost exclusively online, people do not use bound volumes as much—if at all. Whenever a journal is available online, students and faculty go there instead of coming to the library to find the print equivalent. Library users have voted with their feet and have demonstrated that online is the preferred format for almost every single journal title. As a result, academic libraries contain large collections of bound volumes that receive very little use. These volumes are prime targets for weeding.
When e-journals first appeared, there was much concern about whether this format would survive in the long run. Not only have they survived, but they have almost completely supplanted paper. By buying collections from publishers and aggregators, most academic libraries now provide their users with access to more journals today than at any time in their history. Not only are current issues available online, but most vendors also provide a significant and sometimes complete back file. JSTOR, Project Muse, professional organizations (including the American Chemical Society, IEEE, and American Institute of Physics), and many major publishers provide stable platforms for journals. As a result, most such volumes are no longer needed in print in the library. Weeding those volumes will free up space with no loss of access to the information that they contain.
If it is rare for users to touch print journals, it is almost unheard of for them to consult microfilm. Microfilm has always been a preservation format and not a user format. Despite advances in technologies for reading and copying from microfilm, this is the format of last resort for users and librarians. If a journal is available in any other format—and especially if it is online—weed the microfilm version.
As the use of print collections has decreased, so has the need for multiple copies of any given title or volume. Whereas at one time academic libraries used to purchase multiple copies of a given title, such as supporting collections in different locations on campus or to support multiple users for course reserves, today it is very rare to purchase multiple copies. And for anything available in electronic format, one copy serves all students and faculty on campus. Even for materials available only in print, demand has dropped to the point that one copy may usually be shared by all interested users. Many academic libraries—especially comprehensive and research libraries—have retained multiple copies of materials purchased decades ago. By keeping one copy and discarding all of the duplicates, the collection will lose no access to information while still freeing space for future growth.
Many academic libraries—especially comprehensive and research collections—retain older editions of works when a new edition is purchased. The idea behind this practice is to allow researchers to see the changes in the title over time. In practice, students and most faculty prefer the current edition of any title and very few consult the older versions. Usage data can verify this fact at any given library, but most would build better collections by weeding older editions of current titles.
Many libraries keep older books on every subject field that they cover in order to provide a historical perspective for that discipline. While this works well in the arts and humanities, it may actually be a dangerous practice in some other subject fields. Old books on medicine, law, science, or business may mislead any library users who expect the collection to provide accurate and current information. Unless a library is interested in the history of a discipline, old materials in that discipline should be weeded. Each library should identify the subject areas that it wants to keep current—and not only buy new materials in those subjects, but also make sure that older volumes are weeded.
Even more important than knowing what to weed is knowing what not to weed. Every academic library contains unique materials that are not available elsewhere and that need to be retained in the collection. These materials include those that are related to the history of the institution, such as course catalogs, yearbooks, and campus newspapers; those that document the operations of the institution, such as committee meeting minutes, departmental and college newsletters, sports programs, and reports on new initiatives and degree programs; and those that represent the intellectual and creative output of the institution, such as faculty research papers, books written by campus researchers, data sets generated by faculty research projects, images of student art exhibits, and recordings of music performances or theater productions. These materials are unique to each academic institution and would not be available anywhere if they were removed from the library collection.
In the past, libraries were measured by the range and depth of the collection, usually by covering as many subject disciplines as possible. The result was that these collections often duplicated those at other libraries collecting at the same level. The same journals and books on English literature, psychology, or chemistry could be found in any college or university library that supported a teaching, research, or comprehensive collection in those fields. In the future, academic library collections will be measured by how they preserve—and promote—the unique materials generated by the college or university. How well we collect and digitize those resources will determine how well academic libraries will serve their campuses in the future.
While the process of weeding may be difficult, it is the politics of weeding that can sometimes make it unbearable. Weeding can bring out very strong emotions from library staff and from campus constituents, especially faculty. It may not matter that no one has looked at a given book for over 30 years. When faculty see that weeding is in process and that books have been selected for removal, cries will go out across campus: OMG—the library is throwing out the books!
That reaction is common in academia—and shows how deeply faculty and researchers care about the library and its role as a source of scholarly information. Library administrators must be ready to explain and defend the process of weeding and what it means for faculty, students, and the collection. Outcry over weeding is really a public relations problem and not a weeding problem, but if managed poorly it can stop the weeding process entirely. Some solutions that will minimize the political fallout from weeding the collection include the following.
Before news of weeding reaches the rest of the campus, make sure that everyone in the library understands the weeding program and its implications. In most cases frontline library staff are the people doing the weeding and they need to know the reasons behind and scope of the project. They will also be the first to encounter faculty from outside the library who have questions about the process. If all library staff can explain the rationale for and the process of weeding, they will be able to defuse much political fallout before it rises to critical levels. At a minimum, make sure that the staff know who to refer those questions to in collection development or library administration so that an accurate and consistent message is provided to all who ask.
Be proactive in getting the message out to the campus by publicizing any large weeding project. Identify a message that explains why you are removing materials from the collection and use campus communication channels to let people know about it. If appropriate, use campus newsletters, the college newspaper, email listservs, and other communication media that are commonly used to notify campus constituencies. Most political fallout comes from people who are surprised by weeding—and that surprise leads to suspicion that the library is conducting nefarious activities. Telling the campus in advance minimizes this problem.
Make sure that the administrative unit that the library reports to knows about the weeding project and its objectives. It is very likely that an upset faculty member will communicate directly with the president or provost of the university—and they are the last people that the library administration will want to upset. Keeping the higher administration in the loop will minimize political damage at that level.
The past two decades have seen a dramatic shift in how academic library collections are used. Academic journals—which in many ways are the quintessential scholarly publications, containing peer-reviewed articles presenting the results of original research—have shifted almost completely from print to electronic formats. Scholarly books are still published in print, but more and more are also available as eBooks. Government documents and many technical reports are available freely online. Music and video is being streamed and maps are created globally by Google as well as personally on GPS devices. The materials that have traditionally been major components of academic library collections—in some cases for centuries—are all moving away from physical formats and becoming electronic.
Students, faculty, and researchers are following the lead of those materials and are looking first to online resources, and only when not readily available online are they turning to traditional library collections. Our physical materials are seeing decreased use and possibly decreased relevance. More and more often we are using shared collection facilities and resource sharing networks to obtain physical materials for our users. Because of the shift to electronic and shared resources, academic libraries no longer need to worry about retaining physical copies in their local collections.
Academic libraries are caught in this squeeze of shifting resources and traditional expectations. At the same time that more information is available to more researchers than at any time in history, the relevance of physical library collections is declining. Yet most libraries continue to build strong physical collections. While it will be years before physical collections are irrelevant—if that ever happens—those physical collections are clearly less critical to today’s educational environment. Ranking libraries by the size of their collection has no meaning when most of the information that students, faculty, and researchers are looking for is available online.
As the importance of print collections goes down, the need for weeding goes up. There is less of a need to retain print materials in library collections when that same information can be obtained online or through a resource sharing program. Over the next several decades print library collections will get smaller, not larger. Comprehensive collections may continue to collect print materials and grow, but teaching and research-level collections will probably become smaller. Size will no longer matter and new measures of collection effectiveness will be developed. And weeding will play a large part in ensuring that libraries provide the best possible collections for the institutions that they serve.
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Crosetto, Alice, Laura Kinner, and Lucy Duhon. 2008. “Assessment in a Tight Time Frame: Using Readily Available Data to Evaluate Your Collection.” Collection Management 33: 29–50.
Dubicki, Eleonora. 2008. “Weeding: Facing the Fears.” Collection Building 27: 132–35.
Farber, Evan Ira. 1997. “Books Not for College Libraries.” Library Journal 122: 44.
Gore, Daniel, et al. 1975. “Zero Growth: When Is NOT-Enough Enough? A Symposium.” Journal of Academic Librarianship 1: 5–11.
Handis, Michael W. 2007. “Practical Advice for Weeding in Small Academic Libraries.” Collection Building 26: 84–87.
Herzog, Susan. 2004. “Collection Development Challenges for the 21st Century Academic Librarian.” Acquisitions Librarian 16: 149–162.
Lawrence, G. S. 1981. “Cost Model for Storage and Weeding Programs.” College & Research Libraries 42: 139–47.
Lucker, J. K., and S. J. Owens. 1986. “Weeding Collections in an Academic Library System: MIT (Massachusetts Institute of Technology).” Science & Technology Libraries 6: 11–24.
Lugg, Rick, and Ruth Fischer. 2008. “Future Tense—The Disapproval Plan: Rules-Based Weeding & Storage Decisions.” Against the Grain 20: 74–76.
Maskell, Cathy, Jennifer Soutter, and Kristina Oldenburg. 2010. “Collaborative Print Repositories: A Case Study of Library Directors’ Views.” Journal of Academic Librarianship 36: 242–49.
McGowan, Beth. 2011. “Weed, Yes! Discard, No! There May Be a Collection in That Trash!.” Community & Junior College Libraries 17: 87–90.
Phillips, R. 1990. “Weeding the Books at Taylor University.” Christian Librarian 34: 4–6.
Reed, L. L. 1993. “Weeding: A Quantitative and Qualitative Approach.” Library Acquisitions 17: 175–82.
Slote, Stanley J. 1997. Weeding Library Collections: Library Weeding Methods. Englewood, CO: Libraries Unlimited.
Soma, Amy K., and Lisa M. Sjoberg. 2011. “More Than Just Low-Hanging Fruit: A Collaborative Approach to Weeding in Academic Libraries.” Collection Management 36: 17–28.
Thomas, William Joseph, and Daniel L. Shouse. 2012. “Rules of Thumb for Deselecting, Relocating, and Retaining Bound Journals.” Collection Building 31: 92–97.
Tillman, H. N. 1988. “The Politics of Weeding.” Education Libraries 13: 16–19.
William, Mick. 2007. “Weeding the Circulating Collection.” Christian Librarian 50: 59–60.
In building and maintaining library collections, the evaluation of the materials already owned is as important as the selection of new materials. By periodically reviewing what should be retained, discarded, or repurchased, the librarian keeps the collection responsive to patrons’ needs, ensures its vitality and usefulness to the community, and makes room for newer materials. Although materials are selected on the basis of reviews, examination, and subject need, the value of these materials changes over time. Knowledge is not static. Materials become dated because of a change in the facts, conditions, format, or viewpoint reflected in them. The physical condition of books and audiovisual materials also deteriorates over time and with use, thus making them unusable. The collection should also change when the community that uses it is no longer interested in certain subjects, authors, or audiovisual formats. Librarians must recognize that public libraries are not archives.
Weeding becomes even more essential as more physical space in libraries is devoted to meeting rooms, public computers, and technology labs. As parts of the collection such as magazines, reference books, and even best sellers become digital, the print collections may need to be weeded extensively. By weeding these materials, a collection remains fresh and relevant to user needs, or as Ezra Pound (1934) in the ABC of Reading said, “The weeder is supremely needed if the Garden of the Muses is to persist as a garden” (17).
Studies of weeding practices in all types of libraries by Kathleen Joswick and John Stierman (1993), F. W. Lancaster (1993), Stanley Slote (1997), and others show the many benefits of weeding. Some of the most important benefits include the following:
• Relevance—The collection better reflects the community’s needs and interests.
• Reliability—Removing out-of-date and unreliable information ensures patrons get accurate information.
• Currency—Information is up to date.
• Value of materials—Collections must reflect changing communities and tastes.
• Appeal—Removing worn and unattractive materials makes the collection physically appealing to patrons.
• Circulation or turnover rate—Circulation increases because patrons can more easily browse less-crowded shelves and turnover rates goes up.
• Space—Weeding unattractive, underused, and out-of-date materials makes room for new materials and gives the librarian the room to promote materials.
• Awareness—Staff who weed understand what is used, what is missing, what is needed, and what gaps are in the collection.
• Balance—Without weeding, new materials can be overwhelmed by older titles, and important older relevant works are often lost in the collection.
• Feedback—Weeding and evaluation of the collection lets librarians give continuous feedback to superiors who can budget for the long-range needs of the collection (Jacob 2001).
Despite the benefits of weeding, many librarians find weeding or deselection difficult to do. Librarians look at books as the transmitters of knowledge and are upset by the idea of removing a carefully chosen book. There is also fear of being called a book burner or destroyer of knowledge by patrons or colleagues. Other librarians fear they will make a mistake and weed a book someone may want. Librarians also resist weeding as they equate quantity with quality because official emphasis in the library world is often based on the collection size. Finally, given all the other pressures of work, there never seems to be the time to weed. When collections have not been weeded in many years, the task of weeding can seem daunting. Because weeding may not be discussed in library school, many librarians do not know where or how to begin the task.
Before starting to weed, be sure you understand your library’s mission and goals and the community being served. By looking at the library’s mission statement and collection development plan, you can see how the collection should be developed and set appropriate guidelines. By using reports, statistics, and observation, you will understand who lives in the community, who is and is not using the library, and how the community has changed or is changing. Knowing the community allows you to develop collection goals and make weeding decisions that enhance the collection. Next, using reports from your integrated library system (ILS) and special weeding programs will help determine what should be weeded, kept, or replaced. Looking at reports on usage statistics, turnover rates of subject areas, dusty book reports, lost book lists, interlibrary requests, and publication dates of subjects will help determine what to weed. Then walk the shelves to see the condition of the materials and what areas need weeding the most. Examine placement of the materials and signage to understand if materials are not circulating due to one or more of the following factors: They are not visible to patrons; they are difficult to reach or remove from overcrowded shelves; or they are in poor physical condition. Finally, be aware of the schools, book groups, and community organizations that the library serves and understand the types of materials and subjects these constituencies need, as the library may need to shift resources from print materials to eBooks, databases, and audiovisual formats and from one subject area to others to better serve them.
After you gather all of this information about the collection, you will want to enlist the support of the administration, and make staff aware of the information you have gathered so that they too understand and support the weeding project. It is also important to talk to the technical services department staff to understand how many books they can process for deselection each week, and how quickly they can reorder needed replacements, so the staff are not overwhelmed. Have the technical services staff set up clear guidelines on what books can and should be repaired as it often costs more to repair a book than to buy a replacement. With all of this knowledge, you can then start to set the guidelines for weeding since no single weeding standard can be used for each subject and format in the library.
Items may be weeded for condition, use, or content. To weed by condition, check the physical condition of the book. Weed books that have yellow, brittle, torn, marked, stained, or missing pages. Damaged books or books with broken bindings and paperbacks with tattered covers should also be removed from the collection. Unattractive extra copies of books that are no longer in high demand should be weeded. Damaged books that no longer have current information or are earlier editions of titles should also be removed. If a book still circulates, and is in good condition except for a broken spine, it may be sent to the bindery. Fiction books still relevant to the collection but in poor condition should be replaced with new copies, in paperback if the hardcover is no longer in print. For nonfiction books, replace the book with a new copy or with a similar book on the same topic.
Books may also be weeded for lack of use. Studies have shown that the way a book has circulated in the past may indicate the way it will circulate in the future. To help determine use, computer systems can generate reports, including the last date a book circulated and the number of times it circulated. Pick a date, such as within the past five years, and get a report of those titles that have not circulated in that time period. The drawback to only using circulation records is they cannot tell you whether the book was used in-house. Patrons may copy material from a book or read it in the library. Stanley Slote (1997) recommends setting up a system to mark books found on tables before they are re-shelved, so in-house use will also be recognized. This system also helps determine whether to keep reference books. However, the amount of dust on the tops of the books is a big tip-off for showing lack of use.
Determine the appropriate cutoff date. Has the book circulated in the past two years, three years, or five years? Choose the cutoff based on the type of material and the goals for the collection. There may be items that have not circulated that you decide to keep—books on local history, books by local authors, classics, or holiday music. Remember, weeding is a professional judgment; standards should be adjusted to fit the needs of each library and its patrons. Items that still circulate should also be reviewed. Even though a medical book circulates, if it contains out-of-date information, it should be weeded.
Weeding by content resurfaces all the factors that were initially considered in selecting the material. Look at the other books on a subject and decide whether the item still belongs in the collection, whether there are newer, more current titles in the collection, whether there is a newer edition of the book, or more current books available to purchase. Standard lists and bibliographies such as Public Library Core Collection: Nonfiction and Fiction Core Collection (two H. W. Wilson databases available via EBSCO) are available to help in making weeding decisions. Lists of award-winning books are also helpful. Collection development articles in Library Journal include the best books in a given subject area. It is also important to include titles that represent a balance of viewpoints on subjects such as religion or the social sciences.
It is important to weed out-of-date titles, especially in areas such as medicine, science, law, and finance. Weed superseded editions, outdated textbooks, titles with out-of-date language, photographs, or illustrations, and ephemera such as celebrity biographies, as well as duplicate copies of older best sellers, both fiction and nonfiction, and out-of-date study and test guides, and travel books.
Keep books of local history and books by local authors. Retain older editions in areas such as auto repair and appliance repair. Keep classic authors and titles, both fiction and nonfiction. Nonfiction classics include travelogues, history, and science books such as Rachel Carson’s Silent Spring. Replace worn copies of classics with fresh copies.
• Run ILS reports on books that have not circulated, missing books, most circulated titles, and last checkout date, to help in setting up weeding guidelines.
• Set up clear guidelines on the condition of books to be weeded, the dates of inactivity to consider, and what can be mended.
• If necessary, consult subject specialists such as the American Medical Association (AMA) to help decide on what to weed.
• Work with your director to determine how you will explain the weeding project to the public and other staff members.
• Schedule a regular time for staff to do weeding each week. Weed in two-hour periods. Set up a yearly schedule so that the entire collection is weeded once every two to three years.
• Break the collection down into manageable portions. First weed those areas that need immediate attention because they are overcrowded or outdated.
• Have the shelves dusted and put in order before each section is weeded.
• Gather the equipment you will need: a book truck, Post-it notes for labeling books for disposal or repair, notepad and pen, bibliographies you are using as guidelines for what to keep or weed.
• Study the shelves one book at a time and look at the books for the following conditions:
□ Is the information dated, misleading, or inaccurate?
□ Is the book worn, tattered, yellow with age, or marked up? Is the spine damaged?
□ Is this edition superseded by a newer edition or by a much better book on the subject?
□ Is this book on a trivial subject that is no longer popular or requested?
□ Is this a book that has no place in your collection because of lack of community interest, subject matter, or reading level?
• For each book you weed, decide whether it should be discarded or put in a book sale. Destroy books with outdated information such as medical, science, financial, tax, and test books. The AMA recommends that all outdated medical books be destroyed.
• Create displays for high-quality books that have not circulated well, to determine whether exposure will generate use.
• After weeding, shift the books so that each shelf has some empty space at the end. Use this space to market books by placing them front side out.
• Discuss with your director what should be done with weeded materials since every municipality has different rules about public property disposal. If books can be sold, have annual sales or ongoing sale shelves in the library. Other books can be donated to organizations that can use them. Independent book sellers may be willing to purchase weeded titles, depending on the content and condition. Look for recyclers in your area who will take books that need to be destroyed. Do not put discarded books in your dumpsters as patrons may see this and become concerned about the disposition of the books.
• Remember, all mistakes can be corrected; keep repeating to yourself, “I can’t keep it all. I’m not the Library of Congress.”
Theoretically, fiction books may be read and enjoyed years after they were written, and some still are. However, in reality, many fiction books, especially former best sellers, become dated. When an author dies and new titles are no longer being published, his or her books languish on the shelves. Trends also change in fiction. For example, the gentle romantic suspense titles of the past have been replaced by sexier, harder-edged stories, leaving many of the older titles sitting on the shelves. Classic and local authors should be kept. However, remember that a classic in one library may not be a classic in another library. As communities change over time, the collection should change to reflect the current population. Finally, in most libraries there is only so much space, so the fiction collection needs to be weeded to make room for new titles. Plus, weeding makes it easier for patrons to browse the shelves.
First of all, decide on a cutoff date based on the goals set for weeding the collection. Next, run a report from your ILS and pull the books that haven’t circulated after that date. Check to see if the item is part of a series or a trilogy. KDL (Kent District Library) What’s Next () is a great source to determine whether a title is part of a series, trilogy, and so forth. Keep all parts of a series or trilogy; if most of the series doesn’t circulate, remove the entire series or all volumes of a trilogy.
Check Fiction Core Collection or similar resources to see if a title is included and consider keeping it unless the book hasn’t circulated for a number of years, in which case it should be withdrawn.
Check to see if the library owns other copies of the title. If so, keep the nicer-looking copy. If the library owns two copies of an item, check to see if both circulated at the same time. If not, withdraw one of the copies. Also withdraw any missing copies at this time to clean up the database.
While weeding, use the opportunity to replace any unattractive-looking copies of classics as well as genre and literary titles that are still popular with patrons. Also purchase new copies of books that librarians like to include in displays or are favorites likely to be suggested to patrons in readers’ advisory interactions.
Weed mass-market fiction and nonfiction paperbacks rigorously since these are ephemeral titles meant for browsing. Paperback originals in genres such as romance, science fiction, mystery, or fantasy should be weeded using the criteria defined for fiction.
When weeding the nonfiction collection in the public library, the librarian will most often look at the age of the item, the currency of the information, and interest in the topic by the community. What follows is a summary of weeding recommendations in specific nonfiction areas: they should be changed to reflect your collection and community needs.
Encyclopedias and directories—Withdraw encyclopedias five or more years in age. Weed superseded directories.
Philosophy and psychology—Weed self-help and pop psychology titles after the fad is over. Weed psychology books that have outdated ideas on topics such as homosexuality.
Religion—Make sure major trends and issues as well as basic material on most religions are retained.
Sociology—Keep collection balanced with books that present a diversity of lifestyles and a diversity of thought on controversial issues. Keep classic titles if possible. Weed titles that don’t reflect current understanding and treatment of social problems.
Political science—Keep titles on current political topics for five years. Keep citizenship books and test guides current.
Law—Keep only newest edition of legal titles.
Military—Keep histories of the military, wars, and equipment as condition and use dictate.
Education—Keep only the latest edition of test preparation books, directories of colleges, and guides to financial aid. As tests such as the GED and the SAT are totally revised, withdraw all previous editions.
Customs and etiquette—Weed etiquette titles after five years. Keep titles on the history of individual holidays as needed.
Language—Keep English and foreign language dictionaries up to date; weed after 10 years.
Science—Since information in all areas of science (except mathematics) changes rapidly, weed titles 5–10 years old. Be aware of major changes in knowledge and weed aggressively in that instance. Keep math titles with older teaching methods as well as newer methods. Keep classics such as Darwin’s The Origin of Species.
Medicine—Since information in medicine changes rapidly, weed often and rigorously. Groups such as the AMA and American Dental Association recommend keeping titles on health, medicine, nutrition, and diet for three years. Fad diet books can be weeded as interest declines. Alternative medicine titles should also be kept up to date. Destroy all other medical, diet, and nutrition books rather than selling or giving away.
Technology—This area rapidly changes; most materials are outdated in 5–10 years. Keep histories of and repair manuals for cars, as well as titles on TVs and appliances, depending on use and condition.
Gardening—Weed books that are more than 10 years old.
Pets—Weed on condition and use. Keep a variety of breed books.
Cookbooks—Discard older titles as newer ones on the same subject are published. Keep older titles by well-known authors (Julia Child, etc.). Cookbooks on special diets can be weeded after three years.
Home repair—Weed titles 5–10 years old as techniques, products, and taste in design change.
Fashion and grooming—Weed grooming and fashion books older than five years as styles change rapidly.
Art, architecture, and drawing—Weed older titles without color illustrations. Keep representative titles on major artists and movements and titles on local architecture. Keep drawing technique books up to date.
Crafts and interior decoration—Keep basic histories of furniture, antiques, and collectibles. Withdraw superseded editions of price guides. Weed interior decoration titles after 5–10 years as tastes and illustrations change. Patrons may still want older titles on crafts such as knitting, quilting, and crocheting; keep as usage dictates.
Photography—Techniques and equipment change rapidly, so weed most titles after 5–10 years. A few older titles may be kept for patrons having older equipment.
Music—Basic histories, biographies, and songbooks of music date slowly, so weed on condition and use of the title. Titles on popular music date rapidly; weed after popularity fades.
Sports—Weed out-of-date books on sports techniques and coaching, especially look at the equipment used to see if it is current or outdated. Keep books on local and regional sports teams and personalities.
Literature and drama—Many titles continue to be relevant regardless of age so weed judiciously. Depending on the depth of your library collection, anthologies of poetry, plays, speeches, and quotations can be retained unless condition and usage dictate weeding.
Travel and geography—Weed travel guides that are more than three years old. Weed atlases after three years or when names of countries or major boundary changes occur. Consider keeping historical atlases as newer editions may eliminate older maps. Weed outdated and biased views of peoples of the world. Keep classic travel titles if usage warrants.
Genealogy—Retain titles that include current methods and sources for genealogical searching. Directories of sources and organizations should be kept current. Keep family and area histories as long as space allows.
History—Titles may remain useful regardless of age. Weed books with dated views and inaccurate facts. Weed books about countries that are more than 5–10 years old. Weed superseded editions of textbooks and historical works. Maintaining a collection with a variety of interpretations on a period or event is important.
Weed foreign language titles using the guidelines for English language books.
Weed after two to five years unless you are archiving. Use, space needs, and availability online should be considered and may dictate weeding decisions.
Use, currency, and timeliness are key criteria to consider when weeding. With the availability of online titles, it may not be necessary to maintain a large print reference collection. Weed print copies when available online or reclassify to circulating collection if better used by patrons out of the library.
Audiovisual material should also be weeded for condition, use, and content. When weeding audiobooks, keep unabridged copies over abridged copies. Otherwise use the same criteria as weeding fiction or nonfiction books.
Weed extra copies of music CDs if both copies do not circulate simultaneously. A title may not appear on a weeding report since both items may have circulated within the stipulated time period, but one may safely be withdrawn if their circulations do not overlap. Look at all the music CDs owned by a particular group. Some will be more popular than others; weed the less popular ones. Greatest hits CDs are very popular and should be kept.
Take seasonality into account. Christmas music may not have circulated since the last holiday; Martin Luther King, Jr.’s speeches may not have circulated since Martin Luther King Day.
There may be very little to weed in the movie or TV show DVD collection since often virtually everything circulates well, and every TV show is someone’s favorite. Nonfiction DVDs are also very popular. Consider weeding titles that haven’t circulated in a year. Weed nonfiction DVDs using the nonfiction subject guidelines. In some cases, use timeliness and accuracy rather than circulation figures since DVDs will often still circulate even though they may be out of date.
When is it time to weed an entire format, such as VHS tapes or audiotapes? You should weed an entire format when circulation drops off, when you are not able to buy the format anymore, or when you need the space for more popular collections.
Most libraries’ digital collections are relatively new. Staff should use the fiction and nonfiction guidelines when weeding digital collections. Since the library is not devoting physical space to online titles, fiction and popular nonfiction can be retained as long as usage continues. Online reference titles, including databases, should be evaluated for usage and currency and weeded accordingly. Vendors such as Overdrive and Gale can mask titles that are no longer being used or databases that are out of date from your circulation system so that patrons cannot see them, but the library still retains ownership of the items and can reinstate at any time. Removing unused items from the online circulating system makes it easier for patrons to find newer items in the digital collections.
Remember these are just guidelines. They have helped us decide what to pitch and what to keep, but you need to adapt them to your situation. Your goal is to have a good, well-rounded collection that your community will use. Give your books a chance by keeping them in good condition and marketing them to your public. The better your marketing, the more books will circulate and the less you will have to weed. Do remember that you will make mistakes—a week or two months after you’ve pitched a title, someone will come in and ask for it. You can always get a book though interlibrary loan for patrons or go into the out-of-print market where a book in good condition with a dust jacket can often be purchased very reasonably. Don’t berate yourself; we all make mistakes, and we can’t predict when someone will ask for a title. Using the knowledge you have of your community and where to go to find an answer will help you know what to weed. Finally, keep repeating this mantra “I can’t keep it all. I’m not the Library of Congress.”
Jacob, Merle. 2001. “Weeding the Fiction Collection: Or Should I Dump Peyton Place?” Reference & User Services Quarterly 40 (3): 234–39.
Joswick, Kathleen E., and John P. Stierman. 1993. “Systematic Reference Weeding: A Workable Model.” Collection Management 18 (1/2): 103–15.
Lancaster, F. Wilfred. 1993. If You Want to Evaluate Your Library. 2nd ed. Champaign, IL: University of Illinois, Graduate School of Library and Information Science.
Pound, Ezra. 1934. ABC of Reading. New York: New Directions, 1960 (orig. pub. 1934).
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Dilevko, Juris, and Lisa Gottlieb. 2003. “Weed to Achieve: a Fundamental Part of the Public Library Mission?” Library Collections, Acquisitions & Technical Services 27 (1): 73–96.
Gregory, Vicki L. 2011. Collection Development and Management for 21st Century Library Collections: An Introduction. New York: Neal-Schuman.
Greiner, Tony. 2007. Analyzing Library Collection Use with Excel. Chicago: American Library Association.
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Hibner, Holly, and Mary Kelly. 2010. Making a Collection Count: A Holistic Approach to Library Collection Management. Oxford, UK: Chandos Publishing.
Hoffmann, Frank, and Richard J. Wood. 2005. Library Collection Development Policies: Academic, Public and Special Libraries. Lanham, MD: Scarecrow Press.
“Innovation Goes POW: Paperless Online Weeding.” 2011. Library Journal 136 (12): 19–20.
Larson, Jeannette, and Belinda Boon. 2008. CREW: A Weeding Manual for Modern Libraries. Austin, TX: Texas State Library and Archives Commission.
Moroni, Alene E. 2012. “Weeding in a Digital Age.” Library Journal 137 (15): 26–28.
Penniman, Sarah, and Lisa McColl. 2008. “Green Weeding: Promoting Ecofriendly Options for Library Discards.” Library Journal 133 (15): 32–33.
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Vnuk, Rebecca. “Weeding Tips.” Booklist Online (Ongoing series, bimonthly: April 20, 2012, June 15, 2012, August 22, 2012).
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John M. Budd INTRODUCTION Is collection development an unnecessary function in libraries at this time? Are the practicalities of building physical collections handled in ways that no longer require judgment on the parts of professional librarians? If the answers to these questions are yes, is there any need to require a course in collection development or collection management in educational programs? The asking of the questions in this way presume something: the actions of the profession of librarianship influence (if they do not determine) curricular decisions in graduate programs. A different presumption is possible: educational programs decide on curricular matters independently, at least to a considerable extent, from professional practice. The examination here will not address that last issue, save to say that the ideal of all education for professional action should be symbiotic. That is, close attention by professionals to present and future needs of practice and forecasts of thoughtful educators should be essential components of a dialogue. The fruits of that dialogue could inform both practice and programs’ content. In fact, the resolution of educational issues should probably follow Jürgen Habermas’s discourse ethics. Curricular decision making is an area that appears to be readymade for Habermas’s program. For one thing, the deliberations of a faculty must avoid a pitfall observed by Habermas (1993): “our way of using language can no longer serve as an unbiased witness, since it is already informed by an outlook that limits the rational to the sphere of purposive action” (20). It is easy to fall into a trap of accepting the language we use as logical, rational, and objective. It may well be the case, though, that considerations of things such as curricular matters are influenced by deeply ingrained (so ingrained that may no longer be conscious) bias or ideology. An open discussion of the serious matters of curriculum should stand upon some ground rules, including a commitment to open discourse, to fair access by everyone not only to what is said but also to the underlying rationale, and to opportunities to question premises and assumptions. These conditions may sound easy to meet, but the entrenchment of opinion and belief can be so deep as to conceal that which lies below the surface of stances that are advocated by some. Habermas (1993) provides a strategy that can be employed in the course of deliberation on matters of importance: “Every justified truth claim advocated by someone must be capable of being defended with reasons against the objections of possible opponents and must ultimately be able to command the rationally motivated agreement of the community of interpreters as a whole. Here an appeal to some particular community of interpreters will not suffice” [emphasis added] (53). For Habermas, discourse ethics is not possible unless all parties who could have an interest in the outcome have a place at the table. Moreover, discussion must be open, in the sense that no person or group can silence any others. Perhaps the most important element of his idea is that reason must be the governing mechanism. Every stance, every position, every argument requires rational claims that can be evaluated by means of logical analysis that is empty of attack or vituperation. DISCOURSE ETHICS IN ACTION This strategy begs for some elaboration. As a hypothetical exercise, assume that the faculty of an American Library Association (ALA)–accredited master’s program is revisiting the makeup of required, or core, courses. They may state at the outset that the core courses should be comprised of the common body of knowledge, skills, and values that every graduate of their program should possess. Some faculty argue that books and print serials are diminishing in number and importance in libraries and to user communities, so a course on collection development and management does not comprise a component of the common core. The faculty’s discussion is limited to an in-house conversation, so no representatives from graduates of the program or employers of graduates are at the table. The rationale may be based primarily on polemical pieces in the professional literature that state books and libraries are no longer relevant in society. As part of this hypothetical, let us assume that the discussion does not include topics such as the pricing and licensing of electronic access to information, the complexity of libraries opening their collection management to eBooks, audiobooks, and emerging technologies as a means of meeting user needs. The discussion also omits the thorny matter of evaluation of collection use, access, information services that depend on the formal provision of mechanisms to which users can avail themselves. In short, there are discursive communities that have not been included. What, for example, would employers tell the faculty? If their message would run counter to the assumptions made by the faculty, the ultimate decisions might end up quite differently. It must be emphasized here that the foregoing is a hypothetical; a different set of assumptions, plus the inclusion of other discursive communities, could have very different results. The how of curricular decision making is largely opaque to anyone outside a given university’s educational program, and that is usually intentional. The University of Alabama’s School of Library and Information Studies states that its mission includes developing “leaders for the information world through a supportive teaching and learning environment, collaborative research, and community engagement” (http://slis.ua.edu/vision-and-mission/). Curricular priorities are to be aligned with the vision, mission, and directions. External entities, including representatives from the profession, are not mentioned. On the other hand, Florida State University’s Mission, Vision, Values, and Goals statement includes as a goal, “To foster commitment through active growth and ongoing engagement in professional associations and the literature of the field” (http://slis.fsu.edu/about/mission/). The University of Oklahoma also states that one of its goals is to “encourage participation in professional activities and organizations at the School, university, state, national, and international levels” (http://slis.ou.edu/vmgo). While the latter two institutions make some claims about involvement in professional activities, it is not readily evident how these ideals translate into specific curricular manifestations. Many, if not most, programs have some sort of advisory group, and those groups usually include practicing professionals (and frequently include employers). It is quite likely that curricular considerations are reviewed by members of these groups. In short, educational programs are probably making curricular decisions with the advice of some professionals (although it is impossible to ensure such participation). Some philosophers dismiss Habermas’s discourse ethics as ideal, and not pragmatic. The critics misunderstand just what American pragmatism (which Habermas draws from) is, and how it can be applied to affect meaningful decisions about such things as curricula. The requirement of reason and openness is fundamental to decision making that has the best opportunity for acceptance and for effective implementation. WHERE CURRICULA STAND There are still few, if any, overt indications about the details of faculty deliberations. Also, there are always going to be competing considerations when decisions are to be made. No program wants to have too many required courses; students would not be able to create specializations by means of taking elective courses. That said, programs and their faculty do have to make decisions about requirements—courses, course content, student learning experiences, and so forth. The state of the requirement of collection development and management as a discrete course can be assessed. As of the fall of 2012, only 11 (of 56 programs whose curricula could be examined) listed a course on collection development and management as a requirement. Two additional programs included this kind of course as components of groups of requirements (i.e., as possible choices that could fulfill requirements). For the most part, this status quo has defined curricula for the past several years. Investigation using the Internet Archive (the “Wayback Machine,” http://archive.org/web/web.php) reveals that three programs did recently require a collection development and management course (two in 2006 and one in 2004). Granted, the coverage available via this source is sketchy, so some additional programs may have offered the course as a requirement. While the course is, in general, not required, the vast majority of programs do offer a course (or even additional related courses) as electives. Some syllabi are available for examination, and they provide indications about the content of courses and the topics to which students are introduced. The courses with some variation of the title, collection development, and management state that the coverage is intended to be introductory and not to delve deeply into specialized subject matter. While the indications are that the elective courses are introductory, there are prerequisites in several programs. Fifteen list a variety of prerequisites, most of which include the entirety of the program’s core courses. Where not all core courses are prerequisite, the most common courses are an introduction to library and information science and/or organization of information. There are no explicit rationales offered for the prerequisites; one can only presume that there is a perceived need for students to obtain some foundational knowledge prior to taking electives. A few of the syllabi provide a bit more data related to content of courses, although few are accessible online. For example, some indicate whether there is a required textbook and, if so, which one is required. Five require Vicky L. Gregory’s Collection Development and Management for the 21st Century: An Introduction (Neal-Schuman, 2011). Three require Peggy Johnson’s Fundamentals of Collection Development and Management, second edition (ALA Editions, 2009). All of the available syllabi also list additional readings, almost all journal articles related to the specific course topics. The greatest amount of variability occurs within the actual content of courses. The content can be evaluated in two fundamental ways—course objectives and course topics. The one point that must be emphasized regarding Tables 7.1 and 7.2 is that what is presented is descriptive; it is in no way prescriptive of what ought to be included in collection development and management courses. There will, though, be certain bodies of knowledge and skills that faculty members believe should be common to every student’s experience. There are, one would suspect, some items in Tables 7.1 and 7.2 that many professional practitioners would expect, even hope, to find in courses. One indicator of expectations may be found in “ALA’s Core Competences of Librarianship,” the final version of which was approved by ALA Council on January 27, 2009. The second competence, “Information Resources,” addresses collection-based concerns directly: Table 7.1 Most Frequently Identified Course Objectives Course Objectives Frequency Agency attributes 1 Acquisition of materials 1 Environments (libraries) 1 EResource management 1 Evaluation (collection and use) 3 Intellectual freedom 2 Issues in collection development and management 1 Policies (collection development and management) 3 Printed materials 1 Selection of materials 4 Web (scholarly) 1 Table 7.2 Most Frequently Stated Course Topics Course Topics Frequency Academic libraries 1 Acquisition of materials 3 Allocation formulas 1 Budgets and budgeting 5 Collection-based assessment 3 Cooperation 3 Definition of collection 2 Digital collections 1 EResource management 4 Ethics 1 Intellectual freedom or censorship 4 Journals or serials 2 Multimedia materials 2 Open access 1 Outsourcing 1 Policy 4 Public libraries 1 Publishers or publishing 2 Scholarly communication 1 Use-based assessment 4 Vendors or jobbers 3 2A. Concepts and issues related to the lifecycle of recorded knowledge and information, from creation through various stages of use to disposition. 2B. Concepts, issues, and methods related to the acquisition and disposition of resources, including evaluation, selecting, purchasing, processing, storing, and deselection. 2C. Concepts, issues, and methods related to the management of various collections. 2D. Concepts, issues, and methods related to the maintenance of collections, including preservation and conservation (http://www.ala.org/educationcareers/sites/ala.org.educationcareers/ files/content/careers/corecomp/corecompetences/finalcorecompstat09. pdf). The Core Competences are not intended to be exhaustive, but they represent fundamental knowledge, skills, and values that graduates of programs should possess. One observation that must be made is that, if the competences mentioned earlier are indeed considered by the ALA to be core, is there a reason why a small minority of accredited programs requires a course in collection development and management? WHAT PROFESSIONALS SAY Much of the literature on library collections and access to information focuses on academic libraries. Speculation may suggest that academic librarians have motivation (publishing requirements, tenure, rewards structures) to inquire into problems and to communicate their findings formally. There are some similarities between the challenges faced by academic libraries and public libraries. The course topics listed earlier indicate common concerns, such as the need for a collection development policy, selection and acquisition of materials, budgeting, intellectual freedom, and other things. Some courses also include digital and electronic resources; it is worth noting that not all syllabi mention these topics, though. There is no doubt that all libraries are facing decisions relating to electronic resources of several types, with emerging technologies to be considered as well. The issues of concern are far-reaching and transcend the traditional topics that collection development and management has included. A curious phenomenon that becomes evident when the course documents are examined is the absence of challenges that have been present for years. Only two syllabi speak of journals or serials being covered in the courses. Journal price inflation has been afflicting libraries for decades, and one outcome of the rising prices has been the diminution of funds available for the purchase of books and other media. It would require minutely detailed information about the precise contents of the courses, but matters like the selection of materials being affected by financial shifts are not new issues. In particular, the fiscal issues have a large impact on decision making. For example, the state of allocation formulas in many libraries has altered over the past several years. The libraries are no longer able to assume that they will have a stable and substantive amount of money to devote to the automatic selection of materials. In other words, the old methods of selection and expenditure of funds no longer pertain: a different set of dynamics (and dynamics must be emphasized, since the structures are not what one would call stable) apply. A course concentrating on collection development and management, to prepare graduates to succeed in professional positions, must educate for flexible and nimble decision making. Matt Goldner, of OCLC, spoke at the MidSouth eResource Symposium in 2011 and offered advice to the audience. Much of what he had to say applies beyond the academic environment; librarians everywhere should attend to his message. Ning Han (2012), in reporting on Goldner’s presentation, stated, Goldner used the term “shell game” to imply how complex another aspect of e-resources collections is. This issue is all about who has what title this week. Librarians are aware of the fact that electronic titles are transferrable among different publishers. But sometimes the change in ownership happens too frequently for librarians to catch up. For example, a week ago, a particular title was a ProQuest title and this week, suddenly it becomes a Gale title—and notification of the change is non-existent or obscure. (164) It may be likely that courses in accredited programs—required or electives—cover the licensing of databases and aggregators of information resources. It may even be that the financial element of the licenses is covered, but the extent to which the courses include the dynamics of which titles are included in which databases (or aggregators) is an open question. Again, if the genuine purpose of the courses in a program is to prepare graduates for success in the profession, the uncertainty should be a key component of education; presumptions among students of instability are unlikely. Goldner presented another observation that librarians and educators should heed. While he spoke about academic libraries, the point applies equally to public libraries. As is indicated earlier, some courses include use-based assessment of collections. That could be as simple and straightforward as measuring circulation data and, perhaps, in-house use of materials. It may even include some evaluation of what is not used according to the traditional measures. Goldner, though, urged that librarians enter what he called the “user’s workflow” to comprehend more completely the ways users learn, seek to become informed and entertained. The key point of the message is that waiting for potential users to come to the library (or purposely use resources) is inadequate insofar as these potential users can benefit from enhanced awareness of the materials, access, and services provided by the library. The upshot is that librarians should reach out to communities, both to inform potential users of what is possible and to learn from potential users what they wish were possible. Goldner’s latter point was illustrated in an organizational revision in a single library. Sarah C. Michalak (2012) couched the revision in terms of the “outward facing library,” a metaphor for embracing the community and its needs in the totality of library operations. As she said, To change the way the [University of North Carolina] library builds collections, reference and collection development merged, eliminating a formerly rigid organizational line between the two. This wasn’t simply a merger on the organizational chart, but a fundamental change in the jobs of over thirty librarians. The library no longer has bibliographers; all Research and Instructional Services librarians now have selection responsibilities. In addition, acquisitions budget lines were streamlined and pooled into five fund groups representing broad disciplinary areas such as social sciences, humanities and so on. A team of librarians representing multiple subjects now manages each fund. (415) The example here is presented as illustrative; it may well be that libraries of various sizes and types have adopted a similar organizational and managerial tactic. In any event, the structural alteration represents a service shift and, indeed, an epistemological change regarding the libraries role in the lives of the members of its user community. Much more could be said about education for collection development and management, especially regarding it in relation to practice, but, to conclude, two features will be mentioned. One is the phenomenon of patron-driven acquisitions (PDA). In a very real sense, PDA is a kind of back-to-the-future mode of operations. Decades ago the professional literature included discussions of just-in-case versus just-in-time provision of information resources and services. At the present time libraries are developing technological responses to user desires that were not possible in, say, 1990. Kizer Walker (2012) provided a succinct definition of PDA as “a service in which the selection of content for the library collection is placed directly in the hands of library users” (126). It may be that the essential word in his definition is content. Emphasis is not necessarily on a single medium or product; rather, the content that works well for the user is a component of the activity. PDA relies on some assumptions that need to be contemplated by professionals, and that need to be presented in the courses of programs. Is it a panacea to obtain budgetary challenges faced by libraries? Perhaps not. Technological applications usually do not save money, but they may enhance services, thus being more cost-effective. That cost-effectiveness measure is something that must be included in both use-based and collection-based assessment. Since the service breaks with tradition, there may be unique variables associated with the evaluation of the service. As Michael Levine-Clark (2010) asks, will there be a substantive impact on the future of scholarly communication? PDA is not explicitly addressed in the course syllabi. The second issue to conclude with is that of eBooks. Lest one think this medium is brand new, versions of it have been around since the concept of memex (Bush 1945). In the late 1990s NuvoMedia released the Rocket eBook. It is no longer manufactured; one might say it was ahead of the market for eReaders. For a tool like an eReader to succeed there must be content ready to be read. If the content had preceded the device, eReaders of more than a decade ago might have captured markets. As it was, purchasers of early eReaders had relatively few content options. At this time there are, of course, a number of devices that can be purchased and an enormous amount of content that can be downloaded. With the explosion of the market, libraries must be sensitive to demands that members of their communities will make. Observations such as those made by Pauline Dewan (2012) have indicated that, for the time being, print remains an effective and necessary medium, but eBooks are becoming both more ubiquitous and more popular with readers. Challenges facing the profession (and which should be introduced to students so that they are prepared to face them) include prohibitions placed on libraries by publishers: “In late February , HarperCollins announced that its ebooks could be checked out by library patrons 26 times, after which a library would need to re-purchase the eBook in order to lend it out again to its patrons (again, for a maximum of 26 times). That 26-checkout limit begins today [March 7, 2011]” (Kellogg 2011). Another matter of concern associated with digitization and, ultimately, eResources available to readers is copyright. In 2011 the Authors Guild filed suit against the HathiTrust Digital Library initiative and several university libraries, claiming infringement of copyright. On October 10, 2012, a U.S. District Court Judge dismissed the lawsuit. This is yet another issue that is seeing rapid and profound developments of which students should become aware. CONCLUSION A final conclusion regarding education for collection development and management cannot be reached, given the absence of complete information about what is taught. Some tentative claims can be made, though. Since few programs require such a course, and given that the content is strongly recommended as core to educational programs by ALA, there are shortcomings. Perhaps the faculty of accredited master’s programs do not believe this content is vital to students’ education; again, access to discussions would be needed to render judgment. Of greater concern is that the demonstrable content of courses tends to adhere to traditions of practice that may not hold in a time of dynamic change. This conclusion is of particular concern given statements by practicing professionals that librarians are situated to effect changes in spheres that include technology, organizational restructuring, innovation of services, and advocacy for content accessibility for their communities. Insofar as these issues are covered in courses, master’s programs are serving their students well. To the extent that they fall short, the entire profession should be concerned about present and future preparation of professionals in all environments. REFERENCES Bush, Vennevar. 1945. “As We May Think.” Atlantic 176 (1): 101–108. Available at: http://www.theatlantic.com/magazine/archive/1945/07/as-we-may-think/303881/. Accessed January 8, 2013. Dewan, Pauline. 2012. “Are Books Becoming Extinct in Academic Libraries? New Library World, 113 (1/2): 27–37. Habermas, Jürgen. 1993. Justification and Application: Remarks on Discourse Ethics, trans. Ciaran P. Cronin. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press. Han, Ning. 2012. “Managing a 21st-Century Library Collection.” Serials Librarian 63 (2): 158–69. Kellogg, Carolyn. 2011. “HarperCollins’ 26-Checkout Limit on Libraries’ Ebooks Starts Today.” Los Angeles Times, March 7, 2011. Available at: http://latimesblogs.latimes.com/jacketcopy/2011/03/harpercollins-library-ebook-checkout-limit.html. Accessed January 8, 2013. Levine-Clark, Michael. 2010. “Developing a Multiformat Demand-Driven Acquisitions Model.” Collection Management 35: 201–7. Michalak, Sarah C. 2012. “This Changes Everything: Transforming the Academic Library.” Journal of Library Administration 52 (5): 411–23. Walker, Kizer. 2012. “Patron-Driven Acquisition in U.S. Academic Research Libraries: At the Tipping Point in 2011?” Bibliotek Forschung und Praxis 36 (1): 125–29.
APA (American Psychological Assoc.)
Albitz, B., Zabel, D., & Avery, C. (2014). Rethinking Collection Development and Management. Santa Barbara: Libraries Unlimited.
MLA (Modern Language Assoc.)
Albitz, Becky, et al. Rethinking Collection Development and Management. Libraries Unlimited, 2014. EBSCOhost.
Academic libraries have traditionally purchased books to support current and future research and curricular needs at their institutions. While user input has always been encouraged, libraries have often collected in excess to ensure that books were available to users just in case they were needed. Collecting in excess can also be attributed to concerns that trade and university press publications will go out of print sooner rather than later and be unavailable for purchase if needed in the future. Anderson (2011) believes that “the problem is that the current publishing marketplace evolved in an environment in which library customers had no choice but to buy lots of books and articles that they didn’t need, because that was the only way to guarantee access to books and articles they did need.”
Budgetary constraints combined with a growing culture of assessment have libraries more closely evaluating acquisition levels and collection use. Considering use as a primary measure of the value of a collection, studies have shown that just-in-case collection development models can result in low or no circulation for a significant percentage of print books over time. The landmark University of Pittsburgh study showed that 25 percent of monographs would not be used in 10 years and 50 percent of monographs would circulate once or not at all in a 10-year period (Kent 1979). The University of Arizona’s reported use over a 10-year period has been approximately 60 percent for English-language materials (firm orders and approvals) and approximately 50 percent for approval books (Levine-Clark et al. 2009). An assessment of large approval plans at Penn State and the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign (UIUC) compared circulation rates for books received in fiscal year 2004/2005 over a five-year period following receipt (Alan et al. 2010). The results were comparable to the University of Arizona as the study found that 31 percent of Penn State’s approval plan receipts did not circulate during the five-year study period at a cost of $217,382.70. Forty percent of UIUC receipts did not circulate at a cost of $164,339.50. Sinha (2011) suggests that low circulation of books can be linked to a collection-building philosophy “equating large collections with prestige and better economic times.”
Traditional publication and acquisition models have publishers publishing new books and making them available to libraries and other prospective customers to either purchase directly from publishers or purchase more commonly from book vendors. Print and eBooks are purchased on a title-by-title basis, via approval plans, or in the case of eBooks in publisher and aggregator packages. One of the advantages of eBooks over print is that eBooks offer perpetual access, ensuring that titles will not go out of print and will be available for the long term.
The transition from print to eBooks combined with new technologies has allowed libraries, publishers, and vendors to reconsider traditional business models and develop new methods for acquiring and delivering eBook content to libraries and end users. One such model is patron driven acquisition (PDA) that directly involves end users in eBook purchase decisions at the point of use. The remaining chapter discusses Penn State University Libraries’ implementation of a PDA just-in-time model.
Patron driven acquisition (PDA) and demand driven acquisition (DDA) have been considered to be one and the same. However, the NISO recently offered the following distinction as it currently works toward developing standard practices for PDAs (Levine-Clark 2012, 11).
PDA: acquisition of library materials based on direct or indirect patron input, including faculty requests and analysis of collection usage.
DDA: acquisition of library materials based on patron selection at the point of use.
For purposes of this chapter, DDA, as opposed to PDA, will be used to discuss patron-initiated eBook purchasing at the point of use.
Under the traditional upfront purchase model for books, the acquisition process essentially ends after books are received (or activated in the case of eBooks), paid for, and processed by the library. DDA is based on the deployment of new methods of providing eBook content to users and enabling purchases to be made based on a predetermined level of use by patrons using the library catalog. DDA allows libraries to present more eBook titles to users for potential use and purchase than is feasible under the traditional book purchase model. The cost to the library is incurred only when a book is used and ultimately purchased for the library. DDA challenges traditional monograph acquisition models by allowing libraries to allocate collection funds to pay for books acquired at the point of use rather than prior to use resulting in higher use for DDA titles at the time of purchase. Esposito (2012a) states:
One way of viewing PDA [DDA] is that it is an attempt to manage the level of “waste” downward. If some books circulate rarely, circulate only years after they have been purchased, or don’t circulate at all, how can a library acquire books that circulate with greater frequency, circulate as soon after they are acquired as is reasonably possible, and do in fact circulate in the first place?
In support of the DDA just-in-time purchase model studies have shown that user-selected titles can circulate at higher rates than librarian-selected titles. One study found that of 8,665 user-generated order requests, 78 percent circulated during a three-year study period (Reynolds et al. 2010). Price and McDonald (2009) found that user-selected titles were used twice as often (8.6 times per year vs. 4.3 times per year) than subject-selector-selected titles.
DDA does offer libraries an opportunity to better measure users’ information needs and supplement, not necessarily replace, more traditional methods of selecting and acquiring eBooks. At this time DDA is being carefully evaluated by libraries, publishers, and vendors to determine its value and sustainability.
The Penn State University system includes 23 campuses located across the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania. Penn State is organized as a single university, geographically dispersed, and therefore, all campus libraries are part of the University Libraries system. Campuses range in size from fewer than 700 students to more than 43,000 students at the University Park campus (administrative hub for the university system). Penn State’s total enrollment in 2012 totaled approximately 84,000 students (both full time and part time) supported by over 6,000 faculty members. The university’s rapidly growing virtual campus (called the World Campus) now supports an additional 11,000 students from around the world. Each of the 23 campuses maintains a library and collection to support campus research and curricular needs. Technical service operations for all campuses (with the exception of the law and medical schools) are centralized at the University Park campus.
eBooks fit nicely into the university libraries’ strategic goal of increasing system-wide access to more digital resources as soon as possible. Penn State had acquired a significant number of NetLibrary eBooks (now EBSCO eBooks) through the Access Pennsylvania project since 2004, although the NetLibrary model was not well received by librarians or end users. The library also loaded large record sets for scholarly resources such as Early English Books Online (EEBO), eBook packages (e.g., Springer and Elsevier), as well as added catalog records for individual titles purchased from publishers and aggregators. In fiscal year 2008/2009 the availability and demand for eBooks increased and the eBook selection and acquisition process was integrated in the YBP (Yankee Book Peddler) Gobi3 workflow. Penn State has also relied heavily upon approval plans to acquire monographs since the 1990s, which subject selectors supplement with firm orders for print and eBooks. The YBP approval plan, managed at the University Park campus, is the largest of seven plans, and has supplied between 12,000 and 14,000 print books to the library over the past several years.
Duplication of print books across the multicampus system had been a costly issue at Penn State for many years. In fiscal year 2008/2009 the cost of duplication of print books was $307,566.51 (7,755 duplicates representing two or more copies). While some level of duplication can be justified due to user demand, a significant percentage of the titles had low or no circulation bringing the rationale for duplicate acquisitions into question. It was expected that a strategy of acquiring more eBooks and fewer print titles available would provide system-wide access to more resources and reduce the need to duplicate in print across campus locations.
Customer service has always been a significant driver in planning and decision making at Penn State. In 2009 Penn State Libraries convened an eBook task force to review current eBook publishing and distribution models and recommend library-wide policies and best practices. The task force investigated patron-driven initiatives in relation to the libraries’ strategic goal of effectively supporting scholarship and research worldwide. One of the task force recommendations was to establish a patron-driven pilot project using EBL (Ebook Library).
Questions the task force addressed included the following:
• What range of books would appear in the library catalog? Initially, DDA titles would be selected based on a broad subject- and publisher-based profile with EBL. However, the development of an EBL/YBP DDA process based on the Penn State approval plan was thought to be a better approach for DDA title selection, as records for titles would be provided based upon preferred subject and content levels.
• How many (if any) short-term loans would be allowed prior to an eBook purchase? The task force recommended two short-term loans with the third use triggering the purchase. This suggestion was based on use and cost information gathered from comparable academic libraries that had already implemented DDA.
• What level of funding was needed to sustain the DDA pilot for one to two years? Funding DDA for the first year was problematic given our inability to predict the volume of rentals and purchases. Fortunately, end of year collection funds allowed the library to commit $350,000 to the project.
Penn State was the beta test site for the EBL/YBP DDA pilot. The pilot began the last week of February 2011, and was scheduled to continue for at least one year, contingent on the rate of expenditure for short-term loans and purchases. There was an expectation that the pilot would need to continue for two years to gain sufficient data and user feedback to make informed decisions on the future of DDA at Penn State.
The initial record load included 9,500 titles with imprints from 2008 to 2010. The EBL-supplied records were brief catalog records lacking call numbers and subject headings. Unfortunately, the EBL titles were not de-duped against print and eBook titles already purchased through YBP, resulting in some duplication. EBL DDA records were manually removed from the catalog on a case-by-case basis (as duplicate titles were found). The EBL record load was followed by weekly loads of YBP DDA records that were primarily full-level records cloned from catalog records for the print equivalents and included call numbers and subject headings. As the program moved forward, the weekly YBP DDA loads averaged between 200 and 300 records.
DDA title selection was linked to an approval plan that consolidated the University Park subprofiles and campus slips plan to increase the number of DDA titles that would be of interest to both University Park (more scholarly content) and other campus locations (more general academic content). YBP sent title lists of DDA candidates, based on Penn State’s approval profile and publisher information, to EBL on a weekly basis to determine if these titles would be available from EBL as DDA records. YBP also updated the records for these titles in Gobi3 with the note Probable DDA, meaning the titles fit the profile and had been sent to EBL to determine if an e-version would become available. Initially this was confusing to acquisitions staff and selectors, who were unsure whether to firm order the title. For some it was an initial lack of confidence in the DDA process and concern that titles needed in the collection would not be received, resulting in gaps in holdings. However, as the DDA implementation moved forward, concerns about Probable DDA diminished as most of those titles appeared as DDA records in the catalog within one to two weeks. Once the record was sent by YBP for loading into the catalog, a note and subaccount information was added to Gobi3—“EBL auto DDA record sent (9/2/2012).”
An important outcome of the DDA pilot was the need to carefully review titles that would have been received on approval but had either moved to DDA or a slip plan. There was an expectation that if a title that fit the approval profile had not been released as an eBook within a reasonable period of time following release of the print equivalent, the print would be sent to the library. Books were not always sent, however, resulting in approximately 600 books that were not received in print or included in the DDA plan. The library worked with YBP to identify the gap and retrospectively add the print books through the approval plan. As a result of this gap, the approval plan in several subject areas was changed to e-preferred for eBooks directly available from Oxford, Cambridge, Gale, and Wiley. This change will result in fewer DDA records being added to the catalog.
Feedback received from users indicated some level of dissatisfaction with the EBL platform and DRM (digital rights management) restrictions. These concerns carried over to other aggregators and publisher platforms as well—they were not unique to EBL. It appeared to be less a problem with the DDA model than how aggregators and publishers made the content available to end users. When DRM issues made the e-version of a title less useful, subject selectors could request removal of a DDA record from the catalog and firm order the print version or, if available, order the eBook directly from the publisher.
Initial concerns that users would purchase EBL DDA eBooks in excess and thus expend earmarked funds at a rapid rate did not materialize. From March 1, 2011, to October 1, 2012, a total of 27,429 DDA records were loaded into the catalog. Of the total records available to users, 841 titles (3.1%) were purchased at a cost of $87,280.13, averaging $103.78 per title. There were 3,349 short-term loans, costing $69,634.97 and averaging $20.81 per loan. The total expenditure on DDA purchases and short-term loans was $156,915.10 for the first 19 months of pilot, which was less than 45 percent of the initial $350,000 allocation. This allowed the DDA program to be adequately funded for at least a second year.
Concerns that titles purchased would primarily fall out of the scope of Penn State’s collection also did not materialize. Titles purchased by users covered all subject areas with an emphasis on science and technology, which is a research strength at Penn State, with 323 titles purchased (38.4%). Approximately 60 percent of the content purchased by users was scholarly, 20 percent general academic, and 15 percent professional, with only 5 percent considered popular and basic. These results are also a reflection of the DDA titles supplied based on the approval profile that is weighted toward scholarly content.
At the same time that eBooks and DDA are becoming more widely accepted, academic library service models are changing. Questions we are addressing include what is the role of academic libraries in the 21st century? what are the roles of collections and collecting? and how shall we determine the value of collections (Dahl 2012)? The strategy of acquiring more digital resources and less print over time has allowed libraries to reconfigure space to support new services for students, faculty, and researchers. DDA can also be viewed as a new service that supports users’ just-in-time needs, guarantees use of purchased content, and does not require storage space.
Sinha (2011) argues that selection may be an inefficient use of library resources given reduced collection budgets and the low use of book collections. There are concerns that DDA may make the subject selector in academic libraries unnecessary, since the user becomes responsible for selecting titles they need. However, that will not be the case at least for the foreseeable future. “The content available through patron-driven access programs, although valuable in fulfilling immediate need, is a small subset of what is published. An academic research library requires more content than current eBook aggregators can provide, just as it requires more content than a single domestic approval plan can provide” (Hodges, Preston, and Hamilton 2010, 219). Librarians will continue to be needed to serve as subject liaisons to their constituents and shape library collections and services. Henri (2012) argues that if we do away entirely with subject expert collection development, might that mean that users would only ask the library to purchase titles they know about, thus limiting their exposure to alternative ideas? As new courses and programs are offered, the library could be put in a position of not being able to respond just in time and need quickly to fill gaps in the collection at some expense to the library. Esposito (2012b) points out that while DDA plans may be implemented in many more academic libraries in the coming years, DDA cannot be implemented in a comprehensive fashion. Funds budgeted for DDA will likely continue to be a relatively small percentage of overall library collections budgets. At Penn State the DDA budget will average approximately 1 percent of the overall collections budget for fiscal years 2011–2013.
The just-in-time DDA model is still in its infancy and there is little data available to assess the pros and cons of the model. At Penn State, DDA assessment will eventually be part of an overall collection assessment program that is currently being developed. What future role, if any, will DDA at Penn State and other academic libraries play in helping to shape collections has yet to be determined. Stay tuned!
Alan, Robert, Tina Chrzastowski, Lisa German, and Lynn Wiley. 2010. “Approval Plan Profile Assessment in Two Large ARL Libraries: University Illinois at Urbana-Champaign and Pennsylvania State University.” Library Resources & Technical Services 54 (2): 64–76.
Dahl, Candice. 2012. “Primed for Patron-Driven Acquisition: A Look at the Big Picture.” Journal of Electronic Resources Librarianship 24 (2): 119–26.
Esposito, Joseph. 2012a, September 26. PDA and the University Press. Available at:. Accessed November 19, 2012.
Esposito, Joseph. 2012b, May 8. “Sizing the Market for Patron-Driven Acquisitions (PDA).” The Scholarly Kitchen. Available at:. Accessed November 19, 2012.
Henri, Janine. 2012. Crossing the Line into Patron-Driven Acquisitions in the Arts? [Power Point slides]. Presented at the 40th Annual ARLIS/NA Conference: Colouring Out-side the Lines, Toronto, Canada. Available at:. Accessed November 19, 2012.
Hodges, Dracine, Cyndi Preston, and Marsha Hamilton. 2010. “Patron-Initiated Collection Development: Progress of Paradigm Shift.” Collection Management 35 (3–4): 208–21.
Kent, Allen. 1979. Use of Library Materials: The University of Pittsburgh Study. New York: Marcel Dekker.
Levine-Clark, Michael. 2012. A Proposed NISO Work Item: Recommended Best Practices for Demand-Driven Acquisitions (DDA) of Monographs. Proposal for Consideration by the NISO Voting Membership Approval Ballot Period: May 21–June 19, 2012. Available at:. Accessed November 19, 2012.
Levine-Clark, Michael, Stephen Bosch, Kim Anderson, and Matt Nauman. 2009, November 4–7. Rethinking Monographic Acquisition: Developing a Demand-Driven Purchase Model for Academic Books. [PowerPoint slides]. Presented at the 2009 Charleston Conference: Necessity is the Mother of Invention, Charleston, SC. Available at:. Accessed November 19, 2012.
Price, Jason, and John McDonald. 2009. Beguiled by Bananas: A Retrospective Study of the Usage & Breadth of Patron vs. Library Acquired eBook Collections. Available at:. Accessed November 19, 2012.
Reynolds, Leslie, Carmelita Pickett, Wyona vanDuinkerken, Jane Smith, Jeanne Harrell, and Sandra Tucker. 2010. “User-Driven Acquisition: Allowing Patron Request to Drive Collection Development in an Academic Library.” Collection Management 35 (3–4): 244–54.
Sinha, Reeta. 2011. “Is Selection Dead? The Rise of Collection Management and the Twilight of Selection.” Against the Grain 23 (2). Available at:. Accessed November 19, 2012.
Acquisitions can mean so many things, and there are various ways to do it. Public libraries range in size and budget; therefore their concepts of acquisitions vary as well. When asked what it means to them, a librarian from a one-branch public library serving a small town of fewer than 20,000 people said, “when it comes to public libraries I think of [acquisitions] more as a collaborative process than an individual person. The receipt and processing of the material are handled by a mixture of professional and paraprofessional folk.” A director of a four-branch system defines it as “the process of selecting, purchasing, and processing various materials and content to make available to the public.” Finally, the head of technical services at a 22-branch system says that to her, acquisitions is “the complex, behind-the-scenes, migration of library material that begins as a thought in a public librarian’s head through the placement of an order, to the eventual delivery of that material to the shelf.” There are also many formal definitions of acquisitions. In 1942, Tomlinson described an acquisitions department as “the part of a library which selects, orders, and accessions a book,” with “accessioning” being “the act of recording a book in the accession book and of assigning the accession number to the book” (Tomlinson 1942, 7). A more modern, yet nebulous, definition is “the processes of obtaining books and other items for a library, documentation center or archive” (Prytherch 2000, 7). For some, though, acquisitions encompasses more. The Online Dictionary for Library and Information Science defines it as “the process of selecting, ordering, and receiving materials for library or archival collection by purchase, exchange, or gift, which may include budgeting and negotiating with outside agencies, such as publishers, dealers, and vendors, to obtain resources to meet the needs of the institution’s clientele in the most economical and expeditious manner” (Reitz 2013). Figure 9.1 Acquisitions Components For the purposes of this chapter, we will operationalize this last definition of acquisitions to include selection of materials, and exclude collection analysis for deselection. In discussion of various models of acquisitions, the process will encompass budgeting, working with vendors, selection, ordering, receiving, processing, and overall administration of the process. This is represented in Figure 9.1.
In order to provide current, relevant, and desired items (whether in print or electronic versions) to our constituencies, public libraries need to have an acquisitions system in place. Multiple models of acquisitions systems are available to public libraries. Depending on the size, staffing, and budget of the library, one model may work better than another. The four models are centralized, decentralized, outsourcing, and hybrid. Centralized acquisitions can exist in all types of libraries, but is often seen as the method used in small public libraries with just one physical location and limited staff. In centralized acquisitions, all decisions and actions in the acquisitions cycle are made in one location, sometimes by just one or two people. The same person or department that selects materials also places the orders, handles the budget, and processes the accessioned items. Decentralized, or local, acquisitions exists in two or more connected public libraries that are members of the same system, consortia, or county system comprising multiple, disparate locations. Decentralized acquisitions can also exist in a large public library with multiple departments, such as business, genealogy, and reference departments in a multilevel central library. When a library uses a decentralized acquisitions model, each component of the process is handled completely separately from each of the other branches, libraries, or departments within the system. In a decentralized model, there is no collaborative purchasing, consolidated budgeting, or unified processing. Outsourcing for libraries means enlisting for-profit entities outside the physical library to do library-related functions rather than having in-house staff complete them. Common outsourced activities for libraries include janitorial work, security, and foreign-language cataloging, but for acquisitions most aspects of the process can be outsourced. Outsourcing acquisitions means having a vendor, or multiple vendors, take responsibility for the duties involved in the process. Essentially, you are centralizing your acquisitions but in a business outside of your public library. We can use vendors to create approval plans for selection, consolidate orders, choose opening-day collections for new branches, and process items to make them shelf-ready. It is possible that very small libraries could ostensibly have all of their selection, purchasing, and processing done by vendors. Just tell the vendor your budget, clientele, and processing needs and then let them take care of the process. According to Wilkinson and Lewis (2003), outsourcing became more popular for libraries in the late 20th century, and the most popular outsourced acquisitions tasks are selection and processing. Outsourcing allows libraries to determine what could be done by an outside party, and thus refocus staff efforts on other core library operations. Its benefits may be outweighed, however, by negative implications on staff morale, and has been cited in the literature as a “sort of punishment when the management and the library staff encounter on-going friction in their personal relationships” (Alvin 1999, 263).
An arrangement that works for many public libraries is to have a hybrid acquisitions model (HAM). In this case, the library system incorporates aspects of centralized, decentralized, and outsourcing models to fulfill its acquisitions needs efficiently and economically. Certain parts of the process are done centrally, some are handled by individual locations, and parts may be outsourced. Table 9.1 shows which functions in a hybrid acquisitions process are centralized, decentralized, outsourced, or integrated into some combination therein.
Table 9.1 Components of a Hybrid Acquisitions Model Aspect of Acquisitions Centralized Decentralized Outsourced Budgeting X X Vendor relations X X X Selection X X X Ordering X X Receiving X Processing X X X
Budgeting is done both centrally and locally. A designated department or person in a main location or administrative unit would have the responsibility of setting an overall materials budget, allocating money to various branches, locations, departments in a central library and other specialized collections funds. Even with a central materials budget, however, each designated location receiving funding would have some control over their designated monies in order to decide how much to spend on specialized materials. Designing budgets for materials selection is usually done by librarians and not outside vendors. Vendor relations integrate how libraries locate, negotiate, communicate, and handle technical issues with the various companies and individuals who provide information resources and services to public libraries. In a HAM, most of this would be handled centrally. Again, a designated department or person in a main location or administrative unit would be the main contact for all vendors. This streamlines the communication channel for evaluation of the vendor’s resources, ensuring correct description of technology requirements, and discussion of billing issues. On occasion, a public library in a consortia or county system may have the need for an individual relation with a vendor in order to procure a specialized resource or service. Also, in some periodicals systems, such as EBSCO Subscription Services or WT Cox Information Services, a public library can outsource those vendor relations, and have that vendor talk to multiple periodicals providers on the library’s behalf. Selection of materials would be handled centrally, locally, by outsourcing, or an amalgamation of the three. Centralized selection involves a few designated staff making group purchasing decisions for books, periodicals, and electronic resources on behalf of all branches or departments. Assuming most public libraries would want to have certain materials, such as best sellers, a general research database, or an updated World Book Encyclopedia, a central acquisitions department can identify these materials for ordering and do it in one place for multiple locations in a singular instance. On a local level, individual libraries or departments would need to order the items unique to their constituencies, such as foreign-language materials, a preponderance of children’s or young adult materials, or genealogical resources. Selection can be outsourced by giving vendors a profile of what the library generally would like for their collections, and letting the vendors choose new materials without further library input. In a HAM, the ordering of materials is either done by a centralized acquisitions staff or done by the vendors through approval plans and standing orders. Centrally, staff would receive all unique orders from various library locations and place them in addition to the general common selections mentioned in the previous paragraph. By placing all orders through a centralized model, larger orders can be processed at one time, thus giving the possibility of larger discounts, and increased efficiency in the tracking of orders and handling of issues. Outsourcing orders to vendors, in periodicals for example, frees up library staff to concentrate on other orders or functions such as reference or programming. Receiving of materials involves the physical receipt of deliveries or the virtual receipt of electronic materials. Packages need to be opened, items need to be checked against invoices, and materials need to be checked against original orders. Receiving in a hybrid model would occur centrally, and involve the same benefits mentioned earlier—increased efficiency and handling of issues. Inputting materials data into an integrated library system in bulk is more efficient than having multiple locations do it, and reduces the potential for error. If there are errors in an order, such as missing items, damaged materials, or incorrect coverage in a database, vendors would prefer to hear from one location, rather than field the same issues from multiple staff. For a good list of receiving errors, see Chapman (2004). The last part of the acquisitions cycle is getting materials ready for the public, or processing. After items have been received, they will be put through a series of steps to become ready for public library shelves. Processing varies according to library preference, and could therefore be done centrally, locally, or by vendors in a HAM. Initially, vendors can provide general processing tasks, such as affixing a barcode to each item, or putting a property stamp in a prescribed location. Centrally, the public library can expand on these general vendor-provided services to apply protective covers or applicable security devices. At each specific public library location, a special location sticker might be necessary, such as a designation for a new book shelf, or the library might wish to remove supplemental materials like CD-ROMs or workbooks for placement in a secured area. All of these functions are dependent on the decisions of the staff of the individual libraries.
Beyond the general overall facets of the acquisitions process, there are more things for public libraries to consider in a hybrid acquisitions model. There are aspects of selection, administration, reporting, assessment, procedure, and more that were discussed earlier.
In selecting materials, public libraries that work together in acquisitions, whether in the same system or not, need to determine how selection will work and coordinate related activities. Common ground needs to be established and communicated on many issues, such as the following: • What subject areas overlap? • Which can be handled by approval plans? • What selection will be handled by centralized selectors? • What librarians will have control over selection at their individual locations? • What expert librarians at individual locations might be recruited to order centrally for certain collections, such as music CDs, foreign-language materials, or children’s picture books? • How will patron requests be handled? Will they be sent to a central ordering location for consideration by other selectors? • How will interlibrary loan requests be incorporated into the selection process? Are they to be handled the same as general patron requests? Gifts are another portion of selection for consideration. Individual libraries often received donations of materials from their customers and local entities. HAM libraries will need to decide the following: • Can these be offered to other libraries for their potential selection? Are there other viable methods of gift disposition? • If you dispose of gifts through an out-of-print dealer, how will earned funds be allocated? • Do you want to send gifts to a vendor for processing? • Does each library offer thank-you notes to donors? If so, do you want to handle these centrally?
Many procedural pieces of the acquisitions process require deliberation, including types of orders, how electronic materials will be considered, and more. Some questions to keep in mind for a HAM include the following: • Will rush orders of immediately needed materials be handled in a centralized or decentralized fashion? • What processing needs of each library could be eliminated in order to have a vendor make everything completely shelf-ready? • Are all involved library branches or departments utilizing the same formats of audiovisual materials? How can consolidation of these varying formats be leveraged in order to negotiate the best discounts with vendors? • Which location(s) or staff will be responsible for determining deadlines for order placement and budget encumbrance? • Who will be responsible for coordination of the technology requirements of each location in order to provide electronic access to information? • How do you want to handle trials of electronic resources? • Can a central department manage all standing orders? • Who has the authority to enter into contracts on behalf of all HAM entities? Periodicals require special consideration, as multiple publishers and individual issues of each magazine can become burdensome and complex. • Is there a print periodicals subscription vendor that will meet your multifaceted needs? • Will all periodicals be delivered to and processed at one location, and then distributed to branches and departments? Or, can a vendor handle multiple destinations? • Where will periodicals problems, like missed issues, be handled? • Will you have an electronic preference for your periodicals? How will those be acquired? Centrally or locally? • How will specialized magazines not available through a subscription vendor be ordered? Locally or centrally? • Will a subscription vendor’s service charge for subscription services be split evenly among branches and/or departments, or split based on number of subscriptions? • Will selection of open access materials be done by individual departments or branches? • What renewal cycle do you want?
Two budgeting issues could arise for those adopting a HAM. The first is whether the allocations of funding will be done centrally, locally, or in a combined fashion. A completely centralized budget would be rigid and steadfast, with the central acquisitions staff designating exactly how much can be spent in each branch or department on each type of material. Giving local library departments or branches the authority to decide how to spend some of the funds may provide for a better collection development strategy overall. The second area of budgeting to consider is who will administer, review, and report on the budget. Municipalities, city councils, mayors, and auditors have strict requirements and regulations surrounding fiscal activities. It may be hard to justify allocating control of funding to an outside vendor, and letting that vendor make purchasing decisions for the library. When materials budgets are decentralized in any form, an audit trail may be more difficult to document, and reconciling encumbered monies against expended monies becomes more difficult. A centralized budget allows for closer scrutiny and ease of monitoring. Finally, budget reporting done by multiple locations can be less efficient than that done by a centralized acquisitions staff. Another large aspect of administering a HAM is personnel. Who, where, when, how—all involved parties must decide various things about staffing. Acquisitions tasks are done by librarians, paraprofessionals, part-time employees, and others (Evans, Intner, and Weihs 2011), and those employees can sometimes feel threatened by the idea of sharing their job duties with other libraries or vendors (Agee 2007). Public library staff must also be prepared to endure and get behind the changes that come along with implementation of a HAM (German 1999). Considerations for personnel include the following: • What level of training or education or experience is necessary for each step in the acquisitions process? Can paraprofessionals handle them? • Who will be assigned to which tasks? • Who are the backups for these staff? • Do all portions of the acquisitions process need to be physically centralized? Or, can ordering be done at one location, and receiving at another? • What communication requirements are expected? • From where will training be coordinated? • Can volunteers be used for any parts of the acquisitions process? Centrally, locally, or both? Administration of a HAM could include the use of an interagency agreement or a memorandum of understanding that states what each library branch or department is accountable for, and increase collaboration between them. It will delineate what libraries or staff are involved, exactly what the responsibilities of each are, the time period for the agreements, what payments may be involved, and who has the ultimate authority for relevant tasks. Assessment Considerations Public libraries assess all manner of their services. Librarians solicit feedback from their customers about satisfaction with summer reading clubs, customer service, and staff capabilities, and the adequacy of the library’s collections. Also worthy of assessment are the internal processes and workflows. There will be a need at some point after the implementation of a hybrid acquisitions model to assess the effectiveness of the system thus far, and gauge the worth of continuing the acquisitions process in this manner. While materials budgets in public libraries are monitored constantly, the overall materials budget should be reviewed annually for appropriate allocation to participating libraries and departments in accordance with whatever protocol the library has in place. Some libraries utilize algorithms involving the average cost of materials and circulation statistics. Others may use enhancement programs to allocate money to special funds on a rotating basis. Relationships with vendors also require evaluation. In a HAM, interactions with vendors are generally handled centrally in order to streamline the interactions, accurately report issues, and ensure that the correct information is relayed back and forth. HAM users will need to review vendor choices and gauge satisfaction levels of the vendor’s customer service. Public libraries generally will be required to initiate a bidding process, or Request for Proposal, on a prescribed basis to update contracts and verify that money is being spent on the best available vendor option. Commonly assessed features of vendor services are delivery time of materials, comparison of discounts, accuracy in invoicing, and reliability in processing. Selection procedures should be analyzed as collection development policies are reviewed. Selectors in a HAM must ensure they are working in accordance with prescribed policy. New staff with differing collection strengths may be available. A periodic assessment of selection procedures and selectors themselves will ensure that libraries utilizing a HAM are being as efficient as possible. Ordering, receiving, and processing workflows certainly warrant regular assessment to maintain the efficiencies of each. It may benefit all involved parties to determine whether certain portions of these workflows are still necessary pending new vendor offerings and technological changes, and on the individual needs of each library.
There are various positive and negative aspects of each model described earlier. These are represented in Table 9.2. The HAM incorporates the pros and cons of each model, but also presents some of their own. Acquisitions needs in public libraries have shifted rapidly over the past century (Agee 2007). We have moved from print to microform to audio to electronic content, and from traditional book and periodicals purchases to more complex offerings to our constituencies, such as video games, MP3 players, and storytime kits. As the materials used in public libraries become more diverse, new acquisitions models will emerge. The hybrid model will evolve to encompass multifaceted formats, changing librarian abilities, and vendor options. There may be a more concentrated effort to share collections among groups of libraries, distribute selection, and have special public libraries with extremely focused collections, thus affecting budgeting priorities. Table 9.2 Pros and Cons of Acquisitions Models Acquisitions Models Pros Cons Decentralized Works well for specialized collections or libraries Keeps staff in more direct contact with their specific constituencies Can be inefficient Harder to handle issues Lose subject area expertise of staff in other public libraries Centralized Efficient workflows Reduces need for training of staff at multiple branches Reallocate staff or free up staff time for other duties; reduce staffing costs Keeps budget issues to a minimum and allows payments from one place Easier to work with vendors to resolve issues Consistent application of policy and procedures Can ignore specific branch needs Might necessitate a transit system for delivery of physical materials Outsourcing Utilize vendor-provided automatic ordering profiles Ostensibly more cost-efficient Reallocate staff or free up staff time for other duties; reduce staffing costs Improve turnaround time, increase efficiency Supplement deficiencies in staff, such as foreign language selection May lose control over selection for specialized collections Vendors can change costs at any time Can reduce staff morale Perceived as belittling professionalism Requires a lot of oversight Hybrid All of the above All of the above In this vein, vendors will evolve as well. They will modify their offerings to libraries in order to increase outsourcing options. Ordering and receiving may become even more automated as integrated library systems become more intuitive and advanced. It is prudent for those public libraries utilizing a hybrid acquisitions model to keep their eye on acquisitions trends, especially those regarding vendors. Contingency arrangements are necessary for when vendors close or are merged with other vendors. It is essential that HAM libraries be nimble, communicative, and as forward-thinking as possible. Then we can keep acquiring and providing what our customers want as economically and efficiently as possible.
Agee, Jim. 2007. Acquisitions Go Global: An Introduction to Library Collection Management in the 21st Century. Oxford, UK: Chandos Publishing. Alvin, Glenda. 1999. “Outsourcing Acquisitions: Methods and Models.” In Understanding the Business of Library Acquisitions, ed. Karen A. Schmidt, 262–84. Chicago: American Library Association. Chapman, Liz. 2004. Managing Acquisitions in Library and Information Services. London: Facet Publishing. Evans, G. Edward, Sheila Intner, and Jean Weihs. 2011. Introduction to Technical Services. Santa Barbara, CA: Libraries Unlimited. German, Lisa. 1999. “Acquisitions Personnel Management, Organization, and Staffing Issues.” In Understanding the Business of Library Acquisitions, ed. Karen A. Schmidt, 346–59. Chicago: American Library Association. Prytherch, Ray. 2000. Harrod’s Librarians’ Glossary and Reference Book. Aldershot, England: Gower Publishing Company Limited. Reitz, Joan. 2013. Acquisitions, in Online Dictionary for Library and Information Science. ABC-CLIO. Available at: http://www.abc-clio.com/ODLIS/odlis_A.aspx. Accessed April 2, 2013. Tomlinson, Laurence. 1942. The Library Science Glossary. Waco, TX: Baylor University Press. Wilkinson, Frances, and Linda Lewis. 2003. The Complete Guide to Acquisitions Management. Westport, CT: Libraries Unlimited.
APA (American Psychological Assoc.)
Albitz, B., Zabel, D., & Avery, C. (2014). Rethinking Collection Development and Management. Santa Barbara: Libraries Unlimited.
MLA (Modern Language Assoc.)
Albitz, Becky, et al. Rethinking Collection Development and Management. Libraries Unlimited, 2014. EBSCOhost.
In “What Is the History of Books?” Robert Darnton suggests a life cycle for the production and dissemination of printed books (Darnton 1982). The primary actors within the cycle are producers, agents, readers, and suppliers. Influencing the cycle and exerting pressures upon it are social, cultural, and political forces. Extending Darnton’s idea to the work of collection development, it is possible to posit a parallel: the selection cycle. This cycle accounts for the promotion, evaluation, selection, and reevaluation of a given title. It begins with the first notice of a book deal, extends through initial publicity and the major promotion of a title, includes various types and phases of evaluation, encompasses the moment a selector orders a title, and ends when a title falls off the radar for the final time. The cycle includes authors, editors, publicists, reviewers, librarians, and readers. Social, political, technological, and cultural forces, as well as space and budget limitations, exert pressure upon the cycle, as do library policies and library metrics. All of the agents involved consume and create the cycle in various ways. Selectors, for example, track the cycle, make purchase decisions based upon it, influence and change the cycle through demand and response, monitor the cycle’s reverberations, and feed the resulting data back into the cycle in a continuous loop.
Viewing the work of collection development as a cycle highlights the multipoint chronology of selection. Rather than understanding selection as a process of steps largely triggered by a traditional review in a traditional trade source, selectors can view their work as occurring at any point along the cycle: at the first notice of a title, at the point of review, as an old title receives new attention, or at any moment between and among these examples. The cycle model also allows selectors the widest conception of their work and expands the possible inputs for selection beyond traditional trade reviews to a broader universe of considerations.
The selection cycle is both chronological and atemporal. It often begins with early notice and then flows from publicity to reviews to retrospective evaluation. It becomes atemporal when selector scanning and reader requests introduce data into the cycle serendipitously and often out of sync with the temporal flow of publishing. The cycle, while operating as a continuous loop of selection triggers, is also influenced and shaped by collaborating and conflicting forces. These forces, including internal library concerns and the social, cultural, and political conditions of the local and extended community, exert as strong an influence on collection decisions as any other selection trigger.
Early notice marks the launch of the selection cycle. It involves the announcement of book deals and the nascent publicity surrounding forthcoming titles. As responsive collection development is largely a prospective undertaking, early notice often serves as the initial prompt for title selection.1 Selectors work as far in advance of the publication calendar as possible and often make purchasing decisions for blockbuster titles long before critical reviews can be written and disseminated. Patrons demand such titles and it is part of almost every public library’s mission to supply them in sufficient quantities and in the necessary (and available) range of formats to meet the needs of readers. Early notice also aids selectors in another aspect of collection building, identifying titles that, while not written by proven best-selling authors, are likely to become popular such as was the case with Justin Cronin’s The Passage, Susanna Clarke’s Jonathan Strange & Mr Norell, and David Wroblewski’s The Story of Edgar Sawtelle.
Sources of notice vary widely but their goals are always the same, to inform their audience of forthcoming titles as far in advance as possible. Publishing houses, trade-review publications, various media outlets (social and other forms), authors, and library wholesalers all provide early notice. Perhaps the purest form is the publisher catalog, either in print or, increasingly, electronic and made available through online sites such as Edelweiss. Even given the changeability of publishing catalog data, scanning catalog pages (or keyword searching) for big names, popular subjects, perennial favorites, and indications of marketing attention is a time-tested and simple way of getting ahead of the arc of demand. Browsing catalogs also allows selectors to identify titles that fill and match particular needs, such as books that echo themes, subjects, and trends of past popular titles. Talking to the library marketing staff of various publishing houses at trade shows is also a method of early notice that reinforces what a selector gleans from browsing catalogs. While marketing staff might be most interested in sharing books recently, or soon to be, published, they are also more than willing to talk about what is forthcoming in the following season. They too are a deep well of information on trends and subjects and can identify titles that seem to echo each other, sometimes over decades.
While it might seem that the mechanism of early notice simply reinforces the popularity of the usual suspects, it actually exposes selectors to the widest possible field of title data so that they can begin to see trends and identify books that fulfill an unmet demand. Over time, by tracing early notice, selectors can come to anticipate arcs in publishing rather than merely following trends.
Social media plays a large role in early notice. Librarians, authors, editors, prominent reviewers, and others involved with the publication and review cycle post about books on their Facebook pages, discussing titles as they discover them, sign deals about them, or read very early copies. Similar activity takes place on Twitter. Both of these sources provide a great deal of useful early notice, well before a title is in print.
Trade publications such as Booklist, Library Journal, and Publishers Weekly also supply early notice. In addition to their pages of reviews, which vary in the amount of lead-time supplied, these sources highlight big titles even further in advance, long before the work reappears as a reviewed title. Booklist offers such notice through its “High Demand Hot List,” Library Journal offers “Prepub Alert,” and Publishers Weekly offers an online “On-Sale Calendar” that runs months in advance. Publishers Marketplace (and the shorter, but free version, Publishers Lunch) also offers advance book information and industry news that can be of use for selectors. Additionally, some consumer publications, such as “Forewords” from RT Book Reviews and audiobook “New Releases” in AudioFile, provide advance notice of varying degrees.
Library wholesalers also supply a needed form of notice: advance details on titles featured on TV and radio shows. Just as selectors do not need a review of the latest Nora Roberts to know it will be in high demand, they do not need a review of the latest cookbook being highlighted on Good Morning America to know that their readers will be searching the library’s catalog the moment the book appears on air to see if it can be reserved. While this form of notice is not as timely as collection development librarians really need (it is often only a few days or weeks ahead of the appearance), it provides a quick review of trending titles and supplies selectors with a few extra days to double check their order numbers and supplement their copies if necessary. Baker & Taylor’s “Fast Facts” and the “National TV, Radio & Online Publicity” section of Ingram’s ipage are two examples of such tools of notice. In addition, selectors can use the search feature of library wholesaler databases to scan for potential orders, looking for titles by various criteria such as print run, subject, and publication date. This is a very effective way of keeping on top of popular subjects and large print-run titles long before they gain widespread notice.
Buying based on notice is not without its risks. Given the state of library budgets and the pressure on selection librarians to ensure every purchase earns its keep through turnover, notice can be a double-edged sword. Recognizing this, some streams of notice offer a small amount of residual review or extended information beyond pure title notice. Booklist’s “High-Demand Hot List” often explains why a book will take off or gives an indication of print run. Barbara Hoffert of Library Journal offers selectors a similar service through “Prepub Alert.” Early Word (discussed in more detail later in this chapter) is also a critical site, providing an overview of media coverage and notice of books gaining momentum. This kind of information is especially helpful in conjunction with another aspect of collection development selectors must navigate: the question of how many copies of a given title should be ordered. While it is relatively straightforward to decide the appropriate quantities of the next Michael Chabon, it is very difficult to forecast the numbers for a first novel, a mid-list author who appears to be breaking through, or an established author who is radically changing styles, such as J. K. Rowling’s publication of an adult nonfantasy title. Having an indication of print run or a clue of potential demand helps collection development librarians make better educated guesses when they select based on notice.
Building a collection is a symphony of many parts. While notice provides the earliest possible indication that a title will be in demand, selectors must also track what is popular in the current moment. Doing so requires following the publicity wave surrounding titles as they are released and gain focused attention: those appearing in the media, on the Internet, and that are being featured in outlets beyond those geared to the library market.
As with early notice, there are multiple channels of publicity. Common sources include influential blogs and Twitter feeds, various national and local best-seller lists, IndieBound’s “Next List,” publishers (and their Twitter feeds and Facebook pages) and Web sites such as The Millions, Shelf Awareness, and Book Riot.’s “Movers & Shakers” and “Top 100,” Entertainment Weekly, People, and USA Today as well as morning, comedy, and late-night TV shows. Reviews can be sources of buzz as well, especially a string of glowing reviews or a notable reviewer appearing on a well-regarded outlet such as National Public Radio. Other forms of buzz include the newsletters produced by the library marketing offices of various
Selectors can also access a number of less-obvious sources of buzz. Local newspapers, particularly independent weeklies, are good sources of publicity, providing information about the community that selectors might not know—such as the local music scene, author readings at college and civic programs, and street parties and festivals around various themes and cultures. Paralleling local print sources are Web sites and blogs created by members of particular communities who pay attention to the cultural beat of their locale. Along the same lines, selectors should also be aware of the manifold ways readers in their communities gain access to the publicity machine, be it through specialized magazines or social media, and monitor those sources as well. Doing so can help selectors tap into their local area so that they are as in tune with their particular location as they are with the national scene.
Librarians are not only consumers and users of the publicity machine but active producers of it as well. They create buzz in their awards, programs, blogs, electronic mailing lists, and readers’ advisory efforts. Two particular librarian efforts of note are Early Word and the Reader’s Advisors Online blog. Each seeks to aggregate publicity (and in some cases also offers forms of notice). Early Word, created by Nora Rawlinson, is a rich source for collection development news. One of its most useful and unique contributions is its tracking of holds around the country. This alerts selectors to titles breaking through in other libraries and which might bear watching in their own. Early World also monitors titles rising on a variety of best-seller lists, aggregating movement and alerting selectors to titles gaining ground.
The Reader’s Advisors Online blog, maintained by Libraries Unlimited/ABC-CLIO and edited by Cindy Orr and Sarah Statz Cords, offers selectors a vital news service as well as a quick weekly review of titles new to the best-seller lists. Of particular use are the blog’s collected lists. Numerous publications create lists on various subsets such as seasonal titles, subject groupings, and genre picks. They are exceptionally useful as they cut through the flood of titles and highlight (often repeatedly) those that are getting a great deal of attention. Librarians might find such lists serendipitously or know about a few and deliberately seek them out, but Orr and Cords gather them in one location and thus save selectors a great deal of time.
Depending on the sources of early notice selectors track and the decisions they have made based upon that tracking, a title is likely already part of the collection by the time it hits the publicity stream. In this case selectors need to only monitor hold ratios to ensure that demand is met. This is the ideal situation. Selectors will miss titles; it is an unavoidable part of the job. Titles can be missed because they appear in tools of early notice a selector is not tracking, because the title rose so quickly that the various parties that create notice became aware of it at almost the same time it gained widespread publicity, because of changes in publication date, or because there was no way to predict the buzz trigger before it was announced (e.g., an Oprah book pick). Collection development, for as many tools and methods of measurement that exist, remains a speculative proposition. Selectors can only do the best job they can, knowing their communities, circulation metrics, and budget constraints. By tracking publicity, selectors improve the odds that they will discover a title at the earliest stage of this part of the cycle and buy before everyone else in their community has heard the growing buzz.
The downside of publicity is that it is ephemeral. What is popular today is often tomorrow’s old news. Selectors should be constantly aware that many titles highlighted in the buzz machine have a very short lifespan and buy accordingly. They should also look critically at the source of the buzz. Ultimately, the most reliable information comes from sales data, a wide range of reviews, and readers’ responses. Using hold ratio reports, print-run data, PR budgets, and considering historical long-term subject and genre demand in their libraries will help ensure that selectors are both responsive and responsible.
While this chapter largely explores the use of selection sources that do not conform to the standard concept of a review, my intent is not to diminish the importance of traditional reviews, either in print or online. Consumer reviews, such as those in People, Entertainment Weekly, the New York Times Sunday Book Review, Bookmarks, Locus, and All about Romance, and trade reviews, such as those in Booklist, Kirkus, Library Journal, and Publishers Weekly provide collection development librarians with an essential body of evaluation and summation. Some trade reviews in particular offer librarians comparisons between titles, pointing out the best translations, the most important biography, or the most exhaustive reference. This invaluable service supports the core work of collection development and helps selectors build strong and useful collections. Readers’ advisory librarians likewise would be lost without reviews as they provide clues to appeal, a quick summation of plot, and increasingly, read-alike pairings.
However, for all their usefulness, reviews do have limitations. Review sources must be selective and thus exclude from review thousands of titles each year (Evans and Saponaro 2012). Many only typically review those titles submitted to them by publishers, therefore excluding some small publishing houses as well as entire ranges of titles (e.g., self-published work) from their considerations. Embargoed titles are also completely removed from the timely review process. Additionally, both trade and consumer reviews can frequently suffer from a true lack of critical analysis. When almost every title reviewed is given some form of tepid support or review sources are pressured to give attention to advertisers’ titles, the value of reviews decreases. Adding to this flattening of critique, some crowd-sourced reviews are subject to great skepticism by selectors and readers alike who have come to understand the various ways such reviews may be for sale.2
Despite such concerns, knowing what experienced, vested, reflective, and critical readers think of titles will always be important. Reviews remain, despite our multichannel world, a central way selectors can easily gain exposure to a wide range and number of titles. They also, depending on the title and topic, can constitute a form both of early notice and publicity for any number of works where the review itself stands as a selector’s first introduction to a title. This is often the case with entire classifications of works such as science titles or those on animal care. For these reasons reviews remain a central tool and bedrock method of collection building.
Well-crafted collections have to be both rich and responsive. They must fulfill the needs of readers who expect what they are hearing about to be held by their public libraries and the needs of readers who expect the library will also hold titles that they come across in less obvious ways. Reviews enable selectors to curate collections that are deep and broad, and collections that allow for serendipity and surprise, for browsing and exploration. Without them, collections would tend to become uneven and narrow, reflecting only the small percentage of books that get the lion’s share of public attention each year.
Collection development is a constant activity. While the selection cycle is largely fueled by data generated and supplied by trade and consumer publications, in order to build rich and useful collections selectors must pay attention to cycle inputs that extend beyond such sources. They must scan the environment in which their readers are immersed.
The most basic method of scanning is for selectors to pay attention to what they read. In an echo of the advice given to all readers’ advisors, collection development librarians should read, watch, and listen as widely as they can, exploring as many formats, genres, subjects, and styles as possible. This way the titles they read about will have contextual meaning. It is far easier to discount a small press steampunk novel if the selector has never experienced the addictive levels of world building and description found in that subgenre of science fiction. Consuming culture in all its forms and as widely as possible keeps selectors in sympathy with fans and allows them to read reviews, advanced galleys, and other selection materials with an eye to what those fans crave. One of the best habits a collection development librarian can cultivate is to be interested and curious.
A related method of environmental scanning is to pay attention to from-the-field insights. A key group able to offer such insight is staff involved with delivering readers’ advisory service. Asking what advanced galleys they have enjoyed and plan to suggest to readers or what titles and authors they are particularly interested in for the upcoming season is an excellent way to introduce local field advice into the selection cycle. This method also works with communities created on book-related social media sites. While the input is not as localized, it has the great benefit of being specialized. Knowing what fans and readers’ advisory experts in certain genres and subjects areas are excited to read or suggest in the upcoming months is of great use when crafting collections. Field input can be found in other sources as well. For example, if a selector reads Southern Living and sees an article that indicates quilting will be the next hip craft, then it is worth his or her time to review the collection and add a few new quilting titles—and to keep an eye out for any repeated mentions of the trend.
Selectors can also use scanning to ensure they create well-rounded collections for particular high-interest areas such as cooking or crafts. Rather than basing selection decisions only upon reviews, selectors can instead explore the entire field of publication monthly or quarterly by searching vendor databases and other resources by topic and publication date, looking for titles worthy of further investigation. Doing so ensures that the collection does not, for example, have a dozen books on kitting socks because those titles drew review attention and, by contrast, holds no new titles on knitting hats.
Another method is to pay attention to what is happening within the community the selector serves. Which titles, in what formats, are being read on planes, the subway, and on the bus? Which book is everyone reading at the beach or talking about on the sidelines of the soccer field? Which local authors are gaining traction? Who is coming to town for author tours or lectures? What is hot on TV, in movie theaters, or trending on the radio or Web? A similar principle holds true for popular community activities. If a selector lives in a city that sponsors a yearly music festival, regularly hosts sports events, or often attracts exhibits by well-known artists, then the collection should be developed to support and augment interests in these activities. Such information keeps selectors in touch with the reading, viewing, and listening culture of their locale and ensures that if these works have not been mentioned in the systems of notice, publicity, and reviews he or she tracks, the selector can still ensure they are purchased.
Selectors can also craft collections by consulting local experts. A selector can ask his or her mechanic to recommend any basic car repair books or ask the local garden center about plant books. If a selector’s dentist builds telescopes on the side, then discussing best resources is a fine way to augment the collection. If a selector has a friend in a local band, then asking about the best books on audio software and music groups will enrich the collection. Selectors can also reach out to local support groups and hospitals to see if they have suggested titles on particular conditions and diseases and to various community groups representing special interests (e.g., the local running club) to get input. Just as selectors can build on the wealth of knowledge of other librarians across the country, they can do so within their communities and circles of acquaintances, building not just better collections but community support as well.
The point of such selector scanning is twofold. The first is to craft the collection so that it reflects and supports the interests of the community without the community having to request the titles. The second is to ensure that the collection remains broad. While experienced selectors actively work against the tendency to create collections that support their own interests, paying attention to the environment ensures the instinct to self-curate is muted by many other voices.
As much as collection development is a prospective process, it is also a retrospective one. There are many titles selectors purchase far after their publication dates. Part of this work is collection maintenance, such as ensuring that the library holds a full run of a series, replacing worn copies, and updating classics. The other part of retrospective buying is shaping the collection based on books that have become popular with readers some time after their initial publication.
A book winning an award is a standard reason to circle back and pick up the title. So too is back buying the titles of an author who has suddenly broken through. Classic examples of such authors are Dan Brown and John Grisham whose first books got little, if any, attention but whose subsequent books became blockbusters and created demand for their earlier titles. Another time-honored way to curate a collection retrospectively is the use of subject guides. A generation or more ago librarians would pore over the contents of such revered bibliographies as the Public Library Catalog, comparing their collections to the titles within its pages. Today such bibliographic selection has been replaced by more targeted and brief forms of bibliography such as Booklist’s “Top Ten” lists and “Core Collection” guides, Library Journal’s ongoing series of collection development pieces that offer in-depth coverage of a number of topics each year, Publishers Weekly’s buying guide overviews that offer genre, topic, and subject profiles, and Reference & User Services Quarterly’s “The Alert Collector.” Selectors can also make use of the many subject bibliographies offered by trade sources such as Cooking Light’s series on the 100 best cookbooks and Outside magazine’s list of essential books for the well-read explorer.
Buying books based on their adaptation into other media is another classic retrospective buying technique. In this case the goal is not simply to ensure that the library has the title but that the library holds the title in the form that will trigger a connection in readers. For example, when movie tie-in editions become available, selectors can augment their collections with copies of the book with the movie stars on the cover. This more easily enables readers to make connections across platforms and carry their interest in the film into the library. Understanding the uses of selection in this layered way helps librarians connect the narratives gripping their communities to the collection.
Still another retrospective collection method is to buy books that enhance an already established title getting a great deal of attention. For example, if a particular book on raising backyard chickens suddenly garners a large readership, then a host of other titles on the same and related subjects (e.g., DIY chicken coops, urban homesteading, and organic gardening) should be evaluated if the selector believes that demand is deep, and long-lasting enough, within the community to justify expanding the collection.
Technology has also shaped retrospective collection development. With the advent of ILS that track circulation data, selectors can monitor precise segments of the collection, generate hold ratios, and see daily snapshots of what is in high demand. The metrics possible with advanced automated systems allow selectors to track their own internal buzz and see what titles, subjects, genres, and authors are in demand and evaluate how well that demand is being met. Hold ratios enable selectors to add copies as needed while a title is at the top of its popularity wave as well as be alerted when a title regains popularity after its initial demand has waned. Through reports that track circulation by classification, selectors can see what areas are in demand and begin to select titles that reflect their communities’ interests. Selection is not only an external process, driven by reviews in the New York Times or a feature in Entertainment Weekly. It is also an internal process, driven by data that empirically illustrates the use of the collection.
Another method of retrospective collection development created by advances in technology is that selectors can now measure their collections against peer libraries and evaluate and augment their collections based on the holdings of others. A decade ago, selectors might have done this by searching the catalogs of libraries known for certain areas of expertise, seeing what books were held in those collections, and building selection lists based on their findings. This is now possible through a number of collection analysis systems such Collection HQ and WorldCat Collection Analysis, as well as through the resources of consortium libraries. These systems allow selectors to compare their collection against others in a variety of ways. Collection HQ, for example, can generate a list of the top circulating titles in a given subject, published in a given date range, and held across all subscribing libraries and transfer those results to an order cart. Selectors filling in collections or who have been given specific funds to develop a collection in a target area can use such systems to identify high circulating titles and evaluate them as part of their research.
Within the selection cycle there are forces pushing against it, binding it together, and interrupting its flow. Obvious forces include the library’s philosophy, collection budget, free shelf space, administrative policy, workplace culture, collection development policy, and the community’s social, political, and cultural environment. Popular culture and attention also shapes the cycle, even when in conflict with other collaborating and conflicting forces. The cycle is, therefore, subject to a great deal of interference and influence. Selectors themselves shape the cycle by how they respond to the materials other agents produce, their level of confidence and experience, their understanding of the ethical obligations of selection, and the pressures they must navigate in their place of work. While the ways the selection cycle is influenced by the agents that create it and by the exterior forces that bind it are many, I focus my considerations of such forces here to the community that uses the collection. I do so because their input directly affects the work of collection development librarians, and can teach selectors a great deal about the collection the community desires.
As Helen Haines reminds us, “there is no living world of books apart from the living world of readers” (Haines 1950, 17). Selection librarians curate the collection for their community, not as gatekeepers to the collection but in partnership with the community they serve. In addition to paying attention to the statistical data generated by their ILS, selectors have a direct form of community input: patron suggestions and ILL requests. Both are essential aspects of collection building and should be given serious attention as they directly express the desires of the community. Used well, they transcend sources of selection and become teaching and public relations tools.3Patrons have their own streams of early notice and are tuned into their own systems of publicity. They develop interests outside the mainstream channels of popular culture, interests that selectors may not have yet noted, but which might be gaining a popular footing within their district.
Evaluating community requests is not simply another task in the library. Requests tell collection development librarians as directly as possible what their users want. While many requests often reinforce the streams of notice and buzz a selector already monitors, some requests will be for titles not yet mentioned in such outlets. When this occurs, the source of the title expands the selector’s data stream, widening the circle of notice and buzz a selector might want to follow. Even when requests reinforce data streams a selector already monitors, such repeated mentions of a title are instructive as they confirm that selectors are monitoring the same resources their community values and that the titles they notice are the same titles their community also notes. Tracking these repeated instances of requests allows selectors to filter notice, publicity, reviews, and environmental scanning through a screen of local interest. Over time, selectors can learn enough about patron requests so that they get a sense of what will be in demand and can begin to craft the collection accordingly. When selectors view requests as teaching tools, they can proactively create the collection with their community in mind. Ideally, such attention will reduce the number of requests submitted and indicate that selectors have become more in tune with their communities’ needs.
Additionally, how selectors respond to requests offers the library a new stream of patron dialogue and public relations. When a selector communicates with the requestor, he or she affirms the patron’s interest in the library and learns more about that patron’s sources. It could be that a local civic club is starting a new project or that a new book club has begun. This type of micro knowledge of how the community finds and uses titles can feed directly back into the selector’s work: widening his or her streams of notice and buzz, teaching him or her what is important to the community, and offering him or her a chance to collect proactively rather than to respond retrospectively to requests. As a form of community engagement, there are few things as effective as responding to a request and purchasing materials the community asks for. Encouraging patron input, and then acting upon it, places collection building directly in the hands of the community that uses the library and for whom the collection is designed.
The selection cycle is yet another way to consider the project of collection development. It offers selectors a model that places emphasis on crafting collections that fulfill readerly desire prior to its demand spike so that collections are responsive to patrons rather than reactive to their requests. It is a model that, while it does not discount reviews, places emphasis on additional sources of selection data so that collection development is understood as taking place both prior to and following the publication of a review. Finally, it offers a model of collection development that understands selection as a continuous loop rather than a series of end-oriented steps. Building a collection that fulfills the needs of one’s community takes every resource possible and a commitment to working ahead of demand. Understanding collection development choices as existing within a selection cycle widens the amount of data from which a selector can draw, and helps create collections that are of use and that delight and surprise their community.
1 For more on responsive collection development, see Sharon L. Baker, The Responsive Public Library: How to Develop and Market a Winning Collection (Englewood, CO: Libraries Unlimited, 2002). This chapter assumes that selectors are seeking to build the most responsive and useful collections they can within the limitations imposed upon them by budgets, shelf space, and publishing models.
2 For examples of how crowdsourced reviews have come under scrutiny, see Andrew Hough, “RJ Ellory: Detected, Crime Writer Who Faked His Own Glowing Reviews,” The Telegraph, September 2, 2012. (accessed October 1, 2012) and David Streitfeld, “The Best Book Reviews Money Can Buy,” The New York Times, August 25, 2012, (accessed October 1, 2012).
3 My thanks to Corinne M. Hill, executive director of the Chattanooga Public Library, Tennessee, for sharing her library’s use of patron and ILL requests. Her philosophy and approach informed much of this segment. She also shared her approach to buying cross-platform titles such as movie edition reprints. I also want to thank Wendy Bartlett, collection development manager, Cuyahoga County Public Library, Ohio; Stephanie Chase, Library Strategies, BiblioCommons; Brian Kenney, director of the White Plains Public Library, New York; Megan McArdle, Manager for Collection Development and Adult Services, Berkeley Public Library, California; Cindy Orr, library consultant; Nora Rawlinson, cofounder and editor of Early Word; and Barry Trott, digital services director, Williamsburg Regional Library, Virginia, for sharing their sources of notice, buzz, and collection development methods. This chapter is richer for their input.
Darnton, Robert. 1982. “What Is the History of Books?” Daedalus 111 (3): 65–83.
Evans, G. Edward, and Margaret Zarnosky Saponaro. 2012. Collection Management Basics, Sixth Edition. Santa Barbara, CA: Libraries Unlimited.
Haines, Helen E. 1950. Living with Books: The Art of Book Selection. New York: Columbia University Press.
What do we mean when we talk about a Big Deal journal package? When did such a thing begin? And although it may be a Big Deal, is it a good deal, and what do we make of its future?
The Big Deal dates back to at least 1996. In that year Academic Press made what may have been the first of its kind—a package deal of e-journal content containing most, if not all, of the press’s publications (Poynder 2011a). The term Big Deal itself, however, was not popularized until 2001 when Kenneth Frazier published his article, “The Librarian’s Dilemma: Contemplating the Costs of the ‘Big Deal’ ” in D-Lib Magazine. In a nutshell, the Big Deal is any deal in which a publisher bundles a large number of its titles and offers the bundle to libraries for subscription at a substantial discount to what it would cost the library if it were to subscribe to the same titles on an individual basis. One of the most compelling factors of the Big Deal is that it usually offers libraries access to a far greater number of titles for the same price the library had been paying for fewer print titles in an a la carte model. Additional benefits of the Big Deal can include limits, or caps, on annual price increases, and the ability to swap titles in and out of the package from year to year. Sometimes a Big Deal will include a cancellation allowance if the annual level of spending for the bundle is above a certain dollar value.
Most deals of one kind or another, however, include a catch, and the Big Deal is no exception. Big Deal journal packages often require a commitment from the library to maintain the same level of spending, or higher, over multiple years—usually three to five. Large academic libraries are likely to have multiple Big Deals in place simultaneously with different publishers. Since, by nature the Big Deals are offered by big publishers, and because big publishers tend to get bigger, libraries may find over time that a growing percentage of their budgets are earmarked for these Big Deals with less and less money to spend on material not covered by these agreements. This can be especially problematic in times of budget cuts, when libraries are forced to reduce expenditures, but find that many of their low-use journal titles are protected by cancellation restrictions inherent in their Big Deal agreements.
Anyone who has looked at the cost of a subscription to an academic journal, particularly a journal in the areas of science, technology, or medicine (STM), will understand that the numbers can be significant. It is not uncommon for an institutional subscription to a journal in chemistry, physics, or neuroscience to be priced in the thousands of dollars. A library subscribing to thousands of these STM journals will have an annual commitment in the millions of dollars. Because a handful of large scientific publishers, many of whom offer their content via the Big Deal, control production and distribution of the majority of these journals, a library’s outlay with any single publisher might range from the hundreds of thousands to over a million dollars.
Furthermore, when libraries contemplate breaking a Big Deal at the end of their contract period, they might find that it would actually cost more to drop low-use titles than it would to simply renew their Big Deal contracts for another multiyear term (Thornton-Verma 2012). This has led many to criticize Big Deal publishers for providing content that libraries do not need and do not want in order to get the content they require (Anderson 2012).
In order to understand the role the Big Deal plays in journal collection development and management, we need to understand the environment that existed in the years leading up to the offering made by Academic Press back in 1996. The Big Deal emerged partly in response to an untenable situation commonly referred to as the serials crisis, which was marked by an escalation in the cost of journal subscriptions in relation to the overall budget of the typical academic library. Kyrillidou and Bland (2009) discuss the rapid increase in serials expenditures at ARL libraries between 1986 and 2007. The serials price increases far exceed price increases for every other library expenditure and is 273 percentage points higher than the consumer price index (CPI)—a common measure of inflation.
Since it is hard to fully appreciate the impact of these figures without a specific example, let us use a hypothetical one. The libraries of Hypothetical University (HUL) in 1986 had an overall budget of $4 million grouped into three broad categories—salaries, operating expenses, and library materials. Library materials consist of two categories—monographs and serials. To see the full impact of serials price increases in sharp relief, let us further assume that in 1986 HUL’s expenditures were equal in all categories. The numbers are laid out in Table 11.1, and are represented graphically in Figure 11.1.
In 1986 expenditures on serials and monographs were equal at $1 million each, whereas by 2007 expenditures on serials were more than two-and-a-half times the expenditure level for monographs. Furthermore, serials expenditures represented 41 percent of the libraries’ overall expenditures in 2007 as compared to just 25 percent in 1986. The effect is even more dramatic if we look only at materials expenditures. In 2007 serials represented 71.8 percent of the overall materials budget, compared to an even split at 50 percent in 1986.
1986 (in million)
Figure 11.1 then shows what our example might look like if we plotted Hypothetical’s expenditures by category from 1986 to 2007.
By the 1990s librarians, growing increasingly alarmed, began to refer to the situation as a serials crisis (Iowa State University 2003).
The serials crisis was a component of a larger complication commonly referred to as the crisis in scholarly communications, which can be defined as “the system through which research and other scholarly writings are created, evaluated for quality, disseminated to the scholarly community, and preserved for future use” (Association of College & Research Libraries 2006). The researcher is primarily involved in the first step (creation), the publisher in the second step (evaluation for quality), the publisher and possibly the library in the third step (dissemination), and the library in the fourth step (preservation). But we also know that there is interaction among all parties throughout every step—libraries can assist the researcher in the creative process; publishers can solicit topical contributions from researchers in an effort to affect or stimulate that process; researchers are involved in peer review, part of the evaluation process; researchers can also have a hand in the dissemination process when they recommend or encourage their institutions’ libraries to subscribe to the journals in which they publish or on whose editorial boards they serve; and finally, libraries are often partners with publishers and other organizations in addressing preservation issues. These multidimensional interactions make the scholarly communications process a decidedly complicated one, and one increasingly dominated by for-profit publishers.
It was not always that way. Scholarly publishing began centuries ago when societies stepped in to provide the framework for the scholarly communication process described earlier. Prior to the 17th century the results of scientific research were shared, for the most part, in small circles. Feedback was limited, and reviewers of the results were mostly chosen because of their close association with the researcher. Scholarly societies changed this when they began to formally publish the results of scholarly research and to make them available for scrutiny to a broader audience. One of the earliest societies to step into this role was the Royal Society when it published the first issue of Philosophical Transactions on March 6, 1665 (Royal Society 2013). Although societies are still represented in this process—Philosophical Transactions remains the oldest scientific journal in continuous publication—over time for-profit publishers took on the role of qualitative evaluation (filtering and peer review) and dissemination. This evolved to include the division of content into discreet, topical journals that provided a more convenient way for a scholar to keep up with developments in his or her specific field. The benefits of economies of scale and the expertise in business strategy that for-profit publishers brought to the mix afforded competitive advantages when compared to the staid, tradition-based societies. These competitive advantages allowed the more successful, for-profit publishers to acquire as well as start more journals. Sometimes these advantages also enabled for-profit publishers to acquire titles from societies themselves, either by contractual arrangement or through outright purchase. As a result, by the 1980s and 1990s academic journal publishing was consolidating in the hands of a few large publishers, even though the number of journals and the amount of content continued to expand. Arguably, this has made for a more efficient system of gathering, filtering, evaluating, and disseminating the results of scholarly research.
The second half of the twentieth century, however, saw an explosion in the growth of scholarly output (Mabe and Amin 2001). Libraries tried to keep up, subscribing to an increasing number of journals to support the needs of their researchers, so that they, in turn, could produce even more research that needed dissemination. Budgets increased, and in a still print-based world, physical library space expanded as well to accommodate rapidly growing bound journal collections.
The serials or scholarly communication crisis can be summarized as follows: college and university researchers—who receive salaries, some of which may be derived from state funding—carry out research that is funded by government grants. These researchers are then put under extraordinary pressure to share their findings through publication in refereed journals in order to gain promotion and tenure. To have their work appear in one of these journals, researchers are contractually obligated to cede their article copyright to the journal publisher. The same institutions that are employing these researchers then buy back, via their libraries, these same research results repackaged as journal subscriptions. With the rapid increase in research output and subscription costs, the result was a vicious cycle. One can understand how this cycle would be an enticing model for a publisher—it offers a rapidly expanding market, a captive audience, and seemingly unlimited potential for growth. The situation was summed up by one librarian in an editorial for The Serials Review in a thematic issue on this topic:
The exorbitant costs of journals, and their inability for any one library, or even library consortia, to subscribe to the breadth or depth of the published scholarly literature, seriously jeopardize the resources libraries will be able to offer future generations of students and researchers. (Hepfer 1992)
The entire issue, in fact, is a good read for anyone wishing to gain an idea of the sentiment at this point in the early 1990s, with a particularly good summary by Clifford Lynch (1992).
Anxiety over the immanent transition from print to electronic content further complicated the situation. Among other things, librarians worried that the transition would exacerbate an already emerging digital divide, a concern that continues today. In addition, connection speed, bandwidth, and storage were of great concern at a time when dial-up was the primary means by which individuals connected to the Internet, and the floppy disk, with its 2.0 megabytes of capacity, was their primary unit of data storage. Preservation of electronic content also became an issue. Finally, librarians did not want to be in the position to pay twice, in two different formats, for the same content, particularly as the volume of content increased. These converging factors created the context within which Academic Press offered that first Big Deal.
In 1996 Jan Velterop, a managing director at Academic Press, is credited with describing a vicious cycle, or price spiral, in the subscription costs of academic journals (Poynder 2011a). Every year saw a new round of subscription cancellations because library budgets were not keeping up with the ever-increasing cost of academic serials. This caused publishers to raise their prices even more in an effort to maintain the same revenue from a smaller number of overall subscriptions. Each subsequent year brought another round of cancellations and further price increases to compensate. Applying the argument to a simple example, we might say that a journal that had cost $500 a year when 1,000 subscriptions were sold would eventually cost $250,000 when only two subscriptions were sold, and $500,000 a year for the last remaining library. This prompted Velterop to rethink Academic Press’s business model, proposing the first Big Deal package offer to the Higher Education Funding Council of the United Kingdom. The agreement would make the full range of Academic Press’s journals available to all institutes of higher education in the United Kingdom. Other publishers eventually adopted a similar model, although these agreements do not tend to be at the national level, but at the consortium level and are paid at the library level. In time this allowed publishers to single out institutions in order to customize deals to specific libraries that, on balance, seemed better than the deals they were getting through their consortiums. The expanding popularity of this pricing model led Ken Frazier, then University Librarian at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, to call it the Big Deal, stating that “simply put, the Big Deal is an online aggregation of journals that publishers offer as a one-price, one size fits all package” (Frazier 2001).
Frazier went on to describe the negotiation process between librarians and publishers, used to establish use and business terms, as the librarian’s dilemma. This is an allusion to Albert Tucker’s prisoner’s dilemma, which is used as an illustration in game theory. Two suspects are arrested and placed in separate cells in the local jail and are forbidden to communicate with each other. The prosecutor feels that there may not be enough evidence to convict the suspects for the crime in which they are implicated, but he can have them each convicted for a lesser crime such as illegal possession of firearms. In an effort to elicit a confession, the prosecutor offers each suspect a deal. He tells Prisoner A that the firearms conviction would carry a two-year prison sentence. However, if Prisoner A confesses, the prosecutor will ensure that Prisoner A will go free, while Prisoner B will be convicted of the primary offense and receive the maximum three-year sentence. If both prisoners confess, they will each get one-year sentences. He then makes the same offer to Prisoner B. There is a strong incentive for both prisoners to betray the other; if either remains silent, he faces a minimum two-year sentence for the firearms charge and a maximum three-year sentence for the full conviction if the other prisoner betrays him. If either confesses, he faces a maximum one-year sentence but also has the prospect of going free if the other prisoner remains silent. The range of possible decisions is often depicted in a matrix. Figure 11.2 depicts our earlier example.
Frazier (2001) railed against the Big Deal, imploring other library directors to “not sign on to the Big Deal or any comprehensive license agreement with commercial publishers.” Applying Tucker’s theory to the Big Deal, Frazier argued that librarians may seem at first to be acting rationally, and that the Big Deal is a win-win situation for libraries and publishers alike. But, Frazier went on to argue that in the long term it is win (publisher) lose (library) as libraries get locked in to paying for content they do not need or do not want, unable contractually to drop titles from the package.
Frazier argued that eventually the Big Deal becomes more of a burden to libraries than a benefit; it results in coerced customer loyalty because the libraries are contractually forbidden to cancel titles they may not need or want. It can also result in disintermediation as the publishers of Big Deal content may eventually try to eliminate the middle men (i.e., journal vendors), ultimately resulting in librarians attempting to change publishing rules in order to mitigate the control publishers have over scholarly content.
So, what might a Big Deal look like in practice? What follows is a hypothetical Big Deal between a publisher and an academic library, with the potential for the library to benefit further from membership in a consortium. Let us call the publisher XYZ Publishing Inc. Again, our library is HUL. It is the fall of 1998, and HUL has 775 print subscriptions to 750 titles (including some duplicates for more popular titles) from XYZ Publishing, which offers a total of 1,215 titles overall. The total cost is $620,000, with the average cost per subscription at $800 ($620,000/775).
Now it is time for HUL to renew its titles with XYZ for 1999, and the strategy is to convert some subscriptions from print to online—particularly those titles for which it has maintained multiple print subscriptions. HUL sees this as a logical way to save money and increase access—a single online subscription to a popular journal should provide access to the entire institution and obviate the need to maintain multiple print subscriptions.
This is understandably problematic for XYZ. If institutions across the country, and around the world, begin cancelling duplicate print subscriptions in favor of online access, then XYZ is likely to see substantial drops in revenue even though it is providing expanded access to its content. So XYZ has come up with a proposal for HUL that it touts as a win-win situation for both sides—HUL can convert all of its subscriptions over to online-only, thus expanding access to XYZ’s journal content across the institution, if HUL agrees to maintain its 1998 level of spending plus 5 percent to cover access to more content. Furthermore, HUL agrees to maintain that level of expenditure plus a 5 percent annual increase per year for the next three years. XYZ argues that the average increase for journals has been and is projected to be around 7 percent, so the deal should save HUL a significant amount of money over the next three years.
Continue with Print Only
Move to E-Only (Three-Year Contract)
HUL does a quick calculation (see Table 11.2) and determines that this offer appears to be a win-win scenario and signs the three-year contract.
Although the Big Deal has its critics, many would argue that it has been an effective solution to the serials crisis. In an interview for Information Today, Derk Haank, CEO of Science & Business Media at Springer, argues that journal subscription rates must increase to keep pace with the increasing output of scholarly information (Poynder 2011b). Haank notes that it is in the best interests of both publishers and librarians to keep the Big Deal going, because it enables libraries provide access to those titles they were forced to cancel under the old print models. Ideally, the research community would have access to the entire scholarly record, and the Big Deal is the only model that makes that even remotely possible. In short, for some, the Big Deal was the solution to the serials crisis. Additionally, the Big Deal could be seen as an effective means of “increasing the exposure and the survival of journals in small or emerging fields” (Van Orsdel and Born 2003). But is the Big Deal truly a long-term solution, or did it merely buy us time?
As we have seen, the Big Deal was presented as a possible solution to the serials crisis and the larger crisis in scholarly communication. It seemed to have worked in the short term; however, its limitations began to appear as a result of the first economic downturn in the Big Deal era. Beginning in 2000, with the dot-com meltdown and subsequent recession, academic libraries saw their materials budgets reduced drastically. The Big Deal may have provided a way through the transition from print to electronic, but it was only a matter of time before the continuing growth of scholarly output began to stress the system again. It was, essentially, another version of kicking the can down the road. The Big Deal restored the ability of librarians to make available the scholarly content needed to support the teaching and research missions of their institutions. Over time, however, the caps on annual increases built into the Big Deal outpaced inflation as well as budget increases. What, then, are viable alternatives to the Big Deal?
It all begins, of course, with breaking up the Big Deal itself. This is no easy task, and one to which the publishers are understandably resistant. A number of options are available, but first content in the Big Deal should be analyzed in order to determine relative value. While there are perhaps many ways of going about this, any such effort should include the following basic factors:
• Analysis of usage statistics to determine the most heavily used titles
• Cost analysis and cost-per-use
• Consultation with faculty
After conducting this review, and determining what savings, if any, they need to generate, librarians may choose to cancel the Big Deal outright and use alternative methods to provide access. One solution would be to license access to individual titles directly with the publisher. This alternative will, in some cases, highlight one of the benefits of the Big Deal—the inflation cap. If a Big Deal has been in place for a number of years, the cost of an individual title has been suppressed. The list price of the same title could be quite a bit more. It is the latter price that will be charged when licensing individual title access, so the library will be paying more money for fewer titles. Another option could be to offer pay-per-use directly with the publisher. Some publishers, such as Wiley, offer both librarian-mediated and unmediated pay-per-use, which the library funds through the purchase of tokens. This might be an option if the cost-per-use of the journals in the Big Deal is higher than the price of an individual token. One drawback, however, is that this cost, if unmediated, is also not predictable.
Other options to provide access to journal content are also available. A less appealing alternative for some might be to rely on journal aggregator products for full-text access. ProQuest Research Library and Ebsco’s Academic Search Complete, for example, both offer a wide variety of full-text journal content. Two major drawbacks make this solution unsatisfactory to many. First, publishers have the option to pull content from aggregators, making access unreliable. And, if the library opts to cancel a subscription to an aggregator, all access to this content disappears. Another alternative to the Big Deal might be to rely on ILL, although it should be understood that this solution is not free. ILL is a staff-intensive process, with a cost per request calculated to be around $17.50 (Jackson 2004). Finally, if access to the most current issues of some scientific journal content is not necessary, an option might be to rely on open access. Mandated public dissemination of publications emanating from government-funded research is becoming more common, although there is almost always an embargo on new content.
If we think about the long term, the lack of sufficient budgetary resources is not necessarily the core issue. It is unlikely, given current trends in academic publishing and library funding, that libraries will ever be able to purchase all of the content they need, let alone the entire universe of academic output. Alternative models for managing the scholarly communications process will be necessary. Breaking up the Big Deal and pay-per-view are two options discussed earlier, although some institutions have encountered fiscal barriers in breaking up their Big Deal packages. The cost-per-use of articles in the Big Deal may be less expensive than either ILL or pay-per-view. Or, the price per journal title is higher for those journals that are retained after the dissolution of the Big Deal, and any journal subsequently subscribed to will be added at list, rather than a discounted price. Thus, libraries can ultimately end up with significantly less content for the same outlay of money. Nor does a break-up of a Big Deal package do anything to address the observation made earlier that scholarly output is expanding exponentially. The Big Deal may be unsustainable, but so is its breakup.
Given these challenges, we run the real risk of seeing an ever-widening gap in what libraries need and what they can afford. One interesting and promising idea mentioned earlier that has gained some traction is open access. While the concept itself is not new—Frazier (2001) advocated for it in his Librarian’s Dilemma article—it has recently captured the attention of the very publishers offering Big Deal packages for which open access is seen as an alternative. As recently as 2011, Derk Haank asserted that open access would never be anything more than a niche model (Poynder 2011b). Yet Haank’s own company, Springer, acquired open access publisher BioMed Central in 2008 as a hedge, perhaps, in case open access ever becomes more than just a niche.
It is important to remember that open access is not free, per se. There are still costs associated with the upkeep and maintenance of electronic storage and Web delivery systems. Resources also need to be committed to copy editing, peer review, dissemination, and preservation. However, since the basic tenet is to make the content available without the price barriers defined by subscriptions, we now have the promise of making a large range of scholarly output available to anyone who wants it regardless of his or her ability to pay. Stuart Shieber (2009) argued that “in a world where the first-copy cost of publishing an article is essentially the entire cost, a business model for publishing that charges per article for article-processing services . . . makes a lot of sense.” Various business models have arisen to cover the costs mentioned earlier, and new ones are being proposed each year. Public Library of Science and BioMed Central are two success stories, among several, indicating that open access publishing can be a viable alternative to traditional subscription-based models.
What does this mean for the future of journal licensing in academic libraries? We have seen how the Big Deal emerged as a means to enable the transition from traditional print-based subscriptions to electronic access defined by license agreements. And we have seen how the Big Deal has been, arguably, an effective short-term solution during this transition for libraries and publishers alike. In the longer term, however, we have seen that the Big Deal may prove untenable as the cost of maintaining it outpaces both the rate of inflation and library budget increases. And we have discussed briefly some possible alternatives to the Big Deal. In the near to medium term, journal licensing in academic libraries will likely become more varied and complex as libraries and publishers experiment with multiple models for access. In the long term, it is anyone’s guess.
Anderson, Rick. 2012. “The Big Deal, the Medium Deal and the Tiny Deal.” Scholarly Kitchen May 30, 2012. Available at:. Accessed October 7, 2012.
Association of College & Research Libraries. 2006. Principles and Strategies for the Reform of Scholarly Communication. September 1, 2006. Available at:. Accessed January 5, 2013.
Frazier, Kenneth. 2001. “The Librarian’s Dilemma: Contemplating the Cost of the ‘Big Deal.’ ” D-Lib Magazine 7 (3). Available at:. Accessed October 7, 2012.
Hepfer, Cindy. 1992. Editorial. Serials Review 18 (1/2): 9.
Iowa State University. 2003. The Crisis in Scholarly Communication. Available at:. Accessed October 29, 2012.
Jackson, Mary E. 2004. Assessing ILL/DD Services: New Cost-Effective Alternatives. Washington, DC: Association of Research Libraries. Available at:. Accessed May 1, 2013.
Kyrillidou, Martha, and L. Bland, Comps. and Eds. 2009. ARL Statistics 2007–2008. Available at:. Accessed October 29, 2012.
Mabe, Michael, and Mayur Amin. 2001. “Growth Dynamics of Scholarly and Scientific Journals.” Scientometrics 51 (1): 147–62. Available at:. Accessed October 29, 2012.
Poynder, Richard. 2011a. “The Big Deal: Not Price but Cost.” Information Today 28 (8): 1, 32–33.
Poynder, Richard. 2011b. “Not Looking for Sympathy.” Information Today 28 (1): 14–15.
Royal Society. History. Available at:. Accessed January 6, 2013.
Shieber, Stuart M. 2009. “Equity for Open-Access Journal Publishing.” PLoS Biology 7 (8): e1000165. doi:10.1371/journal.pbio.1000165.
Thornton-Verma, Henrietta. 2012. “Plan B: Life after the Big Deal.” Library Journal Reviews, April 10, 2012. Available at:. Accessed October 7, 2012.
Van Orsdel, Lee, and Kathleen Born. 2003. “Big Chill on the Big Deal.” Library Journal 128 (7): 51–56.
Collection development at Carleton College is the joint responsibility of faculty and library staff in the service of the teaching mission of the college. This collaboration is not unusual in itself, but it seems to be unusually deep and unusually central at Carleton. In this chapter we would like to explore from our different departmental perspectives the exact nature of this collaboration and the opportunities as well as the challenges that arise from it. Instead of undertaking a systematic survey, this chapter pairs a study of the historical development of collaboration between librarians and faculty members at Carleton with one current faculty member’s view of selecting library content.
Carleton College is a highly selective private residential liberal arts college located in Northfield, Minnesota. With a small student body (under 2,000 students) and a 9:1 student/faculty ratio, the emphasis is on close collaboration between students and faculty. In this context, student research is an essential and growing part of the teaching mix, underscoring the centrality of the library collection and the library staff in delivering high-quality resources and instruction that support vigorous student learning. Working together with the faculty, the library provides students with a rich collection, shaped to fit closely with the contours of the curriculum, of 477,067 monographs (general collection, reference, and special collections), 809 print periodical subscriptions, 36,509 e-journal direct subscriptions, 1,945 reference books (sources, indexing and A&I services, databases, data, and Web sites), access to 42,424 journal titles in databases and in packages, and access to 473,652 eBooks.
In 1868, two years after the school was founded, the Carleton College library had an opening collection of 375 volumes. Starting with this small book collection, the development of information services, which includes collection development and institutional support, continues to be an integral part of the library’s mission. The data for the following discussion of the history of faculty involvement in collection development has been collected from Carleton librarians’ annual reports and from meeting minutes of the Committee of the Faculty for the Library, all held in the Carleton College Archives.
During the library’s first 15 years (1868–1883), various faculty members and students loosely guided the development of and access to the collection. In 1883 Charles H. Cooper, who was the sole instructor in the Department of History and Political Science, became the first librarian. He was the first librarian to retain this position for more than two years, serving in this capacity until 1899 when Rev. George Huntington, professor of logic and rhetoric, became the second librarian, a position he held for the next eight years.
The first mention of allocating book funds directly to teaching faculty is found in the librarian’s 1903–1904 annual report, which Sabra Nason, the assistant librarian to George Huntington, wrote on his behalf. She reported that the practice of equally appropriating library funds to academic departments that Huntington had introduced two years prior was used again for the 12 departments of the college. In addition to the funds allocated to the academic departments, funds—that the librarian expended—were given to the library for the purchase of books necessary for general use. In the same report the appointment of a special advisory faculty committee to the library by Huntington is mentioned, as well as his intention to make this committee a standing committee of the college (College Librarian Annual Reports).
Until 1902 the college librarian was selected from the faculty. Between 1902 and 1907, Carleton graduates Sabra L. Nason and Eleanor J. Gladstone were hired in the newly created positions of assistant librarians. Both were credited for laying the groundwork for a well-organized and serviceable library at Carleton, with most of the credit given to Eleanor Gladstone, who served as the third librarian from 1907 to 1920. With Gladstone’s appointment the library became more structured, which is reflected in the librarian’s reports. Her annual writings focused on the growth of the collection, including books not being returned either by students or by faculty, specific donations of collections to the library, reference and cataloging services, staffing, and the cost of books and periodicals. Gladstone’s annual reports served as a template for future annual reports, and only changed in structure as issues confronting the library evolved.
Walter M. Patton, the fourth college librarian (1917–1928) did not mention working with a faculty committee in his 1923–1924 report, but he did name specific departments of the college and used the phrase “cooperated in the enrichment” of the library’s resources by “wise selection” of recent books for their respective disciplines. He also commented that the library’s budget continued to be appropriated to departments according to need. When departmental library budgets were not fully expended, funds were transferred to those departments that had expended their funds (College Librarian Annual Reports).
The next mention of an advisory faculty committee appears in the college librarian’s report for the year ending May 31, 1928. Carleton’s fifth librarian, Bessie G. Frost, devoted a paragraph to the issue of working more closely with a committee, to review not only book allocations to departments but also periodical subscriptions. In that same year, the library committee became a college standing committee, which Charles N. Smiley, a professor of Latin and chairman of the department, chaired. For the next five years (l934–1938) the committee was led by Thomas Ernest Rankin, chair of the English department. After Professor Rankin’s term, the college librarian took over sole chairmanship of the advisory committee when Robert W. McEwen was appointed the sixth librarian. With the appointment of McEwen, a professional degree in librarianship became a requirement for this leadership position. During his period, the collection contained 125,000 volumes and 550 periodical titles. In his first annual report for the year ending June 30, 1940, he says, “The quality of the collection is a reflection of the ability of the faculty, the quantity, the long-continued support and interest of the administration” (College Librarian Annual Reports).
Between 1939 and1945 McEwen worked closely with the faculty to help them develop a more systematic method for building the library’s periodical collection. In 1940 he instituted the practice of having the faculty committee review individual issues of new titles being considered. He stated that such a policy could eventually prevent the acquisition of often-donated short runs, or incomplete journal titles, which he felt were not appropriate to have in a permanent periodical collection.
For many years prior to 1940 the major responsibility for faculty book selection rested with the chairs of the departments. This resulted in highly focused collections reflecting the interests of a select few faculty members. In his 1940–1941 annual report, McEwen recommended a procedure to diversify collection content. According to McEwen, the ultimate purpose of this proposed procedure was to “strengthen faculty responsibility in this important area” (College Librarian Annual Reports). The specifics of the procedure are worth repeating because they serve as a template, providing the academic departments guidance on how they could fold book selection into their roles as teaching faculty:
1. At meetings of the department held about the middle of each semester, the several members of the department would present requests for books for consideration by the department. These book requests would then be rated in the order of their importance to the work of the department and the growth of the book collection in that field, and cards recommending the purchase of books requested would be forwarded to the librarian with order of importance indicated.
2. Members of the faculty, and especially department heads, would keep in mind two types of books to be added to the collection:
a. New publications in the subject field
b. Classics in the field, which have not yet been added for our holdings.
The division of funds between these two types of purchases would vary considerably with the departments. Special consideration to the second type should be the concern of a department in ordering content for a new course, or for any course not offered for some years.
3. A small percentage of funds available, perhaps 20 percent, would be reserved at the time of the departmental meeting, and held uncommitted for immediate needs as they arise, or for the purchase of real bargains from sales catalogs.
4. The departments, through such meetings, would compile lists of desiderata for the guidance of the librarian in encouraging gifts for the collection, or for special purchases from general funds in his or her hands.
By the time McEwen’s successor, Marian F. Adams, became the seventh college librarian in 1945, the collection consisted of 140,000 volumes and 500 periodicals. She continued the practice introduced under McEwen of having all librarians provide expert bibliographical counsel to the librarian as she expended the special funds allocated directly to her. Succeeding college librarians’ annual reports discussed results of librarian-led, discipline-based projects, such as comparing the library’s collections with special lists, evaluating the library’s holdings in relation to the curriculum and comparing holdings to those of peer institutions.
The college librarian annual reports throughout Adam’s term through the hiring of John Metz as the 11th college librarian in 1978–1979 continued to document the various levels of faculty involvement in the development and management of the book and periodical collections. These reports also discuss issues related to the operations of a residential liberal arts college library, which, between 1949 and 1979, had grown from 1,120 to 1,725 students and had 158 faculty who were based in 26 departments and taught approximately 660 courses.
In 1969–1970 Robert K. Bruce became the ninth college librarian. Bruce hired Ann Niles as the acquisitions librarian at a time when the faculty had begun to raise great concern over the quality of the periodical collection and the reliance on microfilm for accessing periodical back files. In the 1960s Carleton had joined the Associated College of the Midwest (ACM) and participated in a cooperative interlibrary lending venture among these 10 Midwestern colleges called the AMC Periodicals Bank. Participating members would send print periodical back files to the bank and would receive microfilm subscriptions in exchange. Though it was a common theory held by others in the library profession that converting periodical back files to microfilm would save binding costs, Niles did not agree. After evaluating the situation, she agreed with the Carleton faculty and stopped microfilm acquisitions and reinstated the binding program. Niles held the firm belief that the most important role of a college library was to hold as complete a periodical collection as possible. She spent the next 30 years trying to fill in as many of the back files as she could (Niles 2002).
As the college librarian’s administrative attention focused on budgets and space needs, Niles was given complete responsibility for overseeing all book selection—both by faculty and by librarians. The faculty would talk to Niles about gaps in the collection and about large purchases that their departmental allocations could not cover. Over time, the head of acquisitions became the contact for issues related to the ongoing development of the library’s collections.
Since its beginnings the library’s collections existed to support the curriculum. Niles believed the faculty were in the best position to know what was needed for their teaching. She and the other librarians partnered with the faculty, but with the understanding that librarians were responsible for acquiring a balanced collection of library materials in many formats, selecting reference, general, and interdisciplinary materials, and filling in gaps in the collection. Between 1976 and1979 Phillip C. Wei, the 10th college librarian, facilitated dramatic changes in the library, including the switch from the Dewey Classification System to the Library of Congress and the consolidation of separate title and subject card catalogs into one. This was a tumultuous period for all concerned, but it was also a time during which both the library and the faculty worked together to adjust to the necessary changes to ensure that the collections met the needs of the library users.
During the 1980s’ renovation of Gould Library, which was built in 1956, Niles and the faculty continued to work together developing the collections. As mentioned previously, the academic departments and the library used several collection development methods to respond to the typically changing curricular and teaching needs of a liberal arts college. Under Niles the library modified its budget formula for annual departmental allocations to include: average cost of books, enrollment by department, number of books published in a field, circulation of books by classification, previous year’s allocation, and actual expenditure.
In 1989, to systematize book selection and save faculty time, Niles worked with the representative from Blackwell’s North America and the Carleton faculty to set up an approval plan. The faculty defined the profile, emphasizing support for the curriculum. Books fitting this profile were sent weekly for the nine months school was in session. Only notification slips were sent during the summer months. Faculty members were expected to review titles that were received as part of the approval plan to determine which were appropriate to add to the collection. Niles reviewed the remaining titles and retained those suitable. Unfortunately, faculty did not consistently review titles, and so after three years the plan was discontinued and title-by-title selection resumed (Niles 1991).
In 1997 the library began to warn the college community that in order for it to continue to support the undergraduate liberal arts college curriculum, users would need to have access to information both in traditional formats (print, video, audio) and in digital formats. Niles noted on the first page in that year’s winter issue of the library newsletter, Bookmark, “the future of the Gould Library lies in preparing for and coping with the ‘both/and’ world of paper and electronic resources, not an ‘either/or’ environment of excluding one for the sake of the other” (Bookmark 1997).
In 1999 Samuel Demas was hired as the 12th college librarian and began to tackle the various challenges the library faced in facilitating the shift from print to digital collections. To do so, a new department named Collection Development was created, which brought together ongoing management of the library’s material budget and collections, preservation, and special collections. The rationale for creating this department was to guide collection development, acknowledging the need for print materials while facilitating the integration of electronic resources into the collection. The department was and continues to be responsible for: developing policies and selection strategies; defining funding requirements; managing expenditures; selecting materials in all formats; and representing and interpreting the collection to the faculty. In 2001 a printed brochure titled “Faculty Participation in Collection Development” was sent to all faculty, outlining guidelines designed to ensure that the materials acquired met the changing needs of the curriculum.1 As new strategies are developed to accommodate the technological advancements in the delivery of scholarly information, the electronic version of this document is regularly updated. Included in this brochure are the criteria in place for selecting electronic reference titles and e-journals. The library also works with its book providers, first Blackwell’s North America and now YPB, setting up accounts for each member of the Carleton faculty so they receive electronic notifications of newly published books delivered to their desktop.
The library continues to work closely with the faculty in the management of the materials budget for books and journals. And this collaboration now extends to St. Olaf College, which is also in Northfield. With the assistance of three Mellon grants received between 2003 and 2005, the libraries at Carleton and St. Olaf combined their library catalogs and formally became a consortium of two libraries. With the two collections combined into one access point, the goal became building complementary collections to expand resources available to faculty and students at both colleges.
For new faculty members at Carleton, there is exhilaration as well as anxiety in realizing that we can and should actively shape the library’s collection in our fields. It takes time to learn what the library has, which courses you will teach and at what level, and what kinds of resources are needed for what kinds of project. As these questions resolve themselves, other questions arise: which titles will best support my courses and which will provide students doing independent research with adequate on-site resources to excite their interest and give them research momentum? Learning how students engage with the library in pursuing their intellectual interests and developing a keener sense of what kinds of acquisitions are most likely to be used and to inspire takes time and attention, which are often in short supply at Carleton. An important feature of faculty collection development, therefore, is that there is a real learning curve in which both departmental and program colleagues play a part and the library staff are crucial.
I came to Carleton as a medieval historian with research interests in 14th-century Italy. Because I have local colleagues who collect in Byzantine and early medieval history, ancient history, and early modern Europe starting with the Reformation, I have been able to focus on the period between approximately 1100 and 1600. Carleton has had a long tradition of teaching medieval history and so the collection, broadly speaking, was strong when I arrived. At the same time, there were idiosyncrasies of emphasis reflecting the interests of former faculty—we were strong on the history of peasants and women and Benedictine monasteries, but weak on the crusades, exploration, heresy, and the Mendicant religious orders. I also have interests in urban history, the history of cartography, and the Mediterranean world, which were not well supported. As I developed courses and directed comprehensive projects (required of all Carleton seniors), I found myself amazed at what we did have and surprised by what we did not. Even with a stable curriculum, it remains difficult to know what students will choose to work on for their senior projects and how best to build the collection to support and encourage exploration and serendipity. It is a complex process of information gathering and decision making and I will describe it as I do it now, 12 years on in my career at Carleton.
Two preliminary notes on the culture and structure of teaching at Carleton will provide some context. First, courses tend to be small and unique in their coverage and approach. Few classes rely primarily on a single textbook or reader. Instead, most course materials are highly personalized mixes of primary sources, secondary articles, books, and selections from longer works. To create this menu of resources for their courses, faculty draw heavily on the breadth and depth of the library’s collection and, of course, its reserve services. Crucially in my department we have woven information literacy into our curriculum through collaboration with our reference and instruction (R&I) librarian, a relationship that continually shapes my use and development of the collection. Second, Carleton operates on a 10-week academic term—timely access to materials is therefore essential for courses and for student research projects.
While collaboration with our R&I librarian has convinced me that students must develop the ability to draw on a pool of materials extending far beyond Carleton through Web-based resources and ILL, it remains true that all the materials that students will need for projects assigned and due within one to two weeks have to be available on campus.
As I review possible acquisitions, I select heavily for the courses that I teach regularly. I know that I need to assign readings for the course as a whole, assign or point toward readings for student presentations and research projects, and have materials available for my own course preparation. I have a mental list of the topics that I currently cover and to what depth, as well as topics that I am interested in adding to my teaching portfolio. One example is peasant life: I do not address this topic frequently and students only occasionally have chosen it for their senior comprehensive project. Nevertheless, it is clearly a central aspect of the medieval world and I make sure that a small but relevant collection of materials is available to me and to students who might want to pursue it as a research project. I choose fundamental works and sources as well as works that can offer gateways to the literature, which I and my students can then use to access other resources. On the other side of the spectrum is the history of cartography. Although it is a small field, I offer a popular seminar largely devoted to the topic, and it is an ongoing area of personal research interest. I have worked with our Head of Special Collections to build a rich collection of early maps in facsimile, and I seek to build a comprehensive collection in this area.
As a faculty member, I become aware of books to consider acquiring through a steady flow of book catalogs. I look at book reviews and Choice slips that come from the library. I note useful recent titles in the bibliographies of books and articles, checking to see if the library owns them or can acquire them whether new or used. I will buy books myself when I am traveling or otherwise have an unusual opportunity to acquire something worthwhile. The book vendor’s Web site (YBP’s GOBI) is also helpful, though ordering systems can vary enormously in their effectiveness and usability.
With a title in view for acquisition, I run through, almost unconsciously, a set of key questions. First, is the book relevant to my teaching in its field, level, and quality? Is it in English? If not, is it in a language that we do offer? Can I imagine students really using it, or can I imagine actively teaching this text? I consider the cost of the book and the opportunity cost that it represents in a rough and ready way. I also consider use by students beyond my own classes. For expensive items, I normally seek support from other departments both to help out financially and to ensure that the materials will be widely used.
My development of Carleton’s collection thus has been and continues to be organically connected with my evolving curriculum and the research interests of my students. Although developing the collection with intention takes time and a nuanced and changing process of assessment, I nonetheless consider this time well spent. I am supported by the collection as I grow and change; I can nimbly respond to opportunities and new fields as they emerge; and I stay in touch with the library collection and so can guide students and help them design projects that utilize our materials most effectively. At the same time, members of the collection development team at the library have been vital not only in facilitating my work but also in supplementing the collection in areas that I or my colleagues may miss. They research, test, and implement new databases, eResource packages, and e-journals and offer overall guidance and real support and leadership in helping faculty understand the array of options (and their implications) available to them to provide the content essential to their work and the mission of the college.
As the history of collection development sketched earlier suggests, the massive expansion of electronic databases, e-journals, and other licensed information resources, which are becoming an increasingly large part of the library’s collections, its budgetary expenditure, and the faculty’s and students’ expectations, has brought many challenges and opportunities. The complexity of the issues and the deep and immediate impact of these decisions on the possibilities for teaching and research make the historically effective collaboration between collection development professionals at the library and the faculty at Carleton an even more important asset to maintain and grow. There are challenges, however. The structure of eAcquisitions inherently diminishes the role of the individual faculty member in a single department in selecting. These same factors likewise pose budgetary pressures that cannot be clearly assigned to particular departments or even divisions. How will this affect the system of departmental allocations currently in place for monographic purchases? How will the library and faculty deal with the inequalities in the digital information landscape, where some fields are almost entirely digital and others remain more heavily print-based?
In this new landscape, communication between librarians and faculty members will be essential; indeed, it will have to be enhanced in both directions. A recent initiative to start a conversation about eBooks offers several salutary lessons. The library formed a task force to understand the range of eBook options currently available, and then followed up their research with a public talk, a survey, and focus groups. Although the participation rates in these efforts were lower than desired, this effort represents an important step in reshaping a collaborative culture in this new digital age. The digital information landscape has great potential to further the mission of the college. To realize this potential at Carleton, collection development staff and faculty need to continue to be fellow laborers in the work of collection development and also to recognize that new media require a rethinking of how their respective expertise and resources can be best harmonized. The nature of collaboration and consultation may be changing, but the need for a robust culture of collaboration remains essential as we work together to create a library collection in service of the curriculum.
Over the years Carleton College has developed a deep-seeded institutional culture of collaboration between the faculty and the library. This culture has allowed for an unusually high level of faculty investment in the library. The result has been a collection that reflects and supports the liberal arts curriculum directly and organically, and will continue to do so despite new challenges the electronic landscape presents. Time will tell how faculty-library collaboration will evolve, but we are certain it will remain the center of our collection development model moving forward.
1 The electronic version of this brochure is available at .
Bookmark. 1997. College Archives. Laurence McKinley Gould Library, Carleton College.
College Librarian Annual Reports. College Archives. Laurence McKinley Gould Library, Carleton College.
Niles, Ann. 1991. “An Approval Plan Combined with Faculty Selection.” In Collection Development in College Libraries, ed. Joanne Schneider Hill, William E. Hannaford Jr., and Ronald H. Epp, 163–69. Chicago: American Library Association.
Niles, Ann. 2002. “Interview by Jennifer Edwins.” Carleton College Oral History Program. College Archives. Laurence McKinley Gould Library, Carleton College.
Libraries and books are nearly synonymous in the minds of many people. Even in the age of pervasive technology and space-related library services, library book collections—particularly those that include best-selling fiction and nonfiction titles—are a major draw for library users.
Historically, colleges and universities prioritized reading as a vital student skill and activity; the university library was often at the heart of this value. In the early 20th century in particular, this was evident in the amount of effort college and university libraries put into both assessing and promoting student leisure reading habits (Behler 2011).
While the academic library collection of today is typically composed of titles that directly support the university curriculum, many college and university librarians are finding compelling reasons to add small browsing collections of recent best sellers to their libraries. In fact, in a 2007 survey of academic librarians, over 70 percent of those surveyed noted that their library had a book browsing area (Elliott 2007). Among those reasons are the nationwide trends toward user-focused libraries, the emphasis on “library as place,” and the drive to promote literacy and lifelong reading (Dewan 2010).
When considering the addition of a popular reading collection to an academic library, the librarian is faced with several options for acquisition methods. The first is to firm order, or purchase outright, the desired titles. This can be done by tweaking a library’s approval plan—often easier said than done since approval plans are geared toward research collections—or by making title-by-title selections from services such as Brodart or Amazon. The outcome in this case is a collection of permanently owned books.
Some libraries have elected to go an extremely low-stakes route when it comes to offering a browsing collection. Elliot’s study notes the Archbishop Alter Library at the College of Mount St. Joseph. This library implemented a free book-exchange program, which was populated with donations from library staff and publishers to get it off the ground (Elliott 2007).
Some librarians might consider electronic browsing collections, through services such as OverDrive. However, the primary clientele of leisure eBook services is public libraries, and the purchasing model and logistics involved warrant their own separate book chapter!
The final option is to lease popular book titles from a book-leasing company. This is a common practice among public libraries, but is not as often found in an academic library setting.
Book leasing is a vendor-provided subscription service that enables libraries to lease, or rent, books rather than buying them. The service is especially geared toward collections of popular materials, and allows libraries to keep several copies of the most sought-after titles on hand while the demand is high. As demand for one title wanes and that for another increases, those volumes can be sent back to the vendor in exchange for new selections.
The 21st century has brought resurgence in literacy and reading promotion among academic librarians. Many campuses are offering One Book programs, and many librarians recognize that an effective way to encourage reading for pleasure among their students is to offer high-profile, face-out displays of best-selling fiction and nonfiction. Unfortunately, tradition can serve as a powerful barrier to browsing collections, as they do not fit the mold of the academy. They call for separate locations, processing procedures, and routine maintenance that do not typically correspond well with the support in place for traditional research collections.
However, designed to be flexible and low-maintenance, lease plans offer shelf-ready volumes (with glossy covers intact) and downloadable cataloging records. They also offer a solution for libraries with limited space to dedicate to a leisure reading collection, as selectors can choose from a variety of plan sizes, from as few as 10 books per month to hundreds. Online selection lists allow for quick ordering, and the constant turnover of the collection’s inventory creates the possibility for a portion of the library’s offerings that is always fresh and responsive to readers’ preferences.
There are two players in the world of book leasing: the McNaughton Plan, through Brodart, and the Baker & Taylor Book Leasing Plan. Each offers a slight variation on the book leasing model, one primary difference being that the McNaughton Plan starts libraries off with a core collection of titles with which to seed the collection. Baker & Taylor does not offer that feature; however, the library’s quota can be used at whatever pace the selector sees fit. Table 13.1 offers a comparison of the two services (Brodart Books & Library Services 2012; Baker & Taylor 2012).
Baker & Taylor
Nonfiction; fiction; mystery; romance; Western; fantasy; science fiction; graphic novels; debut novels; Spanish novels; large type; special topics; bestsellers; teen
Adventure and suspense; biography; historical novels; horror; large print; mystery; seasonal; Spanish language; romance; science fiction; Western
Offers standing order option for best sellers, as well as selection lists and online ordering for desired titles
Quick Call or Quick Click online ordering lists for quick shipment of extremely popular titles; no profile or standing-order option
Processing or shipping
Shelf-ready processing and optional supplied MARC record (included in subscription cost)
Shelf-ready processing and MARC record supplied (included in subscription cost)
Annual subscription pricing; 2 percent discount for annual payment
Annual subscription pricing; 2 percent discount for annual payment
Penn State’s University Park Campus, known to many as “main campus,” is home to over 39,000 undergraduate students and approximately 6,000 graduate students (Penn State University Budget Office 2012). Many of these students are residents either on-campus or in the immediate community, although there is a growing number of both continuing education and online (World Campus) students who reside nearby. The University Park Campus is also home to the university’s and libraries’ central administration, which oversee 23 other campuses and their libraries in addition to those at main campus. Of these 24 Penn State campuses, 8 offer leased leisure reading collections of various sizes. The largest of these collections resides at University Park.
The Penn State University Libraries at the University Park campus have been leasing popular literature from the Baker & Taylor book leasing plan since 2007, when their leisure reading collection was begun. A response to ongoing student feedback requesting an easily browsable book collection, the leisure reading collection represents the first step the Penn State Libraries took in developing a Knowledge Commons at University Park. As of 2013, the collection holds approximately 5,000 volumes, and is supported by a lease plan subscription for 1,800 volumes per year, or 150 per month. In addition to the leased titles, the selector for the plan has a small amount budgeted each year for firm orders.
The Baker & Taylor Lease Plan was chosen for a number of reasons. Early on, the decision was made to allow leased books at University Park to circulate beyond that campus—via loan to other Penn State locations, as well as ILL to outside institutions. Because the Penn State University Libraries operate under such a large system with a shared catalog, it was important to the selector to be able to make title selections locally rather than through an automatic order system like the one through McNaughton. While the various campuses with leisure reading collections do not collaborate on selection, ordering locally allows the selector to gain the big picture of what is needed within the University Park collection, and helps to avoid duplication between locations when it makes sense to do so. Sometimes a title that would be considered interesting, but might not be a headliner, is already held at one or more campuses, accessible through the catalog, and therefore does not warrant the duplication. In most cases, however, duplication is not considered an important factor in ordering popular titles—holding one or more copies locally means fewer wait lines for users and less cost to the library associated with frequently moving books from one location to another. Because of the visual nature of the browsing leisure reading collection, a majority of its use is driven by local foot traffic rather than catalog discovery. This translates to a selection process that emphasizes the local needs and wants rather than a system-wide collection.
Baker & Taylor’s plan structure also allows for ordering that is directly responsive to user reading habits. Orders can be placed at any time, so if special needs arise that are outside the typical month’s norm, the selector can place an immediate order to fulfill that need. For example, the leisure reading collection has supported a student-run business book club, and the selector was able to order several copies of the book whenever the club needed it. In addition to the selector-driven acquisition process, Baker & Taylor’s plan allows for retention of 20 percent of the annual quota. This was highly appealing, as it allowed the collection to develop a core that represented the reading preferences of the Penn State users.
All books that are leased through Baker & Taylor arrive shelf-ready; however, cataloging, which is typically copy cataloging, is done locally. The decision to create records locally was influenced heavily by the desire to maintain consistency in online catalog records among books that are firm ordered and those that are leased into the collection, particularly in a multiple volume, multiple campus scenario, in which the preference is to have one record to represent all volumes rather than many.
Keeping a leased collection fresh and within the quota does require a significant amount of routine collection maintenance. Staff who work with the collection run monthly use reports and withdraw anything that has not circulated within the past six months of its presence in the collection (titles that are new to the collection are excluded). In addition, any titles that have demonstrated consistent popularity are identified as keepers, books that will remain with the collection as a part of the 20 percent of all books returned that the library is allowed to keep. The transition from a leased to owned title does involve some minor remarking and a change to the notation in the catalog record, a process that is carried out by the library’s catalog marking team.
This process enables the collection to remain relevant to users’ preferences. It also helps the selector keep the size of the collection relatively stable. The goal for the collection at Penn State is to maintain a collection size of around 5,000 volumes, with 3,600 or fewer (200% of the annual quota) having come from the lease plan.1
The University of North Carolina at Greensboro (UNCG) is home to an on-campus student body of over 17,000 (The University of North Carolina at Greensboro 2012). Setting UNCG apart from many other universities is its student body diversity. “UNCG is the most diverse institution in the UNC System, with more than 40 percent of the undergraduates identifying as a racial or ethnic minority. For the 2012–2013 academic year, 28 percent of the undergraduate student body identified as African American” (Goins 2012).
Traditionally a research-focused collection, in 2007, the UNCG Jackson Library opened a leisure reading collection in response to consistent formal (LibQual) and informal user feedback requesting “books to read” (Fischer 2012). Previously a small, informal collection of current literature—titles selectors ordered for the research collection but may peak broad interest—the UNCG leisure reading collection grew to a collection of approximately 1,000 titles, leased from McNaughton (Brodart). Located in a high-traffic area of the library, sharing space with DVD and audiobook collections, as well as group study spaces and public computing, the collection is highly visible and is heavily used.
The McNaughton Plan was chosen because of its easy-to-use preselection service. The acquisitions department was able to set up a profile, and McNaughton’s staff sent titles based on those preferences. In addition, the librarians at UNCG favored the ability to purchase a title outright at a significant discount (typically around $2 per volume). Therefore, if a faculty member were to submit a request for a book that was part of the lease plan, the library could simply buy it outright for a fraction of the typical cost. With such a customizable plan, the librarians at UNCG have found that they do very little work in terms of processing. All books arrive shelf-ready, aside from security targets, and the MARC records are sent to the library via ftp download. In the case that the library might already have a copy of the book, the leased copy would be added to the existing record, but this is not a typical occurrence.
The UNCG librarians work to maintain a collection size that is close to their current annual quota of 600 books. In order to do so, they deselect titles two to three times per year, taking the number of volumes to slightly under that quota amount. This is not at the mandate of the vendor, but rather as a result of the librarians’ desire to maintain a manageable size for the collection.
The leisure reading collection at UNCG is funded through a line item in the regular acquisitions budget; however in 2009, in the face of state budget uncertainty, that line had to be discontinued for a period of six months. It was at the end of a subscription year for the lease plan, so the plan was discontinued entirely during that time. Acquisitions librarian, Christine Fischer, related that the McNaughton staff were extremely easy to work with when the plan was discontinued. UNCG librarians made the decision to purchase 50 percent of the books they had on hand outright, for around $2 per volume, and the remaining volumes were packaged and shipped back to the vendor. McNaughton even arranged for a freight company to do the packing and shipping back to their vendor facility at no expense to the library. According to Fischer, this made the decision to re-subscribe with McNaughton an easy one when funding (at a lower level) returned for the collection in November 2009 (Fischer 2012).
While book leasing does not come without its challenges—for example, unique maintenance and subscription models, space, and budget—in the cases of the two libraries presented here, it has proven to be an efficient, low-maintenance way to provide a leisure reading collection. At both institutions, user feedback and collection use have demonstrated that the leased collections provide eye-catching, enticing reading options that set those collections apart from the rest of the research library. While funding continues to be a challenge in many libraries, book leasing can offer a low-cost, low-square-foot method of offering titles that both draw students into the library and encourage reading.
1 The standard B & T contract calls for a library not to exceed the annual quota; however, Penn State negotiated for a larger collection size that has no cap. The danger here is that the more volumes a library holds, the more it has to deal with should it discontinue its plan (everything has to be returned to the company).
Baker & Taylor. 2012. “Book Leasing from Baker & Taylor.” Available at:. Accessed 31, 2012.
Behler, Anne. 2011. “Leisure Reading Collections in College and University Libraries: Have Academic Librarians Rediscovered Readers’ Advisory?” In Reference Reborn: Breathing New Life into Public Services Librarianship, ed. Diane Zabel, 133–42. Santa Barbara, CA: Libraries Unlimited.
Brodart Books & Library Services. 2012. “McNaughton Adult.” Available at:. Accessed October 31, 2012.
Elliott, Julie. 2007. “Academic Libraries and Extracurricular Reading Promotion.” Reference & User Services Quarterly 46 (3): 34.
Fischer, Christine. 2012. “Interview: Christine Fischer, UNC Greensboro.”
Penn State University Budget Office. 2012. “5 Year Historical Enrollment by Location.” Penn State Fact Book. Available at:. Accessed October 23, 2012.
The University of North Carolina at Greensboro. 2012. “UNCG at a Glance, The University of North Carolina at Greensboro—UNCG at a Glance.” Available at:. Accessed October 23, 2012.
For many libraries, even those for which the primary purpose is not to collect popular fiction, supplying print best sellers and other current high-demand items is an important service for customers (Odess-Harnish 2002). Large urban public libraries have hundreds, if not thousands, of holds on titles such as the Harry Potter books. While libraries may purchase multiple copies of a title in an attempt to fulfill customer demand, often they cannot supply a high-enough ratio of materials to meet demand and to avoid large holds lists or long waiting periods. Neither the materials budget nor the long-term value of the work demands that all copies purchased will be retained by the system. Furthermore, libraries may need to supply specialized materials for which they have constant demand (e.g., books written by the political candidates prior to a major election), but do not have a long-term need to retain the materials. In selecting needed materials, some libraries may lack staff expertise to search through large vendor catalogs to select high-demand or potential best sellers. Spanish-language books, large print materials, teen fiction, or audiovisual needs may fall into these categories. Over the past 60 years, when confronted with these challenges, some libraries have subscribed to lease services (Berry 1989).
Many types of libraries currently subscribe to leasing services. Public libraries need to have, as a basic service component, multiple copies of best sellers as near to publication date as possible. Some academic libraries have enough demand from faculty and students to dedicate some part of their budget, or endowments, to popular reading collections that may or may not become a permanent part of their collection (Odess-Harnish 2002). Small special libraries, such as hospital libraries, choose to have a collection of current high-demand titles available to staff or patients (PUBLIB Archives 2005–2009). Joint-use facilities choose to make popular adult or teen materials available. Military organizations need popular materials on base or deployed with troops (Anderson 2012). Small libraries find that some collections, once they have fulfilled the need of the intended audience, are no longer needed. All types of libraries are challenged when discarding materials and particularly multiple copies of books that have served high demand over a short period of time.
Therefore, when considering whether to lease, librarians will consider factors beyond the materials’ price, to choose the strategy that provides the best service at the best price for customers. Among these factors are costs related to the following:
• Local fiscal rules, regulations, and budgeting
• Selection and ordering
• Estimated delivery date for materials (time sensitivity)
• Cataloging and processing
• Ongoing shelving and maintenance
This chapter examines the reasons why leasing plans may provide an alternative to purchase. It also offers guidance on what questions one should ask when considering this alternative.
Currently two library vendors are the chief suppliers of leased print and audiovisual materials. Brodart’s McNaughton Plan has been offering lease services to public libraries since the 1950s, and Baker & Taylor, Inc., has been offering subscription plans since the 1980s.
Although the programs offer similar services, differences need to be investigated by anyone considering leasing. For instance, these vendors, since they also supply purchasing plans, may offer combined strategies of leasing, lease/purchasing or purchasing that best serves customer needs. Indeed, one may choose to purchase materials from any large vendor, including Ingram, YBP (a division of Baker & Taylor specializing in academic titles) and also choose to lease materials to fulfill other needs. As with purchasing plans, libraries may ask to negotiate some elements of the lease service plans (Harvey 2012).
In general, leasing is based on a service plan for a specific facility or branch. After choosing the optimum size for the collection, a prepaid cost for the annual service plan is designed. The negotiated price includes a basic cataloging and processing package and free shipping. Leased materials include a plastic jacket that easily distinguishes them from items owned by the library. Since most of the materials are to be returned to the vendor who may resell them, libraries are asked not to place ownership stamps on the book or its paper jacket. Spine labels, ownership labels, and barcodes are usually affixed to the plastic jacket that provides the visual clue that the book is leased rather than part of the library’s permanent collection.
The prepaid leasing price translates into points or allowances. In the simplest of terms, if a book’s retail cost is equal to or less than the price negotiated for one point it will be selected at the one-point rate; if the retail cost is more than the negotiated price per point, another point, or more, will be charged for the item. Thus, determining the best price point is important to the success of the program. Vendors, once they understand the purpose of the collection, can advise the best solution. Libraries beginning with leased plans should determine if they may add points to the plan if needed; staff should also determine what happens if all points or allowances are not used within a year. It is usual in the first year for a rollover to be negotiated.
A new subscriber may choose to have either a starter collection or 13-month allowance for the first year. Whichever is chosen, over time the collection will grow into its optimum size (usually within a 12-month period). Libraries need not return any product to the vendor until the optimum size is reached.
On a monthly basis, the library selection staff is advised that the current selection list is available through the vendor’s Web site. These lists will usually include prepublication best sellers as well as current and anticipated high-demand titles. Usually items are shipped free to the library on or near to publication date and require little processing. For many customers this means that the items may arrive ready or near ready for shelving.
Monthly online reports are produced by the vendor indicating the current size of the collection and how many points remain to lease desired items. Vendor staff specialists are available to answer staff questions. Vendors will also alert the selector if it looks like the annual points will be used before the end of the contracted year.
While libraries are not required to return leased items until they have reached their maximum operational size, some may choose to do so. Once they have reached their negotiated collection size, libraries are alerted to how many leased items they must return. Librarians can choose what items they return. They may choose to return slower moving, more recently published materials, while retaining older materials that are still circulating.
Both vendor programs accept that some materials will be lost or damaged by customers; a percentage of the designated materials are not expected to be returned. For example, for every 100 items in the program, the library may be expected to return only 90 items. Also, if the library chooses, they may retain copies of some materials, paying a nominal fee to complete the purchase of items. Once the books are identified for return, the library requests a shipping tag from the vendor, which is received electronically, and the materials are sent back to the vendor with prepaid shipping.
Within these general guidelines, individual differences may exist between the vendor plans or may be negotiated between the library and the vendor. However, even in a noncustomized lease plan the potential benefits, beyond cost, can be identified.
Some libraries prefer lease service plans because funding for these materials can be maintained even though other materials’ budgets may be reduced. Leasing services may come from a separate contract line in the operating budget. Support organizations or endowments may supply the funds for the lease program. Rental collections with a reasonable fee may provide the funds to support the program (Odess-Harnish 2002; PUBLIB Archives 1995–2009).
While some jurisdictions allow for prepayment for materials not yet received, many do not. However, the same jurisdictions may allow for the purchase of a service that provides, temporarily, high-demand titles.
Furthermore, in terms of daily operations, a prepaid lease service will not only reduce the number of invoices received but also allow for a quick, one-time reduction in a budget line. A further benefit is that if there is a mid-year reduction in the materials’ budget, the prepaid plan can ensure that customers will still have access to best-selling materials.
In considering the relative costs of the lease plan and purchasing, libraries should consider that the subscription provides materials that are preprocessed and nearly shelf-ready. Cataloging records are part of the service (both as short on-order records and as complete MARC records). Free shipping is included in the plan. Libraries should compare these advantages with the cost of purchased materials.
The number and level of staff needed to administer and deal with purchased items and leasing plans also should be compared. When considering that leased books must be returned to the vendor, the comparison to the level of staff needed to weed purchased materials may be an important comparison.
While most library customers highly value being able to read best sellers, the selection and ordering of them usually comprises only a small part of the selector’s many duties. Therefore, vendor selection specialists and the lists they create are major assets to library staff, allowing them to quickly identify not only best sellers but also potential high-demand titles. Other benefits related to selection and ordering including the following:
• Vendors track when midlist authors are poised for best-seller status.
• Sleepers, media tie-ins, and other suddenly popular titles are offered.
• Selectors are exposed to a national list of high-demand items and may choose to experiment with authors without needing to maintain the materials in a permanent collection if the experiment fails.
Finally, as many multiple branch systems have moved away from decentralized to centralized selection, many former branch selectors welcome the chance, if offered, to build a collection of popular items that respond to their customers’ unique needs.
For other libraries that have critical vacancies in selection staff, a lease service may offer to set up automatic ordering for certain authors at a predetermined number as profiled by the library and ensure that critically needed materials are received on time.
If ordered as soon as they appear on the plan Web site, leased prepublication materials usually arrive on or near the publication date. For some libraries this provides a valuable benefit. With most purchase programs, vendors have a first-order received or first-order shipped rule. Thus, only those libraries with a dedicated staff that aggressively order best sellers long before publication can ensure receipt of best sellers on or near street date.
Vendors with lease service plans have a separate operation to supply multiple copies of high-demand items to their customers. The lease service plan groups order for their special operations with a knowledge of how materials have been ordered in the past, and can anticipate need.
It is important when looking at leasing plans that libraries get a clear idea of how near to street date they will obtain best-selling materials. There are relatively few materials that publishers will guarantee to ship to vendors prior to street date. Knowing what these materials are and what library staff’s responsibilities are in the process is critical to the success of the program.
Investigating how on-order and full MARC records are received and downloaded to the library’s ILS is part of the setup of a lease plan. Since lease service plans are available online, many libraries will find the easy access to on-order and, eventually, full MARC records a major benefit.
Lease materials may not require as much processing as purchased library materials. Because they are not meant usually as candidates for the library’s permanent collection, libraries need to train staff to not mark the book with ownership stamps. This is mitigated by the collection’s distinctive jackets or packaging, which can signal staff that the item is leased. Some libraries may not require classification spine labels or other markings (although such specifications are part of the package offered by vendors). If a library decides to purchase and keep the item for the permanent collection, removal of the dust jacket is often all that is required to make it fit for library-specific processing.
Since many libraries have small processing groups, obtaining high-demand materials in a nearly complete shelf-ready status is a major benefit.
If leased items are not meant to be maintained for long in the collection, the need to repair them over time is reduced or eliminated. If a book is badly damaged by a customer, the quota of materials that are expected to not be returned due to customer use can cover it. It is important to note that vendors will replace items that are damaged in shipping or have a publication flaw as long as these issues are reported within a specific period of time.
In determining that an item may have value to the permanent collection, and therefore taking advantage of the purchase option in a lease plan, librarians can base the decision on actual use and may choose the least-worn materials to keep.
In general, most leased items will be removed from the collection within a 12- to 24-month period. While ILS reports may be used to determine what should be removed, decisions can often be based on a simple visual scan: if more than x numbers of copies of an item are on the shelf, remove those with the most wear to return to the vendor.
Finally, regular weeding of these materials, as mandated by the program, ensures that these items do not negatively impact valuable shelving real estate. For many facilities this is a critical consideration.
Determining when a leased item can be removed and shipped back to the vendor can be a clerical function based on rules set up by the local professional. Librarians may concentrate on the selection of materials and on the analysis of reports to determine how customer use is changing over time.
Leasing may address concerns about what to do with items removed from the collection. While many libraries have agreements that allow them (or support groups) to sell items, for other entities this solution is not available. Some libraries may not have a large enough customer base to sell multiple copies of former best sellers. Fiscal rules may preclude discarding and selling materials. Rather than putting discards in a landfill, libraries may choose to send them back to vendors for further use or recycling.
For very large multibranch systems, returning the items to the vendor may avoid political issues of needing to dispose of or sell hundreds of discards. Other libraries may choose to take the purchase option and recycle, sell, or use extra copies for special programs (book club boxes, literacy programs, etc.).
As a possible strategy to obtain high-demand materials for customers, many types of libraries have found that a lease subscription plan provides a viable solution. When considering such a plan, librarians should compare the benefits and challenges of such a program. Vendor programs have subtle but important differences. Each library must determine for itself whether this strategy is one that it can or wants to utilize.
Anderson, Kris. 2012. “Interview: Kris Anderson, Brodart.”
Berry, John. 1989. “Fifty Years with Libraries: An Interview with Brodart’s Art Brody.” Library Journal 114 (December): 83–86.
Harvey, Fred. 2012. “Interview with Fred Harvey, Baker & Taylor.”
PUBLIB Archives. 1995–2009. Available at:. Accessed December 26, 2012. [Reviewed postings from October 27, 1995 to August 18, 2009, concerning leased materials.]
Questions for librarians to answer as they consider using a lease subscription plan:
1. What customer need am I fulfilling through the use of a lease service plan? What do I want to accomplish?
2. Will current local, state, or jurisdictional rules and regulations allow for a prepaid lease service?
3. What funds will I use: operational (contract, purchase, etc.), endowment, gift funds, or other?
4. What are the costs covered in the lease plan (cataloging, processing, and shipping). How does this compare with current purchasing costs?
a. What added cataloging and processing needs to be done by library staff prior to making the item shelf-ready?
b. Are RFID tags and RFID tags included in processing?
c. Does this program create or save work for library catalogers and processors?
5. How many library employees at what level are needed to administer the plan(s), and what are the estimated costs when compared to purchasing costs for the following:
a. selection and ordering;
c. library processing and cataloging; and
d. monitor, maintain, and return leased materials to vendor (this should be compared to costs to deselect and weed purchased materials if selected at the same level as the leased materials)?
6. Does the plan allow me to set up a preorder plan that automatically orders some authors as soon as they become available for order? Will this guarantee receipt of materials on or near street date?
7. How often should the library select materials (if not on an automatic plan or combining with an automatic plan)?
8. May items not on the vendor’s lists be added? How? What limitations are there on the type of material that may be added?
9. Does the plan promise to deliver best sellers on or before street date?
a. If not, how soon will best sellers arrive?
b. What must library staff do to make sure that materials arrive on, before, or near to street date?
10. How does your plan work with your library’s ILS system?
a. What is included in an on-order record?
b. What is included in the full MARC record?
c. Will this record be acceptable and complete for the library or will staff have to customize to meet local needs?
11. How can I obtain ongoing information on the size of the lease collection, points or allowance balance, and so forth?
12. Who will I contact if I have questions or need help? How soon will they respond?
14. What happens if I decide to change from a lease-only plan to a lease or purchase plan; or from a lease or purchase plan to a lease-only subscription?
15. How often am I required to return materials to the vendor?
16. What happens if I decide to keep a book rather than return it?
17. What are the benefits or challenges of leasing or purchasing in terms of the following?
a. Shelf space over time
b. Disposing of no longer needed materials
c. Revenue (sales of books no longer needed in the collection)
d. Political considerations
e. Other considerations
My premise is simple: “The purpose of the public library is to gather, organize, and present to the public the intellectual content of our culture” (LaRue 2012). We collect stories, ideas, movies, music, and even each other (through showcasing community perspectives and resources). We mine all of these voices for meaning. The library is less like a warehouse than like a big family’s holiday dinner.
But the family of our culture’s content is growing. And right now, just a dozen years into the 21st century, some of those voices have yet to be invited to the table. Yet they may be among the most vital new voices we have.
At this writing, the decades-long market consolidation of a few big publishers has resulted in just five mega-corporations: HarperCollins, Random House/Penguin, Hachette, Macmillan, and Simon & Schuster. Together, at least for the Douglas County Libraries, they source a little more than half of our purchases.
But the legacy publishers are not the only game in town. There are many other highly capable, high-quality publishers. They range from midlist publishers of medium size to hundreds of small and independent publishers whose output and sales are increasing. Kelly Gallagher (2013) of the Independent Publishers Association wrote, “you can convincingly conclude that we constitute the industry’s healthiest and fastest-growing segment.”
But the focus of this chapter is on yet another player: the self-published author.
According to a 2012 analysis of data from Bowker Books in Print and Bowker Identifier Services (Bowker 2012), “The number of self-published books produced annually in the U.S. has nearly tripled, growing 287 percent since 2006, and now tallies more than 235,000 print and ‘e’ titles.”
This sudden burst of new writing has few parallels in human history. Not since Gutenberg have we seen such a fundamental shift in the proliferation of new voices.
Right now, however, few of these titles wind up in libraries. There are many reasons for that. The key reason is this: the existing systems of review and distribution make it difficult for publishers with fewer than 10 new titles a year to get noticed by either reviewers or distributors. For many public libraries, if it does not get reviewed in a handful of library magazines, and is not carried by our two or three distributors, we do not know about it, and could not easily buy it if we wanted to. Our workflows and purchasing processes evolved to deal with the mainstream. We do not know how to deal with the fringe—even if, now, the fringe outnumbers the mainstream two to one. This moment in library history is a clear example of creative destruction—the replacement of one economic order with another. This new order has the potential to be far more inclusive.
Why do authors decide to self-publish in the first place? Among the reasons are the following:
• They are unable to gain the attention of an agent or a publisher. The publishing ecosystem up to 2010 has been one of gatekeeping. It is hard to break in.
• Fringe works—as in cross-genre novels that do not fit neatly into predefined reader categories—tend to be marketed poorly. Some authors would argue that none of today’s works are really marketed with enthusiasm.
• Authors do not like pressures to change either the content (to meet an editor’s belief about what would sell) or the package (the cover, the title). Authors want to have more control.
• Authors typically sacrifice copyright—ownership of their own property—to a corporation.
The longstanding model of the publishing contract has been heavily tilted in favor of the publisher. First-time authors get between 8 and 10 percent of the revenue. Even very well-established authors seldom get as much as 20 percent from legacy publishers. But self-published authors can get from 70 percent (at Amazon’s CreateSpace), to 85 percent through Smashwords.
That last point may be the most predictive. It is hard for any author to make a living writing, unless they write a best seller. But it is easier when most of the revenue comes back to the creator. While publishers certainly can and do add value—writing well takes many rounds of good editing, and marketing takes money and a different kind of expertise—is it really nine times more valuable than the creative work itself?
It might be argued, too, that publishers are most important for new writers. Established writers could easily hire out professionals for editing, copy editing, book design, and marketing tasks while still retaining control over those processes and copyright. One does not have to be a seer to predict that writers who have already learned how to write a good book, and who have already found loyal fans, will jump the legacy publishing ship, and thrive as a result.
In 2012, 16 of the New York Times’ best sellers were self-published. This is not a flash in the pan. For many authors, and thus for many libraries, it is the future of writing.
Just as there are two issues in cataloging (relevance and retrieval), there are three in collection development:
• the quality of the work (both in terms of literary merit and format);
• the demand for the work (usually measured by advance requests, reserves, and use); and
• the availability of the work.
The relationship among these factors is complex. Unusually fine writing is no guarantee of public interest. Significant demand for an item may be completely unrelated to its quality. Finally, quality and interest often have nothing at all to do with the ease of obtaining a work.
How then is a library to decide how best to respond to the trend of self-publishing? Let’s take those points one at a time.
Typically, libraries discover good works through reviews. For self-published works, like Christian fiction before them, library professional journals came to the game late. But once it was clear that library patrons wanted Christian fiction, journal editors took notice. We have already begun to see reviews of self-published authors appearing in Publishers Weekly and Library Journal, and we can expect that trend to continue.
There are some new players. BlueInk Review and Foreword are just two of the new agencies springing up to identify promising new talent. But as I have learned from personal discussions with the editors of BlueInk, the slush pile problem is real. That is, although many fine writers are considering self-publishing, not all those who consider self-publishing are fine writers. Most of the people who try to write a book (or write a poem, create a song, or paint a picture) are amateurs. It takes disciplined practice, research, and informed feedback to achieve mastery at anything. Few walk that path.
So self-published authors cannot just send a copy of their books to Library Journal or any other professional magazine and expect a free, prompt, and glowing review. Journals would be overwhelmed by poorly conceived, poorly executed digital manuscripts. Indeed, they already are.
BlueInk Review, then, charges the author for a review (approximately $500), and pays the reviewer for his or her time. The reviews are professionally done, and anonymous. Once the review is complete, the authors can choose not to have Blue Ink Review post it on its Web site. But they pay either way.
This cost barrier turns away the casual amateur. Nonetheless, after a couple of years of operation, BlueInk staff report that most of what is submitted is not very good. (This is true for legacy publishers, too.) There are a few glorious exceptions. And when BlueInk finds them, they post their recommendations.
We can expect that we will see more of such services springing up. One response might be to simply set up a standing order for anything they recommend. Right now, that is not a flood of titles. But it may become one.
Beyond the existing reviewers and the new breed, what else can libraries do?
While many of these works appear in author blogs, or may even garner good reviews in Amazon (often, alas, by other self-published authors trading favors), the sheer number of such Internet-based resources makes it difficult to keep track of everything.
The obvious truth is this: our systems of review, of librarians vetting the content in advance of acquisition, have broken down. We simply cannot keep up with 300,000 new commercial titles, almost that number of independent press offerings, and yet another 300,000 self-published titles.
No large-scale solution seems to be at hand, then. As always, some titles will be brought to local attention by local readers. Most libraries are willing to try to buy something that comes with a guaranteed reader (or from an author whose previous works have circulated well). That moves us into the area of demand.
Demand for the Big Six titles is a direct result of promotional dollars, either through direct ads, publisher catalogs, or sponsored author tours and interviews. Sometimes instead the legacy publishers capitalize on the celebrity of people who achieve fame outside the publishing machinery.
Few self-published titles will have that initial demand—although I do think this will change as more established authors strike out on their own.
At the end of 2012, as part of the establishment of our Digital Branch, in which we sought to own and manage our own content, Douglas County Libraries purchased and received roughly 10,000 self-published titles from Smashwords. Our intent was to establish an opening-day collection that not only featured the digital version of our print best sellers, but also sampled the worlds of independent and self-published content. We were curious to see what our patrons might think of them.
Smashwords is one of the more successful of the ePublishing startups. For no cost, it allows authors to upload their works to the Smashwords server, then control their sale and price to Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and now, to libraries. For each sale, Smashwords takes 15 percent, and the author gets 85 percent.
Mark Coker, the founder of the company, has long sold to bookstores. More recently, he expressed some interest in selling to libraries. We discussed the deal together at the 2012 ALA Annual Conference in Anaheim. Finally, we decided to choose a package of titles on the basis, first, of sales. Best selling is a relative term, but we indicated our interest in the most popular of his titles. We then amended it to include titles that were part of popular series, even if those particular titles did not hit the sales threshold. Most of the titles were genre fiction, where, we reasoned, the public did not care so much who published it, provided only that the book was well written.
But then we got to the next issue: some of the most popular books in the Smashwords catalog were erotica—about 25 percent. That’s probably not surprising, post-“Fifty Shades of Grey.” But given that the Smashwords titles would make up about a third of our opening-day collection of our materials, we were inclined not to surprise too many of our patrons with a shift in our holdings. While we do have many popular erotic titles, acquiring more of them was not a collection development goal for us, and erotica has many exotic subgenres we tended to steer clear of.
This is collection development in reverse. Instead of buying only what has been requested or well reviewed, we were requesting a large sample from a new distributor, then deselecting what we did not want.
Once we acquired the titles, and worked through the various issues of matching up the files, cover art, and metadata, we added the items to our collection. At this writing, we only have a few months of use data. But Smashwords titles have already proven to be our most popular single source of library-owned content.
There are several reasons.
First, some of these popular books were not new. Rather, they were titles whose copyright had recently returned to the author, and were finding a second life in the digital world. For instance, I was pleased to see that some science-fiction classics, probably weeded from our collection years ago, were returning. The quality was high. I realized that for those of us who do read and enjoy genre fiction, rediscovering these titles would be a pleasure. It just might be that in the virtual library, we might never have to weed again, although we might still divide the presentation of our content into current and archival.
Second, we have built a recommendation engine into our catalog. If patrons read mysteries, or romances, or science fiction, and if they have an eBook reader, they simply want a steady stream of content. “If you liked this, you might like this” is often a great convenience to our patrons. It does lead to increased circulation. A subset of the recommendation is the importance of user reviews. Trusted reviews (as Goodreads demonstrated for a time) do encourage people to find and try things they would not know about otherwise.
There are at least four other strategies to capture the interest of readers:
• Author visits and events: When we find a personable and articulate author, it makes sense to build a program around him or her, whether in person, as a podcast, or on local cable TV. We use author panels, or lecture and question sessions, and such programs can be very popular. In the past, such programs have put authors’ older works back on the local best-seller list both in the library and at our local independent bookstores (who are, incidentally, wonderful partners for such events).
• Displays: Some 60 percent of our adult circulation is driven by displays. We have just begun to try to figure out how to display eBooks. Our attempts to use large touch-screen displays have thus far failed, mostly for technical reasons. But the idea is a good one, and we will keep trying.
• Mobile apps: We have created a couple of phone applications that run on iOS, Android, and Windows. In the past year, more people have downloaded these apps than have attended our physical programs. Again, with our recommendation engine, this makes it much easier to just grab the highest rated or most popular of our titles. Given the growth of smartphones and tablets, it may be that our reach of these customized displays is more powerful in people’s palms than in our buildings.
• Handselling: But we continue to have far more visitors than we do mobile app downloads. Ultimately, the most successful strategy to help our patrons find this rich new source of content is to get our staff reading and talking about it. Here is one tactic that worked: we announced at a continuing education day that the library would provide a $50 posttax contribution to their purchase of one of five approved eReaders. A third of our staff took us up on it, and then proceeded to train themselves. That approach wound up not only being cheaper than paying for training, it also proved stickier—our staff became intimately familiar with a range of devices, and could quickly refer patrons to qualified and confident help. These staff also took a much keener interest in our collection.
I want to underscore something vital to the understanding of this new market. The Big Six had set the library price for eBooks, across the board, as anywhere from 20 to 600 percent higher than the consumer price. The reasons varied. They alleged that libraries stole sales from authors, or that we sought free distribution of content. In fact, research by Bowker and Library Journal suggests that we boost sales. Libraries are, and always have been, staunch supporters of copyright.
But when confronted with publishers who either will not sell to us, or insist on onerous pricing or licenses, one naturally turns to other channels.
Coker (the Smashwords CEO) surveyed his authors to ask them several questions. First, were they willing to sell to libraries? Unanimously, they were.
Second, if they had to set a price, would they charge more than the consumer price, the same, or less? To his surprise and mine, 20 percent of the 250 authors he surveyed said they would give at least one copy of their books to a local library.
At any rate, Coker allowed the authors to determine whether or not they would sell their books to libraries, and at what price.
So after we put together the list of titles we wanted to buy, we found that the average cost of them was $4 apiece. It appears that there was a significant disconnect between what the publishers set as market value for libraries, and what the creators of that content believed was fair.
A second vital factor is that the Douglas County Libraries has its own content management system. Most libraries do not. And as noted earlier, most distributors do not carry self-published authors, even the ones that make it to the best-seller lists. In order for libraries to carry such authors, they either need to invest in their own servers and infrastructure (either individually or consortially), or find vendors who will host and integrate the content for them. The former path is still new; the latter is immature. Both constitute barriers to be overcome.
Once Douglas County Libraries established its content server infrastructure, we realized that perhaps we could join the publishing revolution ourselves. Why not, we wondered, focus not only on buying the successful self-published authors, but on incubating authors in our own backyard?
Again, the sheer volume of local writing makes it difficult to track across the nation. But libraries might well be able to stay on top of creative efforts by dedicated individuals within the library service area.
One approach might look something like the following:
• The library has a Web site appealing to local authors.
• The Web site includes a roadmap to achieving excellence, a list of resources (current collection, local author support groups, copy editors, book-cover designers, formatting assistance, etc.), and a list of upcoming programs and events. For instance, there might be author university classes, or local author panels and signings.
• The library advertises for, interviews, and intelligently manages a group of local volunteers. These volunteers would be trained as collection development advisors and reviewers, enabling the community to move from mere consumption of intellectual content to its conscious creation.
• A program of awards, in which the best local writing is annually recognized and rewarded by the library.
• A direct sales component. If libraries help readers find the works of local authors, it might also help sell them. And the library might request a percentage of the sale. In my experience with local writer focus groups, most authors would be more than eager to partner with us.
Helping writers produce better books, then helping them market them, seems a worthwhile goal.
There are various technical concerns.
First, we have focused on the ePub format for our titles. At present, that means that we cannot serve them to pre-Fire Kindle users. But the dedicated eReader seems to be giving way fast to the tablet (at this writing, fewer than half of our eReader patrons use pre-Fire Kindles), and our apps will eventually solve the problem on newer platforms.
But even the ePub, an open standard, can be a challenge to some authors. Over time, more software tools will be developed to solve this. Right now, authors may need the help of services or even one-on-one consulting. Can libraries fulfill this role?
Second, discoverability of a title requires it to have good metadata. That is usually not a problem for works that are also in print. But it is clear that we may need to provide everything from ISBN to subject headings—or work closely with such outfits as Smashwords to set a standard.
There are fads, and there are trends. I believe that self-publishing is the latter, a true moment of creative destruction. The old, legacy systems of corporate control are fracturing. It has long been the challenge of the public library to connect writers with readers. That challenge has just gotten a lot tougher. But the times also offer us the opportunity to become far more significant not just in the distribution of content, but in its creation too. Who knows what magnificent new literature is about to be born?
It is time for us to move from gatekeeper to gardener.
Bowker. 2012. “Self-Publishing Sees Triple Digit Growth in Just Five Years, Says Bowker.” Available at:. Accessed May 21, 2013.
Gallagher, Kelly. 2013. “Independent Publisher Power.” Available at:. Accessed May 21, 2013.
LaRue, James. 2012. “The Last One Standing.” Available at:. Accessed June 26, 2013.
In 1999 the University of Denver acquired its first eBooks from the newly formed Boulder, Colorado, company netLibrary. Questia had recently been formed and ebrary was founded that year as well (ebrary 2012c; Questia 2012). It seemed that academic libraries were going to move quickly toward building eBook collections; the transition to e-journals, which was largely complete, would be replicated for eBooks. Over a decade later, we are still waiting for eBooks to take off.
Though the Kindle, the Nook, and the iPad have thrust popular eBooks into the mainstream, making them the first choice for many readers and an acceptable choice for many others, academic libraries have lagged behind. Reading the laments of academic librarians over the past decade is a bit disheartening, because many of the problems identified early on are still there. An eBook task force, formed in August 2000 by the California Digital Library, noted “that all the elements that would make the eBook market viable are not quite in place. The partnerships in the market, development of standards, software and hardware features, and business models are still regularly changing” (Snowhill 2001). Lynn Silipigni Connaway and Heather L. Wicht (2007) identified similar problems with eBooks six years later:
Several themes consistently appear in the literature on the barriers to the adoption and integration of eBooks into library collections, services, and systems. These include the lack of eBook and hardware standards; incompatible rights and operability; unrealistic price, purchase, and access models; and limited discovery and delivery options.
Robert Slater, writing in 2010, wondered “Why Aren’t EBooks Gaining More Ground in Academic Libraries?” and concluded that discovery, Digital Rights Management (DRM), and purchase models were all obstacles (Slater 2010). Slater’s concluding sentence is worth quoting: “Ideally, the choice to acquire a print or electronic copy of a book should be as simple as a single choice (print, electronic, or both) integrated into the same acquisition systems libraries already use for print books” (Slater 2010, 328). eBook acquisition is incredibly difficult and incredibly confusing, and we seem to be nowhere near the point that Slater envisions.
Academic libraries have been slow to adopt eBooks for two basic reasons: (1) difficulties in determining when or if a monograph is available in electronic format and (2) concerns librarians and users hold about DRM and difficulty of use. Both of these issues are still with us, well over a decade after the introduction of eBooks into academic libraries.
It is a relatively straightforward process for an academic library to order a print book. Someone needs to determine the correct edition and whether it is available. After that almost any book that is in print can be ordered from one of the library’s preferred vendors. Many books that are out of print can be ordered via a wide range of services that aggregate content from used-book dealers. In some cases, such as Amazon, both new and used books can be found and purchased on the same Web site. With eBooks, several extra steps need to be taken: the librarian placing the order needs to determine if an electronic version is available at all and he or she needs to then figure out if that electronic version is for sale to libraries or just to end users. If libraries are able to purchase the eBook, then the librarian needs to decide which eBook platform or vendor to use, and, if the option exists, whether to buy a single- or multiuser version.
Scholarly publishers, fearing that availability of eBooks to an entire campus might decrease overall sales, have been understandably reluctant to make it easy for academic libraries to purchase eBooks. Many publishers release eBooks well after the publication date of the print version, probably in hopes that the print copy will sell to both the library and to individual faculty members, and then the e-copy will be acquired as well. YBP Library Services, one of the two major academic book vendors in North America, estimates that only 42 percent of monographs that it covers come out within two months of each other in print and electronic formats (Matt Nauman, Academic Digital Content Manager, YBP Library Services, email message to author, October 31, 2012). And publishers that expect heavy course adoption of a title may not make it available as an eBook to libraries at all.
Another barrier to widespread acceptance of eBooks in academic libraries has been the implementation of restrictive digital rights management technologies by publishers and aggregators. DRM restrictions vary, but in general they limit access and use in some way. Examples of DRM implementation include restrictions on the number of pages that can be printed or downloaded, on the number of simultaneous users, and on uses commonly made with the print counterpart (ILL, course reserves). Generally speaking, publishers have less restrictive DRM for eBooks on their own platforms. Springer (2012), for instance, has no DRM at all. Aggregators, or third-party eBook platform providers, tend to have more restrictive DRM. They need to have a single implementation that works for all publishers; therefore they tend to match the needs of the most restrictive publishers.
With the difficulties inherent in eBook acquisition in mind, this chapter attempts to provide some guidance for librarians. There is no right way to acquire eBooks. Different selection and access models will work for different academic libraries, depending on collection size, budget, and local philosophy. Some libraries will be best served with a traditional title-by-title selection model that closely mirrors print acquisition. Others will want a bulk subscription model. Still others may be interested in DDA. In reality, most libraries will pick and choose from all of these models.
Traditionally, academic library book collections have been built on a title-by-title basis. Whether done by a librarian reading reviews or responding to faculty requests, or by an approval vendor selecting books based on librarian-supplied criteria, most books came into the library because that specific title had been selected for inclusion. Though some books came in as part of a standing order—for a series or publisher—also because of librarian input, those titles represented a rather small portion of the books added to the collection. With eBooks there are similarly two broad ways of selecting content—title-by-title and as a package—but so far there has been a much larger emphasis on acquisition of preselected packages than there ever was (or could be) for print books.
As with selection of physical volumes, title-by-title selection of eBooks gives libraries the most flexibility to build collections that meet local curricular and research needs. Acquiring only those titles that have a clear rationale for being in the collection takes more time than acquiring a large package, but is generally cheaper and is one method for ensuring a high level of quality in the collection. The tradeoffs for this level of specificity in collecting are a higher cost per book than other methods, and a greater time commitment. In general, publishers charge full price or more for individual eBooks. In cases where there are both hardbound and paperbound options for the physical book, the eBook is almost always priced at the hardbound level. When a print book is purchased through a book jobber such as YBP, a set discount level is applied. Not only is this discount not applied to eBook purchases, sometimes an additional charge above list price is also included. Librarians who opt to build collections using this model should compare costs of individual title selection, both in real dollars and staff time, to the generally lower costs per title associated with acquiring a package of titles.
Acquisition of eBook packages removes some flexibility for librarians, but frees up time. And often this model provides significant savings at the item level over title-by-title selection. There are multiple flavors of eBook packages—complete publisher collections, publisher subject collections, multipublisher subject collections, complete aggregator collections, preselected collections, librarian-selected collections, frontlist collections, and backlist collections—often overlapping with each other. In general, the larger the collection, the deeper the discount from list price, but also the greater the chance of unwanted and unneeded material being included. Librarian-selected collections will meet local needs more closely than will preselected collections, but they will also likely be more expensive since they are essentially a bulk title-by-title purchase. In most cases backlist collections will be cheaper than frontlist collections, but can make sense for subjects in which currency of information is less important. Package acquisition may be the best model for those who collect at a particularly high level in a given subject area, those who would normally acquire a high percentage of books in any particular category through title-by-title selection, or those who aim to introduce users to a critical mass of eBooks.
Regardless of the method used to select eBooks, there are two basic access models—subscription and perpetual access—each with multiple variations. Some vendors allow only one of these options, while others provide both. Each of these models has benefits—for particular types of books or for particular budget situations.
Subscription packages, which are available from a range of aggregators, allow a library to build a large collection of eBooks for a relatively inexpensive annual cost. In some cases, subscription packages cost just pennies per title for the year. Good examples of this sort of package are ebrary’s Academic Complete and College Complete, both of which provide tens of thousands of titles from hundreds of publishers (ebrary 2012a), and EBSCO’s eBook Academic Subscription Collection, with more than 100,000 titles (EBSCO 2013). These packages primarily consist of backlist titles with relatively few frontlist titles, but the cost per title is very low, making these good solutions for libraries, particularly those with relatively small collections budgets that wish to introduce large collections of eBooks at once. As with journal aggregator packages, there is no guarantee that any one title or publisher will remain available in these packages, so librarians should purchase direct access to specific titles if there is a need for perpetual access.
Another good reason for a library to consider subscribing to packages of eBooks is to manage rapid obsolescence. Rather than paying for perpetual access to content that will go out of date quickly, many libraries choose to subscribe to packages of computer and technical manuals, business books, and medical materials. New books are added to these packages but are available only for a few years. As new content gets added, older content is removed. Knovel, Safari, and Books 24 × 7 are examples of vendors that offer this sort of subscription package (Knovel 2012; Safari 2012; Skillsoft 2012).
Some providers—whether publishers or aggregators—make eBooks available through a perpetual access model only. Others (e.g., ebrary and EBSCO) give a choice of models. Perpetual access gives the library licensed access to the content, which theoretically will be available forever to the library’s users, but this comes at a cost, as libraries pay a higher price upfront for perpetual access. There are many payment models associated with perpetual access—individual title purchase, package purchase, single or multiple-user access, and many variations of each. If there is a strong likelihood that an eBook will be used sometime in the future or if a title is particularly important for the library’s collections, then perpetual access is the preferable model. Unlike with subscription packages, titles licensed for perpetual access cannot disappear from the library collection without warning, so there is greater content stability.
In some cases, perpetual access models can act like subscriptions from a budgeting perspective, though not from an access or licensing viewpoint. When a library opts to pay annually for a package—such as all of the books a publisher produces in a calendar year then that commitment mimics a subscription if this content is purchased year after year. But, unlike the subscription packages described earlier, this content is purchased, not leased, and so will be available to the library’s users well into the future, even if the library stops purchasing the annual packages.
Within perpetual access licensing models, there are multiple options for payment based on level of access, typically some variation of a single versus multiple simultaneous users. It is worth exploring this distinction using two of the major eBook vendors as examples. For ebrary, there are two purchase possibilities—Single User Purchase Option (SUPO) and Multiple User Purchase Option (MUPO)—with the not-so-neatly abbreviated Numerous Single User Purchase Option (NUPO) thrown in (ebrary 2012b). SUPO titles—as their name implies—can be used by only one person at a time. If a second user tries to access the document, she will be turned away. This is the cheapest option, and for most eBooks in most libraries, it is the only option needed. MUPO titles are more expensive, but multiple users can access them at the same time. For a title assigned in a course and put on electronic reserves, or for anything else with expected high use, this is the better option, as it reduces potential user frustration, but it is more expensive. And then there’s NUPO, which is an option to purchase multiple SUPO copies of the same title when MUPO is not an option. ebrary has just introduced an extended access model that triggers an automatic upgrade of a SUPO title to MUPO if a second user accesses that eBook while someone else is already using it. This model allows for some free discovery before that upgrade is purchased, and gives libraries a way to invest initially in the lower cost SUPO version while allowing for unlimited use (Neil Sorensen, ebrary Specialist, email message to author, October 25, 2012).
Ebook Library (EBL) approaches the single-versus-multiple user issue differently. Instead of providing eBooks for just one user at a time, EBL uses a “Non-Linear Lending” model, which allows for unlimited concurrent users of an eBook up to a set number of uses per year (Ebook Library 2012). Up until that point (325 uses for most publishers, 200 for others), the book is effectively a multiple-user title. When the maximum use threshold is reached, access is shut off until the new year begins—or the library can purchase a second instance of the eBook. At the University of Denver, where we have almost 90,000 EBL titles available, we have never had a title go beyond that use threshold in about two-and-a-half years. Some publishers also allow EBL to offer their titles—for a higher cost per title—using the unlimited access model, but it is unnecessary for us to pay the additional cost.
Academic libraries have been moving in recent years to a DDA model in which eBooks are acquired only at the point of use. Though this model was originally used as early as 1999, when the Colorado Alliance of Research Libraries began a six-year project with netLibrary to purchase eBooks based on use (Machovec 2003; Polanka and Delquié 2011, 119–20), it is only in the last three years or so that DDA has been widely embraced as an important model for building eBook collections. Though it is somewhat surprising that it took so long for this to happen, it is easy to see why so many libraries have recently begun DDA programs. By moving the point of purchase to the point of use, DDA allows libraries to pay for only what gets used, and even allows payment for varying levels of use, making it possible to provide access to a much larger number of titles than would be possible under a traditional purchase model.
Though there are multiple models of DDA available, at the broadest level it again boils down to title-by-title acquisition and package acquisition. In 2004 EBL developed the model that has since been embraced in some way or another by ebrary and EBSCO eBooks (formerly netLibrary) (Paulson 2011). Under this model, librarians preselect a pool of titles to make available for potential users. The eBook aggregator provides discovery records for the library to load into its discovery service or online catalog, and the library pays the aggregator based on various types of use. With EBL’s model, the first five minutes examining an eBook constitute a free browsing period. Equivalent to pulling a paper book off the shelf and examining it briefly, this period gives the user a chance to determine if the eBook is the right book, and is key to ensuring that libraries pay only for intentional use. Once a user spends more than five minutes examining an eBook, a financial transaction is triggered. Librarians can specify whether that transaction will be a short-term loan (STL) or an auto purchase, and can also specify how many STLs will happen before the library pays for an auto purchase. An STL is a brief (one day or one week) rental of the eBook for which the library pays a percentage of the list price. Most libraries configure their DDA plans with EBL so that an auto purchase happens after a set number of STLs. When the auto purchase is triggered, the library pays for perpetual access (Ebook Library 2012).
Another DDA model—the one pioneered with the Colorado Alliance of Research Libraries by netLibrary (Machovec 2003; Polanka and Delquié 2011)—utilizes as a purchase trigger a set number of uses of the book. Under this model, the library and vendor negotiate the trigger number. For example, on the third visit by anyone to a particular book for any length of time, the library will purchase that title. ebrary experimented briefly with this model (Fischer et al. 2012; Gibbs 2010) and MyiLibrary still offers it (Moore 2011; email from Ingram Content Group Marketing, October 26, 2012), but with the important distinction that access to the table of contents is always free, giving users some guidance about whether the eBook will meet their particular needs (Ingram 2012). The drawback to this model, especially when there is no option for examining at least the front and back matter of the book, is that it does not always allow enough time to determine if a book is right for a particular use. In the Colorado Alliance project with netLibrary, in which the University of Denver participated, we often ended up purchasing books that matched on keywords but clearly did not match a researcher’s need.
Another model that some publishers have adopted is what Elsevier terms “Evidence Based Selection” (Elsevier 2012). Under this model, a publisher that does not have the technical infrastructure in place to manage real-time DDA can still provide use-based access to its eBooks. The library sets up a deposit account and the publisher makes a collection of its eBooks available. At the end of the year, the library uses the funds in the deposit account to purchase titles from this collection, likely basing these decisions on use. In theory this is a good model with all of the benefits of DDA, but libraries risk purchasing low-use material if the amount of money they initially allocated to the deposit account is too high. And, unless the process continues into future years, it will only meet the demands of current users.
When an acquisitions librarian wants to order a paper book, he or she has many sources available. He or she can order the book from an approval vendor, another preferred vendor, Amazon, a used bookseller, a local bookstore, or anyone else who sells books. The edition will be the same and most booksellers offer some level of discount. The choice of where to order comes down to price and convenience, and consolidating purchase with a limited number of booksellers creates efficiencies. Not so with eBooks. Some publishers make their eBooks available through as many sources as possible, while others limit them to just a few, and a very few insist on working directly with libraries only. There are four broad categories of eBook providers (major aggregators, university press aggregators, specialized aggregators, and publishers), and most libraries will find that they need to work with one or more from each category. In many cases, but not all, eBook acquisition from these sources can be managed through the library’s preferred approval vendor.
There are four major aggregators—vendors that aggregate content from all types of publishers for academic libraries. Most libraries acquiring eBooks will find themselves working with at least one of these, and in many cases with more than one. EBL, ebrary, EBSCO, and MyiLibrary are similar to each other in many ways and a library’s choice of which to work with will come down to platform preference and the degree to which the company integrates with the library’s preferred approval vendor. ProQuest, already the parent company of ebrary, has recently announced its acquisition of EBL and plans to merge the two aggregators (ProQuest 2013). All four current aggregators provide books from both trade and academic publishers. All four have DDA models. All four have perpetual access options. All but EBL have subscription options (Ebook Library 2012, ebrary 2012a, EBSCO 2012, MyiLibrary 2012). The benefits of working with one or more of these aggregators include simplified workflow and a common user interface. The strong benefit of streamlined workflow in allowing a library to manage ordering and payment as well as loading MARC records through a single source cannot be overstated. The drawback is less flexibility in using the content: aggregators tend to have stricter DRM controls than do publishers or university press aggregators. Aggregator DRM often means limitations on downloading and printing which many users find frustrating. In fact, a recent survey of librarians about eBooks indicates that “the most significant factor that hinders users in their use of ebook [sic] content is digital rights management (DRM)” (Newman and Bui 2009, 27).
There are currently four university press eBook aggregators in various stages of development. University Press Scholarship Online (UPSO), which is managed by Oxford University Press, offers eBooks from 10 university presses (University Press Scholarship Online 2012). University Press Content Consortium (UPCC) on Project Muse offers eBooks from over 65 scholarly and university presses (Project Muse 2012). Books at JSTOR has eBooks from 21 scholarly and university presses (JSTOR 2012). Cambridge University Press runs University Publishing Online, a platform with eBooks from eight scholarly and university presses (University Publishing Online 2012). All are fairly new and are still developing their access models. One benefit of licensing with university press aggregators is that they have little or no DRM in place; users will find it easier to print, download, and share content. In some cases purchasing from these aggregators is similar to acquiring content directly from the publisher.
There are quite a few specialized aggregators that focus on a particular subject area or type of book—often content with a short shelf life. Libraries may want to consider providing access to computer and technical manuals through vendors such as Books 24 × 7 or Safari. Both of these provide large subscription packages of recently published eBooks. Safari makes available books published only in the last three years, with older content dropping out of the package. Books 24 × 7 also has only recent content available. Since most users prefer the latest version of a manual, and seldom have a need for an older version, it makes sense for a library to subscribe to a package for this sort of material. Books 24 × 7 also offers similar packages in other subjects such as business, finance, and engineering (Collections—Skillsoft 2012). Even libraries that are generally committed to perpetual access models will benefit from these sorts of subscriptions.
Quite a few publishers provide access to eBooks on their own platforms. With some larger publishers, such as Oxford, Cambridge, Springer, Elsevier, and Wiley, this may be a desirable option since these platforms allow easy cross searching with other publisher content, including journals. The other benefit of ordering eBooks directly from the publisher is that generally there is little or no DRM included. Libraries will need to weigh that benefit against the potential confusion for users of dozens of different eBook platforms and the less streamlined workflow for librarians who will need to manage eBook acquisition and discovery through many sources.
Academic libraries have more sources for eBooks than they can possibly deal with, and they will continue to collect print books as well. Most libraries are not equipped to manage the complex processes of ordering eBooks from multiple sources, managing duplication across those sources and with print books, and managing the provision of discovery records to allow access to all that content. Approval vendors, which have long been in the business of supplying print books to academic libraries and have expanded into the eBook market, have stepped in to help fill this role. It would be wonderful if all eBooks could be ordered from a single source, but even with approval vendors brokering these deals, libraries will find that they continue to work with multiple eBook providers directly.
There are two major North American approval vendors for academic libraries, and both are able to manage eBook acquisition for their customers. YBP Library Services works with three of the four major eBook aggregators. The one eBook platform company not represented in YBP is MyiLibrary. Ingram Content Group owns MyiLibrary as well as Coutts Information Services, the other major North American approval vendor. YBP also offers the option to purchase eBooks directly from publishers, when the publisher permits. Libraries that work with YBP can integrate eBook acquisition into the approval process by setting up an e-preferred profile, which automatically delivers an e-version of a book to the library when one is available within eight weeks of the publication date of the print (Barbara Kawecki, senior digital content sales manager, YBP Library Services, email message to author, October 30, 2012). YBP also manages DDA for libraries, allowing them to build the process into the approval plan, work with multiple eBook aggregators (at this point, EBL, ebrary, and EBSCO), and control duplication with print acquisition (YBP Library Services 2012).
Coutts Information Services offers similar services to those available through YBP. The basic difference is that they work exclusively with MyiLibrary and not EBL, ebrary, or EBSCO (Ingram 2012). Libraries that have approval plans in place for print will naturally want to work with their preferred vendor. YBP customers who have an interest in purchasing MyiLibrary titles and Coutts customers interested in the other three major aggregators will need to step outside their main monographic acquisitions workflow in order to get these titles, and manage the challenges that decision entails, including a greater likelihood of duplication with print or other eBooks, additional invoicing, and additional discovery record loads.
Academic library eBooks acquisition remains a tremendously confusing process. Publishers do not make eBooks available in a consistent way. Some publishers make their titles available only on their own platform. Others prefer to use aggregators. But they are not consistent in how they do this. It is not unusual to find some eBooks from a publisher on one aggregator’s platform but other titles on a different platform. Even when a title is available on multiple platforms, it can be difficult to determine what purchase models are available. And there is no consistency in how long it may take for a print title to be available as an eBook.
Because of this confusion, it has been very difficult for librarians to figure out how to build eBook collections. At this point, there are two basic options, neither ideal. One, working only with a subset of aggregators and publishers—whether managed through the approval plan or not—allows for easier workflow, but means that some titles will inevitably be unavailable. The other option, working with as many aggregators and publishers as possible, means that many more titles will be available, but this strategy results in a much more difficult workflow. Approval vendors can help ease some of that strain, but neither of them works with all aggregators.
Academic librarians need to be aware of the multiple options for acquiring eBooks and the benefits and drawbacks of each option. By taking a mix and match approach across providers and models, they can build as comprehensive an eBook collection as is now possible (recognizing, of course, that the majority of books still come out only in print). Librarians also need to advocate with publishers for better models—eBooks that are available on all platforms, under multiple access models, and with predictable publication cycles. It should be easier to order an eBook than a print book, not the other way around.
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