Friday, November 12, 2010

Libraries' using readers' choices in acquistion models

The Chronicle of Higher Education has a nice report at page A11 in print of Nov. 12 issue, "Reader Choice, Not Vendor Influence, Reshapes Library Collections," by Jennifer Howard. The article discusses two models being explored by libraries, one old and one new. In the older model, libraries simply set up a system of purchasing items requested one or more times on inter-library loan. They may set up parameters, such as no more than X dollars, non-fiction, and include a live person to monitor the types of titles being purchased this way, so that they remain firmly within the mission of the school and library. This is a wide-spread practice and springs from the well-known fact that the inter-library loan process costs money. This article quotes the average sum of $27.83 per book borrowed. That very quickly begins to save money if the same university press title is requested more than once on inter-library loan. It would be cheaper to buy the book, rather than borrow it.

The more innovative model makes use of the newer availability of e-books in library catalogs. Whenever a patron accesses, uses, or prints pages from an e-book in the catalog, it counts as a "trigger event." X number of "trigger events" result in a purchase of the title from the vendor. The article reports a growing number of research libraries are using this model to stretch their budgets, and be certain they are purchasing monographs of interest to their user populations.

There is also a mention of the use of the Expresso print on demand system. This also allows the library to use patron demand to build the collection. There was not, however, any discussion of the quality of the book produced with the instant printing system. I wonder about the binding, quality of paper and ink, and types of font, and layout. What would be the life expectancy of such a book? Granted, many of the books we are buying from professional publishers these days are not very high quality, but ... still, one wonders about the long term benefit to the collection.

These models present interesting alternatives to the sometimes disheartening traditional collection development methods librarians have always used. We work very hard to gauge patron needs and interests, and build collections that will serve our users both now and in the future. It is, in fact, disappointing to have books unused on shelves.

And yet, if we rely entirely on users' selections to build collections, that will result in some rather disappointing collections, I think. I would not like to rely on my patron's selections for most areas of use (a few faculty members exempted!). If we allow libraries to fall into relying entirely on patron selections for their monographic collection development, it will become a very poor collection, indeed! We need a combination of push and pull for collection development. (push being where the library pushes the information or titles out toward the patron, pull being where the library pulls the information in from the patron's use)

Existing Push: We try to market our own selections with New Books shelves, and New Books Lists, and New Books Bulletin Boards, and New Books Columns in newsletters. And even if they get a spurt of interest, it only lasts while the titles remain in the new books category. Better online catalog interfaces that work more like Google, cloud tag clusters, federated search engines, and on and on, we try to make all our titles more easy to find. Clearly we need some more ideas of push!

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