Daily Archives: November 9, 2010

Building Smart Collections for Today’s Users

This month’s post in our series of guest academic librarian bloggers is from Anna Creech, Electronic Resources Librarian at the University of Richmond, Virginia. She also blogs at Eclectic Librarian.

Some days I look at my projects list and tasks and wonder how in the world I ended up here. They often appear to be more like what one might expect to be doing in an office of institutional research rather than in a library.

I am an electronic resources librarian, which I have found to be a title used for everything from online reference instruction to cataloging to acquisitions. In my case, I do little instruction or cataloging, and spend most of my time analyzing the digital resources we have acquired.

Increasingly, as libraries are forced to cut their resources even more severely, and in some cases, justify their existence, we have had to use more metrics to determine the value of our resources, whether they are personnel or materials. While this has been a tradition in libraries for as long as I’ve known them, it’s not what most of us thought we would be doing when we entered the profession. But, we can’t keep our heads in the sand any longer.

Just as we have many people who are passionate about the preservation of materials, we need to have as many if not more people in libraries who are passionate about the stewardship of the resources we purchase. We can no longer afford to purchase material that sits on a shelf and may never be touched. We need to be smarter about the things we acquire and a big part of that is looking at trends in the past to predict the future.

When I analyze usage data, I am looking for the anomalies that indicate a problem with a resource, such as sudden drops in use, declining patterns, etc. I talk to the public service librarians about resources that seem to be declining in use to make sure they are still relevant to our programs and researchers. We consider accessibility issues and course offering patterns before ultimately deciding whether or not to renew the resource or continue to collect in that area.

I hope that someday, we will be able to shift the 80/20 rule towards 100% circulation so that more of the resources in undergraduate libraries are used and not just sitting on the shelf waiting for someday to arrive. Alternative purchasing models like patron-driven acquisitions and collaborative collection development agreements indicate a trend towards making more purchasing decisions based on what users want now, and less towards purchasing things they might want later.

I know that some librarians are concerned that just-in-time collections will have significant gaps that may not be filled later on, but I don’t think we can afford to continue to maintain large just-in-case collections of materials. Academic libraries need to transition from being warehouses of books to being collaborative and individual learning spaces where research and innovation happen, and in part that means using ILL, document delivery, and online content to supplement materials that are not on the shelf.

If a publication is significant enough to be of value to a researcher someday, then it’s likely that a library somewhere has purchased a copy. Besides, we live in the future now. There’s no reason why a book needs to be out of print when it could be sold or otherwise made available in electronic formats. The argument of “we must purchase everything now or it may not be available later” is becoming less and less relevant.

I also hope that someday, libraries will have business intelligence tools to help them assess the return on investment for their collections. We do the best we can with the tools we have, but I think we could better make use of staff time if we didn’t spend so much of it getting our mish-mash of systems to spit out comparable data. This is why I believe we should be actively supporting standards initiative like COUNTER (Counting Online Usage of Networked Electronic Resource), SUSHI (Standardized Usage Statistics Harvesting Initiative), and CORE (Cost of Resource Exchange). They’re just the tip of the iceberg, but it’s a start.

We librarians are an intelligent and resourceful bunch. With the right set of tools, I believe we could come close to creating “perfect” collections to meet the needs of our users. With the right set of tools, we can be better stewards of the financial resources provided by our institutions. It’s time to work smarter, not harder.