Let’s have a little argument with Rick Anderson. His recent article from Ithaka S+R makes a lot of good points. The primary thesis is that libraries should concentrate on building up their special collections (non-commodity collections, he calls them) because that is what makes each library unique and building these collections will also result in the preservation of the widest possible selection of our intellectual record. I don’t argue with that. No sense in libraries all developing the same collection of commercially published products.
The backstory of Anderson’s thesis, however, (the backstory of all Rick’s articles) is that we live in an information-rich environment (check) and that (commodity) library collections are of declining value because so much of the information they might contain is more cheaply and readily available elsewhere. BONK!
Today’s more efficient online marketplace features much lower prices and much lower barriers to personal collection-building, a pervasive full-text searching capability that makes traditional cataloging less obviously necessary, and widely distributed storage and access points that undermine traditional approaches to preservation and curation. (p. 3)
Some elements of that are partly true. There is a tremendous growth in full-text searching capabilities (“pervasive,” I don’t know), the Internet generally offers many storage and access possibilities that did not exist before, and the cost of some things is lowered by the 1000-pound-gorilla-ness of Amazon e-book pricing. But here’s my point: only a fraction of the scholarly communication record is affected by these factors.
Anderson suggests (p. 2) that because it is more possible (technologically) for scholars to share articles with one another, the need for such materials to be held and distributed by libraries is diminished. Clearly, it is faster and easier for scholars to share articles with one another today than it was 40 years ago, but there is no evidence I have seen in the literature that says this amounts to a majority of uses of scholarly articles or that this kind of sharing is responsible for a decline in library access. In fact, presumably scholars could by-pass use of the library copy in only three situations: for articles they wrote themselves (easily shared with others), for articles from journals for which they hold a personal subscription (easily accomplished but of dubious copyright and ethical status), or for articles that are freely available in an open repository (the sense of sharing in that case is not quite an accurate representation). It is implausible, in the first instance, that EVERY use of a scholarly article would be mediated by the author of the article. If that were true, the need for scholarly journals would cease to exist altogether. In truth, a great deal of sharing within the scholar community is accomplished, I would suggest, from downloading PDF files from library holdings. Obviously, the open access movement plays a significant role in the enhanced sharing of publications outside the commodity environment, but does anyone believe this is now the primary way scholars share information? The continued promotion/tenure scramble to be published in “top-tier” journals suggests otherwise.
The idea of lower cost and lower barriers to personal collection-building being the drivers of diminished library use (or at least relevance) certainly warrants study, but I don’t think it has been demonstrated and I doubt it would hold up under careful analysis. Do scholars today personally buy a greater percentage of the resources they use compared with scholars of the past? Perhaps marginally. Are scholars acting as intelligent consumers in the scholarly communication marketplace, finding the lowest price in all instances? Doubtful. At any rate, if they were behaving in that way, a free library copy would always be the best option. Interlibrary loan anyone?
The cost of almost all scholarly publications have, in fact, continued to go up relentlessly. Journal subscription prices outstrip the CPI every year. Even purchase-by-the-article services tend to run in the $25 to $50 range per article. Scholarly monographs are rarely cheaper than $50 per title. The existence of efficient distribution channels and digital options have not changed that very much. As an example, here are a couple of items my acquisitions team has dealt with recently:
- Evolution and Human Sexual Behavior. Harvard University Press, 2013. We paid $33.24 through our regular academic book vendor. The hardcover edition is listed on Amazon at $35.67. There are 11 used copies listed there as well. None is cheaper than $34.50. There is a Kindle edition available at $31.16. No great savings in any case. What may make the Kindle version appealing is the instantaneous access rather than the price, but Kindle would not serve every user need.
- Guidelines for Chemical Process Quantitative Risk Analysis. American Institute of Chemical Engineers, 2000. Again our vendor is selling it for $254. Amazon lists it at $190. Used copies are more expensive than that. It doesn’t exist in the commercial, individual-user e-book market. Knovel offers it through a subject package and several other library platforms have it at $254 or more. This is content that some of our users really want, but they are unwilling to pay $200 for it themselves.
- Plessy v. Ferguson (Landmarks of the American Mosaic). Greenwood Publishing, 2012. $58 from our vendor, $37 from Amazon, $35 for a Kindle edition, $32 for a used copy. Some savings over our commodity-priced version, but not much. This is the kind of semi-academic title that might serve student needs very well, but they wouldn’t want to pay $30 for the right to quote a few lines. (Although that IS a use some students might find for the Google Books edition, provided that the appropriate snippet could be found in the limited-preview.) Faculty might be interested in using the book as a teaching text, but it probably wouldn’t serve their research interests. Few would pay for it themselves. Thus, the savings through Amazon is still not that appealing.
Let’s face it, the nature of library collections and collection use is changing due to an expanded digital infrastructure, but scholars and students continue to rely for the most part on the same kinds of resources: scholarly journal articles, scholarly monographs, and reference resources. The fact that these are available digitally and in a piecemeal fashion does not change their overall cost or make them more collectible by individuals. Their pricing, I suspect, still puts them beyond the reach of most users. But I’d be willing to be proven wrong. The mere existence of Amazon and e-book readers or Google and its Books and Scholar platforms does not necessarily demonstrate that these are the causes of declining library use or expanded information-consuming power for users. I’m not sure correlation is evident, let along causation. I think we need a lot more ethnographic studies of user behavior and its subsequent impact on scholarly publishing before we can make those kinds of assertions. But I’m totally on board with asserting that we should expend more effort and money on developing locally relevant special collections. Go for it.
Someone should write this history of librarianship: the longstanding tension between “give them what they want” and “teach them what to want.” Both have been with us almost from the very moment of birth of professional librarianship. Both have elements of nobility. Both have elements of condescension.
“Give them what they want” grants agency and, hey, even intelligence to library users. “Teach them what to want” is aspirational. We all can learn something new and keep on learning throughout our lives. Let’s look away for now from the nasty verso that each bears about the worthiness of library users–that what they want is of dubious quality–one says, “so what,” the other says, “this must be remedied.”
“Teach them what to want” had the upper hand in this fight for a long while, but “give them what they want” has made some serious inroads lately. Ah, but maybe it’s all a false dichotomy. Maybe we really can do both, even though it seems like they are diametrically opposed. Maybe we can add anything to the collection that someone wants but continue to teach skills about finding something better. No conflict there, eh?
The 2012 Ithaka Faculty Survey of information behaviors hit the street this week. I’m not sure there are any great surprises in the report. The progression towards use of electronic materials continues at about the same pace. The disciplinary differences between humanities, social sciences, and sciences seem about the same as previous years. They are all shifting in their behaviors in the same direction.
What is fairly constant as well, is that most faculty continue to think that the most important activity of the library is to acquire or provide access to scholarly material. “The library pays for resources I need…” is uniformly the highest response in several questions about the role of the library. (See pages 63-76.) Of course, anyone who has looked at Libqual data will know this as well.
Contrast this with responses from library directors, especially regarding the development of library support services for scholars, and you begin to see a disconnect between scholar desires (or knowledge of library services, at least). On some issues there is almost a 40% difference in response rate between faculty and library directors. “The library supports and facilitates my teaching activities,” for example, or, “The library provides active support that helps to increase the productivity of my research and scholarship,” are both questions to show a wide gap between faculty and library directors.
Library collections continue to be very important for scholars. We need to continue thinking about the best ways to serve those scholarly information needs.
ALA conferences always seed something valuable for me. Midwinter was no exception, with the ALCTS CMS Forum, “Scholarly Communication and Collections: From Crisis to Creative Response”, yielding interesting questions about library investment in and the cost of open access. As librarians, we seem to agree that open access is a good thing and a model we should advocate. There is less agreement about our financial role in transforming the scholarly communication system. Below are some of the questions that have preoccupied me of late…and a plea for further conversation.
When are we going to see costs decrease because of open access?
This question was raised at the forum and is filled with expectation. I don’t regard OA as a means for reducing cost. I think it is a more productive and efficient model for scholarly and scientific exchange and that library investment in OA publishing is a difference in kind from money spent on fee-based access models. SCOAP3is an excellent example of this thinking—the consortium members are focused on re-directing, not reducing, their expenditures. To paraphrase Kevin Smith, I believe that to realize significant change, libraries must be willing to apply their collection budgets to open access.
But is it a matter of will or capacity?
My library is a member of Public Library of Science, Hindawi, and Biomed Central. Our support – drawn from our collection budget – allows OHSU authors to publish in open access journals at a reduced cost. The money we spend on subscription journals dwarfs this investment. Our subscription decisions are driven by faculty requests, publication and citation activity, and cost per use data. There’s not a lot of fat. Additional investment in OA would require difficult decisions about cuts to other resources that our patrons want and use. Initiatives like SCOAP3 offer strategic models to emulate, but we’re still wanting for everyday, practical tactics that meet my institution’s content needs.
Why does it matter where the money comes from?
My friend Jill Emery and I have been talking about this as we prepare for our ACRL program on hybrid open access models. I think there is something to be said for libraries contributing to the cost of open access besides the investment in building a better scholarly communication system. Faculty value highly the library’s role as a buyer (see the 2009 ITHAKA S+R Faculty Survey). Open access is not free. By supporting OA financially – ideally in partnership with other stakeholders – libraries can preserve an evolved but familiar connection to the scholarly record. Moreover, open content still requires management and curation, library expertise representing significant costs.
What are your answers to these questions?
Mine are obviously still evolving. So this is a call to continue the conversation we started at Midwinter within and across our institutions. Ultimately, our conclusions will guide how we work to transform the scholarly communication system.
Library Philosophy and Practice, an online journal published by the University of Nebraska recently published an article of mine. It details a program we tried at our campus in 2010, in which the library purchased or obtained a copy of every required text, and put them on reserve. Here is the abstract:
In the fall of 2010, a grant of $36,000 allowed Portland Community College Library to purchase and place on reserve a copy of every required text at one of its campuses. A smaller college “center” also placed all required texts on reserve. The program was very popular with students and parts of the reserve collection received heavy use. Compared to the previous fall term, overall use of reserves at the Cascade Campus library rose 35%, and the Southeast Center collection saw an increase of 110%. However, use of the collection was unevenly distributed, with 26% of the books having more than 11 uses that quarter, but a troubling number (37%) receiving no checkouts at all. An analysis of the data suggests several ways that books with 11 or more uses per quarter could be increased to over 70%. These are to purchase and process books in a timely manner, to adjust loan periods for some items, or to purchase texts only for courses with multiple sections. Use numbers compiled over the following 8 quarters show that textbooks purchased and placed on reserve will be used for several successive terms.
If you want to read the entire article, here is the link:
“All Textbooks in the library: An experiment with Library Reserves.
Last week I read a recent article in Collection Building on user attitudes towards ebooks at Colorado State Univ Library, as well as ebook use.
Merinda McLure, Amy Hoseth, (2012),”Patron-driven e-book use and users’ e-book perceptions: a snapshot”,
Collection Building, Vol. 31 Iss: 4 pp. 136 – 147
The study was done from May-Dec, 2010, and consisted of a survey of ebook user attitudes, and a check on ebook use.
Readers who used an ebook were divided between those who prefer ebooks, those who prefer print, and those who don’t care, 1/3 for each. Half of the users had never used an ebook before their borrowing of one from the Colorado State Library.
Most readers used an ebook for an assignment.
Because the library launched a ‘Purchase on Demand’ ebook program during the study, the number of ebook titles available rose from 4,475 to 7,942 during the 7 months of the study.
Of the entire ebook collection of, 11.6% were ‘browsed’ meaning looked at for less than five minutes, with 7.7% being used more than five minutes. (Totaling 1533 unique titles browsed or more over the 7 months.) Thus, 19.3% of the titles were used at least once in the 7 months, although the number really studied (if you call more than five minutes really studying) is not even 8%. There is the chance that relevant chapters were quickly printed and read on paper, but still, use was fairly low.
Although there wasn’t a report specifically on the use of titles used after launching the Purchase on Demand (Patron Driven Aquisitions) program, they acquired 3,467 titles via Purchase on Demand, and only 1533 ebooks received use, so it seems safe to say that ebooks purchased under Patron Driven Aquisitions are not necessarily being used! It makes me wonder why they were requested. I have a hand in the patron-driven acquisitions of print books at Portland Community College, and while we occasionally purchase books where the patron doesn’t bother to pick them up from the holds shelf, that is the exception rather than the rule. I wonder if the Colorado State patrons were given a choice between ebook or print book when they put in their request.
Merinda McLure, Amy Hoseth, (2012),”Patron-driven e-book use and users’ e-book perceptions: a snapshot”,
Collection Building, Vol. 31 Iss: 4 pp. 136 – 147
All collection development librarians have found themselves facing the acceptance of materials into the collection that they know will be under-utilized and we’ve also all been in the position of having to turn down material gifts. Donated gift materials are such a fine line for all of us. We want to make sure we do not pass on something that could be a significant addition to our collections but at the same time we’re trying desperately to not be saddled with materials that will have little to no use and end up in storage or potentially being weeded within a decade. Apply the three “w” rule to gift acceptance to give yourself the wriggle room for making your library material gift acceptance or denial.
First off and probably most importantly, WHO wants to make the donation/receive the donation? If the person making the donation is a well known public official either within your organization or within your local environment, accept the gift materials graciously. Even when you have twenty other copies lurking in various places within your library, accept these materials. Annotate the notes on the records for the copies currently available or replace current copies available with the donated titles and make it clear these material were provided by distinguished person X. It is not unheard of for a long time distinguished donor of library materials to follow up with a monetary donation and or bequeath to your library. At academic institutions this situation can be applied to prominent and distinguished faculty and administrators. There is also a corollary to this type of library material gift acceptance. If a prominent and distinguished faculty, administrator, or public official wants your library to accept a particular material gift, then accept it. Acceptance does not have to mean retaining in the collection. You can still make your local decisions regarding the condition of the material received and/or number of copies held locally or within your consortium. For the material that shows up unannounced and unsolicited, feel free to reject readily. You are under no obligation to add library material just because someone has taken the time to send it in your direction.
Secondly, consider WHAT is being donated as potential library material. Sometimes that quirky phone call you receive from the timid voice on the other end of the phone line is worth following up on and investigating. If possible, ask all cold call donors to provide you with a list of material they are considering donating. People with material worth personal interest will take the time to do this and you can avoid accepting the gift at this point if a list is not provided. People not willing to make lists have already boxed up the material and have made a mental break with it and just want to move it out of their space now. Seven out of ten times, the person will make you a basic list, author title of what they want to donate in part because they feel a connection to these resources and want them to go to a good home. The list gives you the ability to either spot check and/or go through the entire collection in a remote way to see how much you would want to accept. If the person calling with the library material donation sounds particularly frail but the person has an interesting story to tell of their collection or due to a connection to a particular department or professor, offer to go to them to review the material being offered. Yes, this takes some time but this is where the treasure is found and how special collections get built. Again, the unsolicited library material donations that show up at your desk for the most part are not things you will want to add. However, every now and again, there are things of interest that appear this way so always open up these packages to give a cursory review.
Lastly, consider WHERE the library material gift is located. Is it a departmental library that is being abandoned on your campus or within your local government? If so, taking a cursory look at what is there is not difficult or too terribly time consuming. A good rule of thumb is the fifty mile radius. Is this material gift located within fifty miles of your library; usually, then it is not a problem for retrieval or acceptance. For gifts residing more than fifty miles away, the decisions regarding WHO and WHAT may over-ride the location or need to pay for shipping. In which case, you work out how best to delivery the material to your processing units. Most call-in donors are willing to delivery their collections to you and it is always best to state upfront that you do not have a policy for picking up gift material early in your conversation.
One last caveat, it is also good to relate to any given donor that since their library material donation was unexpected and potentially of a large size, that the material will not be processed or added to the collection immediately upon acceptance. This allows you any extra time to review duplicate copies for retention, determine the best location for the material, and work into processing queues or quotas in a thoughtful and strategic way.
There has been quite a bit of library news over the past five years about libraries stopping the acceptance of library material donations but we all know that it is impossible to not accept some library material donations. In all honestly, the best any library can do is to minimize the amount of effort that goes into accepting library material donations. By applying the three “w’s” of ready evaluation to each donation call, you can speed up both the decision making process and material donation process.
The right way to weed: Stanley Slote’s “Shelf Time Method.”
Stanley Slote devoted much of his career to studying library weeding, and methods of doing so. His book Weeding Library Collections (the 4th edition came out in 1997) summarizes these nicely. Slote’s own research showed that the amount of time since an item was last used is the best indicator of whether it will ever be used again. I’ll say that another way: The longer it has been since an item was checked out, the more likely it is that it will never be checked out again.
Slote also discovered, in several studies, that after removing books that had not been used for awhile (he gives several ways of judging what that time period should be, depending on the space available on your shelves and other factors) circulation went up! This is the root of the truism that ‘Weeding will increase circulation.’ The full sentence should be: “Weeding by the shelf-time method will increase circulation.”
How to get a list of books that haven’t checked out in awhile. (We are talking circulating collections here.)
With the data in computerized Integrated Library Systems, it is usually easy to run a list of items that have been in the collection at least X years . I suggest starting with five, and have not circulated for the last Y years. I suggest starting with five again.
So, you ask your ILS:
Give me a list of books that have been in the collection at least FIVE years, and which have not circulated for at least FIVE years.
(So a book that was in the collection for seven years, but hasn’t been used after the first 2 will show up on the list. A book that has been in the collection for four years won’t.)
Get the title, call number, location and status of the items.
Slote says to just send a circulation worker into the stacks, go get the items on this list and withdraw them. I’m not crazy about that, partially because of local authors and history, and other things that your library just should have.
Instead, send your lowest-paid COMPETENT circulation worker into the stacks to tip down the books on the list. (Like circulation workers in training do. They take a cart of books to shelf, and put them on the shelf tipped down on thefore-edge. The trainer then goes by and sees if the books were shelved correctly.) For books not where the catalog things they are, have the worker write ‘NOS’ (not on shelf) on the list. Technical Services can then change those to MISSING status, or just withdraw the item, whichever applies best.
In this case, the librarian in charge of the weeding (or that section of the collection) goes by with a cart, looking ONLY at the tipped books. If the book isn’t worth keeping, it goes on the cart. If it should be kept, it is just returned upright. If it REALLY should be kept, the librarian takes it to the circulation desk, checks it out and then checks it in again. That way the book is ‘safe’ for another five years.
Set aside a section of the shelf for the tipped books that should be repaired/reordered/moved to another part of the collection. But mostly, you just fill those carts. This goes FAST! And even if you miss a few books on condition, etc. you are still improving the collection, and doing it efficiently.
Naturally, academic libraries can use this method to place an item into storage, rather than weeding.
I think the ‘shelf time’ method is better than C.R.E.W. because it reflects how your patrons at your library use the collection, and it is faster. Certainly, if you spot a hopelessly out-of-date computer title, or one in filthy condition, weed it as well, but the ‘shelf time’ method eliminates the tedious title-by-title weeding process.