Collection Management Strategies for a New Research University Library

This post is the first of three installments of an interview with Jim Dooley, Head, Collection Services at the University of California, Merced on June 13, 2012. The interview was conducted by Matt Connor, Instruction/Reference Librarian at the University of California, Davis as research for a book he wrote that was recently published by ALA Editions: The New University Library: Four Case Studies. The remaining two installments will cover print and electronic books and Interlibrary Loan.

Founded in 2002, the University of California, Merced (UC Merced) is the first new University of California campus in 40 years and the first American research university of the 21st century. Since opening in 2005, UC Merced has grown in enrollment to over 6,200 students, including more than 350 graduate students.

Jim Dooley has been the Head, Collection Services at UC Merced since 2003. Prior to coming to UC Merced, he served in various capacities in the J. Willard Marriott Library at the University of Utah for ten years. He has published in Against the Grain and presented at the Charleston Conference for many years. In 2012 he was elected chair of the ALCTS Acquisitions Section and currently serves on the ALCTS Budget and Finance Committee.

Matt: We could start with you giving me an overview of the innovations in the collection development practices here at UC Merced. Maybe that’s a place to start.

Jim: Well, this is an interesting question, and part of this is simply historical because of the way we developed. When I got to UC Merced in 2003 which was two years before the campus opened and began to engage [University Librarian] Bruce Miller with collection building questions, there were a couple of things that we determined pretty early on. We both decided that we’d already reached a tipping point in journals, that it did not make sense for us to be collecting print serials. And so we made a very conscious decision that we were only going to collect electronic serials except in those cases that we thought would become rarer and rarer as life went on, where we had specific faculty requests and the journal was only available in print. We would not refuse requests. So, that’s one bedrock thing we started out with. The result is at this point we have access to over 60,000 online journals. We have literally a dozen print journals. And if any of those dozen go online, I will cancel the print immediately. So, that was one decision that we made, and the faculty have accepted it. We have not had complaints from faculty that we don’t have miles and miles of stacks of bound journals.

Matt: This would seem to reverse the paradigm of the high-level researcher browsing through their print journal. Without having the journals in front of them, they don’t seem to miss it.

Jim: They don’t. Or at least they haven’t. It tends to be somewhat discipline-specific in that I think that all of our dozen print journals are in the humanities. None of our science faculty are interested in print at all that we can determine. The requests for print journals have come unanimously from humanities faculty. And we’re starting to see the same sort of division in terms of book requests. I do want to say at the very beginning that none of us set out with the goal of having an all-electronic library. We are simply saying that we are responding legitimately to the directions for scholarly communication. And I see us as being more and more in all ways electronic.

Matt: Getting back to numbers. I guess for the electronic journal collection, a certain amount is taken up with the Tier 1 subscriptions that are general for all the UCs, and then a certain amount for the Tier 2 subscriptions which are specific for subsets of campuses. So, what fraction of the electronic collection is Merced specific where it is ordered outside the packages?

Jim: As a matter of policy, we have participated from the beginning in financially supporting the acquisition of all electronic resources centrally licensed for all ten UC campuses—what we call Tier 1 resources—even if we had no immediate need for the content. We’ve done this to help build a unified UC digital collection. We also participate in acquiring electronic resources licensed by a subset of UC campuses that directly support teaching and research at UC Merced—so-called Tier 2 resources. In terms of locally licensed journals, I can give you a couple of ballpark numbers. As I said, we have access to over 60,000 centrally acquired electronic journals. Those are both licensed and free. The freely available are primarily journals that are listed in the Directory of Open Access Journals. Both licensed and freely available journals are catalogued by the UC Shared Cataloging Program that distributes bibliographic records to all the UC campus libraries. We have local subscriptions to probably about 130 electronic journals that we have subscribed to because they’re not available through a system-wide license for a variety of reasons and because faculty request them. So, we’ve gone from 60,000 to 130. In general terms, I will always favor being part of a systemwide subscription license to journals rather than going it alone. We pay less than list price which is what I have to pay if I go it alone. Also, if it is licensed centrally by the California Digital Library (CDL), then access is managed centrally by CDL instead of my tracking down the publisher.

Matt: That would be a significant hassle.

Jim: And I don’t have the staff to do that. So, it makes it much more useful all the way around to be in on a systemwide license. From the perspective of UC Merced as a start up with a very small staff, for anything that CDL will do for me I’m very appreciative and thankful.

Matt: Maybe this would be a good time to talk about issues of packaging. It seems like we’re getting savings with these large packages of journals that are put out by vendors. But on the other hand, we ended up paying for a certain amount of content that we don’t really need. And on a finer level, this seems like it affects mostly smaller schools rather than larger where the larger have such a huge audiences they can find uses for everything that might be included in a package, but a smaller place might have more specific needs where more of the content ends up being unused. Have you seen anything like that?

Jim: This is an issue that the University of California Collection Development Committee (CDC) has been grappling with for several years. I would say it really hit us from about the time the university began to experience severe budget cuts a couple of years ago. There are a wide variety of reasons why packages make sense. There’s a really low per unit cost if you factor the whole thing out. There’s one license not ten. So, from the publisher’s perspective there are economies of scale. From the campuses’ perspective, it saves work. The fact that we do have the Shared Cataloging Program which provides MARC records for Tier 1s [electronic resources acquired by all ten UC campuses] and Tier 2s [more specialized electronic resources acquired by a subset of UC campuses] means there’s significant economies of scale for technical services. So, there are all of these reasons why packages are good. Where we get between the rock and the hard place is if we simply do not have the money to pay for the package. Then the pressures are really strong either to break the package or license only those journals individually that there is a specific need for, or else to try to negotiate the price down. The publisher response in many cases as we have seen the last several years is to then cut a much higher proportion of the content out of the package in order to achieve a relatively small price decrease. In this case, their strategy seems to be to make it so painful for the library that the libraries will simply give up and pay.

The UC libraries over the last several years have been very hard-nosed. We have broken one package completely, and we have accepted significant percentage cuts to other packages in order to achieve some level of cost containment. So, I can understand on the individual campus level why a selector librarian would say that we are paying for unnecessary or unwanted or unused content. I think if you look at the larger picture, there are some reasons for subscribing to packages that are still valid.


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