April 10, 2013

Patron-Driven Acquisitions: An Overrated Collection Model

My boss forwarded our library staff an article today from Library Journal, titled “Academic Libraries Should Give Up Book-by-Book Collecting, Article Argues” by Meredith Schwartz. It is a summary of David W. Lewis’s book From Stacks to the Web: The Transformation of Academic Library Collecting. The email introduced the article by saying, “…we are right on target…” meaning that our recent forray into PDA is the right thing to do because other libraries are doing it.

I (like others before me) question the wisdom of Patron-Driven Acquisitions in the academic library. Part of the job of the academic librarian is to vet resources. It is up to us in our professional capacity to know what is available and determine what, among the masses of available material, is the best and will be most useful for our patrons.

I understand that there are benefits, not the least of which is financial. And I know that some libraries have had great success and have published some very interesting results. That report from Purdue notes that most of their PDA requests came from graduate students who needed cross-discplinary resources for their research. But we are a 2-year college. We don’t have graduate students. We have students who don’t know the difference between About.com and a scholarly journal, even after you’ve explained it to them the simplest way you know how.

Now, what we are doing at this point is more akin to the old-fashioned paper suggestion forms than full-blown PDA. Instead of users browsing through a collection of eBooks, deciding they want to read one, and having it instantly purchased and available, they are merely writing down (or typing in) random suggestions for what we should purchase, turning in a form, and waiting. So for now, this is fine, as we are not relying on PDA for all of our collection development. But Lewis’s book apparently suggests that PDA will and should become the primary model for academic library collection development.

And we follow trends here. We like being the first 2-year college to follow a trend in 4-year universities. I worry that if we continue to follow the trend of doing whatever the big boys are doing, our library will eventually give up on vetting materials in favor of buying whatever our students think they need. These students who don’t know the difference between about.com and a scholarly journal. Who only read if they are forced to do so. Who write their papers before they look for sources and tell the reference librarians they just need “something to plug into their paper” because their teacher told them they had to use outside sources. I worry that we will become more an on-demand bookstore where the books are free than a respectable library with amazing resources that our students never realized existed until they serendipitously discovered them.

November 19, 2012

Miscellaneous Updates

I’m once again embarrassingly behind on posting to this blog. I’ve just been looking back at previous posts and want to update a few things. First off, we solved one of the obstacles I mentioned in “My Biggest Fear” by purchasing a home. Our mortgage is significantly lower than what we were paying in rent, which leaves me a little bit of wiggle room so I can swing a membership or a conference or something next year. Second, my proposal (mentioned in the post on eBooks) was accepted and I spoke at the LIBRIS conference in South Carolina in March of 2012 on the problem of eBooks in libraries. Finally, our baby boy was born in July 2012. He’s had a few health issues, but he’s doing better now and we’re looking forward to his first Thanksgiving and Christmas!

February 18, 2012

My Biggest Fear

My biggest fear  is that I will forever be reading about and dreaming about what I want to do, and never actually do it.

What I want:

A job doing something I am really interested in, that doesn’t involve dealing with the general public, and that pays a good salary (at least better than what I make now, and with at least the remote possibility of future raises). Ideally, this job would be located in Europe. I’d especially love Edinburgh, Amsterdam, Prague, or just about anywhere in Germany. While we’re reaching for the stars, I’d also like to be debt-free and a home owner.


1. I’m still learning about the subject in which I am interested. The thing I’d love to do as a living (thus this blog). And I have no idea how to gain the experience that will almost assuredly be required for getting full-time employment in a new field.

2. My husband and I are living above our means. This is a constant source of stress for us. It means that I really should be spending all my extra time trying to make a little extra money, rather than spending it trying to learn a new skill set. It also means that I have no money for things like membership in professional organizations or conference attendance, or workshops, let alone going back to school.

3. My husband is launching his own company, which at least for the moment, means no moving away. It also means no launching my own company, or being an independent contractor, because then we’d have no insurance and no guaranteed salary.

4. I’m pregnant, so no one in their right mind would hire me right now anyway, as they’d just have to turn around and send me on maternity leave. And yes, I know it would be illegal not to hire me just because I was pregnant, but no one’s going to tell me that a company with deadlines to meet isn’t going to do their darndest to find a good excuse not to hire the pregnant lady.

5. I have no idea how to find a job in Europe, and I’m not fluent in any foreign languages (though I do have solid linguistic skills).

Why these shouldn’t be obstacles:

1. What with the pregnancy and the husband launching a company, I really shouldn’t be in any hurry to find a new job in my (hopefully) new field anyway. I have time. I need to think in terms of a 5-year plan, not a 5-month plan.

2. OK, I don’t know about this one. I think this is an obstacle no matter how I look at it. What I need is a solution I can convince my husband of. Like moving into a smaller, less expensive home. But that is a subject for a whole other blog, not this one.

3. My husband’s company is internet-based, and so where we live really has no impact on it. I would just feel guilty for uprooting him while he’s just getting started, but again, think 5-years, not 5-months.

4. Ditto, again the 5-years thing.

5. This one’s tougher. I’m sure I can figure out the finding a job part. After all I’m a librarian, if I can’t do this kind of research, what good am I? The bigger problem is the language. I can’t expect a foreign company to hire me if I’m not fluent, but I also want to keep an open mind about where we end up, and focusing on one language might be limiting.

OK, so 3 out of 5 of my obstacles are either surmountable or not really obstacles at all. The other two I can figure out. Funny how getting it all down on paper (so to speak) helps.

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February 14, 2012

The Question of eBooks

I recently submitted a proposal to speak at a state library conference about the challenges of eBooks in libraries. To that end I’ve been spending a lot of time lately trying to get a grasp on all the different ways in which eBooks are, in fact a challenge. Expect more posts on this as I am able to clarify my points. Today, I just want to get some preliminary thoughts down on (proverbial) paper.

Availability & Format Issues

At my place of work we subscribe to 5 different eBook collections. Of those, one offers in-browser reading only, three offer both in-browser reading and downloads, and one offers downloads only. In addition we also check out Nooks and Nook Colors, which come with pre-loaded titles selected by the library staff. Of the three collections that offer both in-browser reading and downloads, one offers downloads as pdf files, the second offers both pdf files and (by special request) Kindle files (.azw), and the third offers downloads to Adobe Digital Editions, which of course means an additional software download. The collection that offers downloads only also requires an additional software download, but not Adobe Digital Editions.

So if my library patrons want to read books from all our collections, they must have a browser, a .pdf reader, Adobe Digital Editions, and Blio. . . and eReaders are optional.

Let’s give these collections names, for easier reference:

  • Collection A: browser only (html)
  • Collection B: browser and .pdf (html & .pdf)
  • Collection C: browser and .pdf and Kindle (html, .pdf, and .azw)
  • Collection D: browser and ADE (html & DRM-restricted .pdf)
  • Collection E: Blio (not sure, compatible with Nook & Sony Reader, but not ePub)
  • Collection F: Nooks for physical checkout (format unimportant, but ePub)

Different Collections, Different Rules

In addition to the issues above, there is the problem of keeping the rules straight. eBooks in Collections A, B, and C can be viewed by unlimited simultaneous users at once and .pdf/.azw downloads do not expire. eBooks in Collection D may be read and/or checked out by only one user at a time, checkouts can be anywhere from 1 to 7 days, and there is no restriction on the number of books a patron can check out. eBooks in Collection E can be checked out by only one user at a time, checkouts can be for up to 14 days, and patrons can check out only 5 books at a time. The Nooks in Collection F can also be checked out for 14 days at a time.

The Big Six

This next problem has been addressed by dozens of other bloggers, as well as being tackled by various print publications and by ALA itself. I don’t presume to have anything significant to add to this conversation. . . yet. However, this has been the focus of a lot of my time over the past week, and as I’m not finding the particular information I want, I may just go out and launch my own study. Some questions I’d like the answers to:

  • What percentage of eBook sales to libraries are to public libraries, school libraries, academic libraries, and special libraries?
  • In the various types of libraries, how are funds allocated between print books and eBooks? How do libraries decide what to get in print and what to get electronically? How likely is it that a library would buy the same book in both print and eBook format?
  • What percentage of books weeded from a print collection (be it for age, condition, or content) would be replaced by an exact copy, rather than a new edition or a different title altogether?

There are more, sort of floating around in my head without clear wording just yet. As I said before, expect more posts on this topic soon.

I sure hope my proposal is accepted for the conference!